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Dispatches from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University
Updated: 2 hours 35 min ago

Profiles in Research: Georgina Colby and the Kathy Acker Papers

Wed, 06/03/2015 - 13:33

I was awarded a Mary Lily Research Grant in 2014 to travel to the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture to consult The Kathy Acker Papers. In April 2014 I carried out research in the archive for my book manuscript, Kathy Acker: Writing the Impossible, which is under contract with Edinburgh University Press.

Critics and scholars in the field of contemporary literature have largely understood Kathy Acker as a postmodern writer. My monograph challenges such readings of the writer and her works, paying close attention to the form of Acker’s experimental writings, as a means to position Acker and her work within a lineage of radical modernisms.

Consulting The Kathy Acker Papers, the extensive archive of Acker’s works housed at the Sallie Bingham Center, shaped my research in a number of ways. Most striking, and perhaps the aspect of the archive that has been most formative to my work, is what the archive revealed in terms of the materiality of Acker’s various manuscripts. The original manuscript of Acker’s early and most renowned work, Blood and Guts in High School (1978), is a lined notepad with text and image pasted onto the pages. It is a collage, an art object. The dream maps, which punctuate Blood and Guts in High School, are archived as separate framed objects. Dream Map Two is an artwork measuring 56 inches by 22 inches. Such archival discoveries enabled the development of my book. The monograph takes a specific work of Acker’s for each chapter as a means to explore six key experimental strategies in Acker’s oeuvre. A substantial knowledge of Acker’s avant-garde practices would not have been possible without the research carried out in the archive.

Image from manuscript for Blood and Guts in High School by Kathy Acker

The Kathy Acker Papers also illuminated a related line of enquiry taken in my monograph: the importance of Acker’s early poetic practices to an understanding of her later prose experiments, which often dislimn the distinction between poetry and prose. The repository of unpublished poetic works provided rich material for the first chapter of my book, which explores Acker’s engagement with the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets in the 1970s. Acker’s unpublished poetry can be understood as both a significant autonomous body of work, and as juvenilia that was a catalyst for her later writing experiments. The box that houses these early works also contains typed conversations between Acker and her early mentor, the poet David Antin. Written under Acker’s early pseudonym, The Black Tarantula, these conversations point to the discourses that emerged between Acker and various writers and poets concerning the uses of language. In this 1974 text, ‘Interview With David Antin’, which reads in part, and perhaps intentionally, like a Socratic dialogue, Acker and Antin interrogate issues of language and certainty. Acker and Antin draw on their writing experiments, alongside a discussion of Wittgenstein’s On Certainty, as means to interrogate language and perception. Such materials are rich when read in conjunction with Acker’s poetry.

Reading the materials in the archive, letters, early drafts of published works, speeches, Acker’s teaching notes and notebooks on philosophy, as well as Acker’s handwritten annotations on various texts, and her invaluable collection of small press pamphlets, was illuminating. Numerous texts disclosed the self-conscious nature of Acker’s experiments. A number of early poetic experiments are entitled ‘Writing Asymmetrically’, and several notebooks gesture specifically to the influence of William Burroughs and Acker’s experiments with the cut-up technique. Other notebooks are streams of consciousness, and are evidently comprised of material that Acker then cut up for use in her experimental works. Most of Acker’s novels originated this way, as a set of handwritten notebooks.

Image from manuscript for Blood and Guts in High School by Kathy Acker

Archival research at the Sallie Bingham Center cultivated a rich understanding of the diversity of Acker’s experimental work and the writer’s remarkable lifetime achievements, many of which remain unpublished. The extent of the material and its uniqueness brought home the importance and centrality of the archive in the formation of knowledge regarding an experimental writer’s oeuvre. In the context of the female avant-garde writer, Acker stated that Gertrude Stein, as the progenitor of experimental women’s writing, is ‘the mother of us all.’ The remarkable experimentalism and the linguistic innovation of a great number of the texts that comprise The Kathy Acker Papers reveal Acker to succeed Stein as one of the most important experimental writers of the twentieth century.

Post contributed by Georgina Colby, Lecturer in Contemporary Literature, University of Westminster, UK.

