Devil's Tale Posts
With generous assistance from the History of Medicine travel grant, I traveled to Duke University to view and photograph historical obstetric and gynecological tools housed in Duke’s History of Medicine Collections at the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. There I viewed various artifact collections donated by practicing regional doctors, including the L. M. Draper Collection, the George D. & Evelyn Wilbanks Collection, and several anonymous collections. I also viewed anatomical lift-the-flap guide books, lift-the-flap anatomical fugitive sheets and the Trent Collection of Ivory Anatomical Manikins, all of which were used to teach medical procedures, including delivery.
Having access to Duke’s collection was an incredible experience. I treated it like a short artist residency. I set up my lights, a pop-up tent, my camera and a tripod in a study room within the library. Every morning, a cart was wheeled in with OB/GYN tools, anatomy text books and glass slides. It was exciting (and a little nerve-wracking), opening up boxes and not knowing their contents. For some items, I felt I was discovering the files for the first time. In a way I was: besides the archivists who received and catalogued them, some of the items had never been requested. I often felt as though I were in the medical field—donning nitrile gloves, carefully removing the items from their boxes, gently lying them down on the fabric of my pop-up lighting tent, careful not to harm them in any way. I found myself photographing them as abstractions or as jewelry, a style of cataloguing unlike other projects I have photographed.Smellie-Style Obstetrical Forceps from the George & Evelyn Wilbanks Collection.
My work focuses on historical and contemporary women’s lives and I am particularly interested in the past’s technology and how it relates to today. I have previously done photographic projects on antique vibrators, social media and the practice of keeping a commonplace book and with this project, the history of labor and delivery technology. While the process of getting pregnant has changed with IVF and the location of delivery may have changed, the actual process of delivery has not changed. Although American society emphasizes new products & experiences, and the medical world uses recent technology & procedures, women continue to deliver only one of two ways—vaginally or via Cesarean section. Prior to my arrival at Duke, I assumed the tools used in labor and delivery were harmful to the infants and delivering women. I also wondered how deadly labor actually was—in fictionalized accounts in both books and screen, no female who delivered a newborn ever lived, and seldom the child. I expected antique tools to be brutal and different in appearance than today. It surprised me that many of the tools I photographed resembled contemporary tools, only with time’s effect through rust or evident aging.
My research at Duke is the beginning of both my project and into further research on the history of the OB/GYN tools and their uses. Although in its early stages, I plan to study these tools’ history, as well as their use & influence today. The final images may be printed as slides, emulating turn of the twentieth century magic-lantern plates or late-twentieth century educational slide shows. Whatever form these images take, I was particularly inspired by the anatomical lift-the flap books & broad sides and will create an artist book influenced by these interactive educational guides. I look forward to sharing future developments of this project. Thank you to everyone at Duke University’s Rubenstein Library for their assistance during my stay.
Post contributed by History of Medicine Travel Grant recipient Lindsey Beal. Beal is a photo-based artist and professor in Providence, Rhode Island. Her work and further information can be found at lindseybeal.com.
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In the University Archives, we have seen a few time capsules in our day. More often than not, they end up being a bit of a letdown. Newspaper has crumbled, cloth has mildewed, and time has taken its toll on these relics of the past. This year, however, we were fortunate enough to be the recipients of a time capsule that, while modest from the outside, has preserved its remarkable contents in mint condition.
The time capsule was laid in the cornerstone of the Washington Duke Hotel in 1924. The hotel was the first to be built in Durham, and was the product of a fundraising campaign by many leaders of industry and other interested parties, including Duke University administrators. The hotel was a glamorous destination for many years, but by the 1970s the gleam had faded. In 1975, the hotel was imploded. The site today is a plaza, best known for its bull statue.
Someone thoughtful apparently removed the time capsule, and many years later delivered it to the new Washington Duke Inn and Golf Club, adjacent to Duke’s West Campus. The staff of the Washington Duke Inn kindly took care of this time capsule until this year, when it was gifted to the University Archives, and we have an opportunity for the first time to highlight this fascinating collection in a new exhibit, on display outside the Biddle Rare Book Room.The time capsule. Photo by Mark Zupan.
The time capsule itself appears to be made from recycled printing plates, and was soldered by hand. Inside were examples of the products produced in Durham in 1924: cigarettes, tobacco bags, cotton cloth, hosiery, and socks. Also included were a photo of John Buchanan, the Chairman of the Executive Committee tasked with raising funds for the venture, and a photo Washington Duke, the hotel’s namesake. A key, possibly added to the time capsule many years later, is a reminder that this was a hotel from another era—no key cards here! A prospectus for the dazzling new hotel promises, “that Durham will have a real civic, social, and commercial center, for around the new Hotel will radiate every big function that transpires in our city.”Durham-made