 

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Tableaus of all kinds

Tue, 06/02/2015 - 17:49

Summer is gallivanting into Durham, and with it comes the promise of a new beginning for the Rubenstein, one involving fresh paint, new shelving, and a touch of tenacity. In a month, we’ll begin moving our materials and ourselves into our beautifully renovated home. Some Rubenstein spaces—like the Gothic Reading Room—will remain lovingly preserved, testaments to the memories that came before and to the new scholars who will soon discover them. Others will be similar in name only. I’m looking at you, Rubenstein stacks.

I’ve heard a lot about the pre-renovated Rubenstein stacks during my nearly two years here. The creaky elevators, the nooks, the crannies, the many doorways. These quirks are part of the collective Rubenstein conscious, and they’re spoken of fondly, frequently.

And while we’re sad to lose those charms, we’ve also been granted an opportunity to refine systems, to make materials more visible and easy to locate. We’ll no longer have a maze of classification schemes but one: Library of Congress. All of our print materials will be clustered by size: double elephants will chill next to double elephants; folios next to folios; mini materials next to mini. This is all great news for those of us lacking inner compasses. It also brings us to a logical question: how do we go about mapping locations for thousands of materials in this brave new world?

Easy! We turn to Tableau, a nifty data visualization service the lovely folks at Data Visualization introduced to us. Tableau allows subscribers to turn data into graphic representations that move far beyond bar graphs and pie charts—although it does have options for those as well.

Because we’re moving to a standard classification scheme, we now have more ways than ever to visualize our collections: we can look at overarching trends using the main classes of LC (e.g., “P” for Language and Literature or, “N” for Fine Arts); we can also get more granular than that. Within LC, there are subclasses that further delineate topics. PR—English Literature—is a subclass of Language and Literature, as is NA—Architecture—for Fine Arts. We can even delve deeper than that, looking at how many items are within a specific range of class numbers (e.g., PR1000-PR1100). With Tableau, we can then turn these data points into visual c(l)ues:

Click through to see the tableau in its full-sized beauty

 

Another visualization representing the same data.

This visualization breaks out our print holdings first by size designation (12mo = duodecimo; 8vo = octavo; 4to = quarto), then by subclass. Looking at this, we know that we have substantial chunks of duodecimos classed in “B”—Philosophy, Psychology, Religion.  We can also see that there are relatively fewer quartos and folios classed in Philosophy, Psychology, Religion. By doing this legwork, we know that we should probably leave extra space in the duodecimo section for materials classed “B.” Conversely, we also know that we won’t need to leave quite as much room in the folio areas for materials classed similarly.

Using a data visualization service has allowed us to be more accurate, more efficient, in our planning today so we won’t have to do as much shifting in the future. (Sorry wonderful colleagues! I can’t promise that we’ll never do shifting.) My own hope is that by doing this methodical (and methodological!) plotting today, the new stacks will be spoken of with the same fondness as the old stacks—albeit with fewer reverence toward crannies.

Anxiously awaiting our renovated space? It’s coming! From July 1st-August 23rd, the Rubenstein will be closed as we move into our permanent home. On August 24th, we’ll reopen to one and all.

Thanks to Mark Zupan and the Duke Libraries Renovation Flicker page for the excellent pictures; thanks also to Data Visualization for showing us its cool offerings!

Post contributed by Liz Adams, Collections Move Coordinator

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Meet the Staff: Craig Breaden

Mon, 06/01/2015 - 15:14

The Meet Our Staff series features Q&A interviews with Rubenstein staff members about their work and lives.

Craig Breaden joined the Rubenstein as our Audiovisual Archivist  three years ago. Prior to his time at Duke, he spent seven years at the Russell Library at the University of Georgia. He has a BA and MA in history from Texas Christian University and Utah State University, respectively, and an MLS from UNC .  He works on everything from small single-film collections to grant-funded preservation projects involving thousands of audiovisual items.  He facilitates preservation work, provides access to obsolete formats, processes (inventory and catalog) collections, and functions as the go-to oral history guy.

Tell us about your academic background and interests.

I started out interested in frontier history particularly, and how popular images of the American West inform the way Americans think about themselves, their creation myths, the rest of the world.  I’ve also had a lifelong love of music and a fascination with recorded audio and video.  Our audiovisual heritage provides a different, animated view of the past, and can carry a unique emotional weight.

What led you to working in libraries?

I’d had some experience working in a special collections library while in college, but it took a long while for me to come to the profession.  Some folks are late bloomers, I guess.  After years of working in corporate atmospheres unrelated to my academic background, I’d come to the point where I wanted to start making a difference and make a living.  It was the idea that work should mean something, make some kind of contribution to the society as a whole.  There are of course all kinds of ways to do this, but I thought I should play to my strengths.  I had a challenging and satisfying year of teaching 8th grade social studies, but knew that I could give more outside the classroom by focusing on what we might consider the raw materials of educators, those cultural heritage resources that give voice to the past.  It so happened that one of the best library schools in the country (UNC-Chapel Hill) was just down the road, and I applied and fortunately got in.  I decided to focus on my background and my interest in A/V, and while in school pursued audiovisual archiving as an emphasis of my library education.  I owe a big debt to the Southern Folklife Collection and its director, Steve Weiss, in helping me on my way, and to the great librarians at the University of Georgia for giving me a shot.

How do you describe what you do to people you meet at a party? To fellow librarians and library staff?

I usually tell people I’m an archivist in Duke Special Collections.  Sometimes that leads to further conversation, other times not.  I think in general there’s a real disconnect, a misunderstanding about what history really is.  It’s hard to say to most people that what we think of as history is what it is because of what we do in libraries and archives like the one here at Duke.  Colleagues get it, but I think usually the best introduction for them is when they get a CD or tape or film as part of a collection and wonder, at the very basic level, what to do with it.

What does an average day look like for you?

One of the great things about my job is that there aren’t many average days, but most days hold some combination of digital preservation, inventorying collections, answering reference questions via email, figuring out how to run a film or a video or audio tape so that we know what’s on it, and advising colleagues on portions of their collections that hold AV.  Then there are often questions related to policy creation and the changing landscape of digital preservation.  And let’s not forget the meetings….

What do you like best about your job?

I like figuring out problems that fall into my domain of expertise.  I do a ton of troubleshooting and tinkering to get AV to simply play back in a way that it can be accessed, and these nuts-and-bolts successes are always satisfying and really essential to what I do.  I also enjoy meeting donors and getting to know the personalities behind the stuff, just as it’s always great to help a researcher plug into something they might not have been aware of.  And of course my colleagues – every one of them brilliant in completely different ways.

Craig with the Rubenstein’s newest flatbed film editing suite, the Steenbeck

What might people find surprising about your job?

The amount of time spent with spreadsheets and on email.  The first is part and parcel of what we do, that is, knowing what we have, the second is all about attempting to efficiently communicate (jury’s out on that, though).  Pleasantly surprising is that amazingly smart colleagues have something interesting to show or talk about every day.  Archives can be mind-blowing.

Do you have a favorite piece or collection at The Rubenstein? Why?

The H. Lee Waters Films for their big heart, the Frank Clyde Brown field recordings for all the secrets they hold in their wax cylinder and lacquer disc grooves (and that will soon be secret no longer), the home movie collections we have that tell a story beyond what’s happening onscreen, and all the fragile and forgotten bits of film and video that share our shelves equally and continue to have a voice.

Where can you be found when you’re not working? 

With my kids, cooking, strumming a guitar (sometimes all three at once).

What book is on your nightstand/in your carryall right now?

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro; The Innkeeper’s Song by Peter S. Beagle; Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go by Laura Wagner; and Haiti: The Aftershocks of History by Laurent Dubois.

Interview conducted and edited by Katrina Martin.

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ABC’s of John Hope Franklin – (L) Leisure Activities

Fri, 05/29/2015 - 15:00

After the Tulsa Riots occurred in 1921, Buck Franklin, John Hope’s father, was separated from the family for extended periods of time until the entire Franklin family was able to move to Tulsa, OK in 1925. Over the period of separation, Mollie Franklin, John Hope’s mother, took charge of family affairs and raising the children, and even taught John Hope how to fish, in preparation to be a boy scout. Fishing would remain a lifelong hobby for John Hope Franklin. As a young man, he would go fishing with his father. Later in life, John Hope would frequently go fishing in Montana.

Franklin casting a line in Montana, undated Franklin celebrating a catch, undated

In addition to fishing, Franklin loved to cook. His friends and students often spoke about the delicious meals that he prepared, and they described him as an excellent cook. The Franklin family were revered as hosts to anyone who visited their home.

John Hope and his wife Aurelia also traveled extensively due to his extremely busy speaking engagements and visiting professor commitments.

John Hope and Aurelia Franklin sailing in San Francisco, 1970s

 

Another of John Hope Franklin’s hobbies was growing orchids and he had a prized collection, which included over 1000 orchids of different varieties, shapes, and sizes. Franklin built his first substantial greenhouse at his home in Brooklyn, New York.

This series is a part of Duke University’s John Hope Franklin@100: Scholar, Activist, Citizen year-long celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. John Hope Franklin

Submitted by Gloria Ayee, Franklin Research Center Intern

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Mad Men Monday – Season 7, Episode 14: “Person to Person”

Mon, 05/18/2015 - 18:48

The ambiguity! After his emotional awaking with Leonard in the retreat circle, did Don finally find inner peace and decide to leave his New York persona behind? Or did his awakening give him the clarity of vision to return to McCann and write one of the most iconic ad campaigns of all time for Coca-Cola as his sly smile seems to suggest? Are we really left to believe that the only substantive result of Don’s odyssey is that he’s now learned to embrace his cool, calculating cynicism?

Don streaks across the Bonneville salt flats in a Chevy Chevelle SS and indicates the presence of a shimmy to a couple of gear heads once back in the garage. Despite his transient existence he’s still in touch with Sally, who, during a brief phone conversation, reveals Betty’s illness. Don phones Betty and insists on coming home to be with her and take care of the kids. Betty, in the name of maintaining as much normalcy as possible for them, insists on his continued absence. His absence, after all, has been an important part of their normal.

Joan and Richard visit Key West and try cocaine. Referring to her life as “undeveloped real estate,” Richard tries to persuade Joan to leave New York City and take advantage of all he can offer her. Marriage is discussed and dismissed. She later dines with Ken who is seeking the name and number of a producer that worked on the Birds Eye account. She agrees to help.

Pete leaves McCann for the last time. Peggy congratulates him and says she is happy for him. Pete says that Peggy will be a creative director somewhere by 1980. Peggy also meets Joan for lunch after agreeing to write the script for Dow’s film. She hands her a check in payment for two more additional scripts. Citing her workload, Peggy demurs. Joan suggests that they partner and turn the work into a production company: “we won’t have to answer to anyone.” Peggy ponders the proposition.

Don is dropped off at Stephanie’s house in L.A. Both are worn down by life. In the morning Stephanie leaves for a retreat and insists that Don accompany her. After Stephanie is confronted by a fellow retreat attendee about abandoning her child she leaves Don without saying goodbye . . . and without a ride. Don phones Peggy collect. After chiding him for leaving, she softens and suggests that he’d be welcomed back at McCann if he returns. After all, doesn’t he want the chance to work on Coke? Don says he phoned only to say goodbye. Peggy phones Stan to express her concern and during the conversation he confesses his love for her. After talking out her feelings, Peggy realizes that she reciprocates.

Roger visits Joan to let her know that he has decided he wants Kevin in his will. Joan accepts and chuckles when Roger says he is marrying Megan’s mother, Marie. Later Joan cancels a date with Richard in favor of a business meeting. Richard chafes at the time and attention she is devoting to her business that could be given to him. The phone rings and Joan takes the call. Richard wishes her well and leaves.

The morning following Don’s emotional awakening with Leonard, he sits in the lotus position on the cliffs above Big Sur chanting a new age mantra. He closes his eyes, smiles, a bell sounds. Cue the famous 1971 “Hilltop” Coke commercial with its message of love, harmony, and acceptance. Don has accepted who he is.

A gallery of our selected advertisements may also be found on Flickr.

Post contributed by Josh Larkin Rowley, Reference Archivist for the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising, and Marketing History.

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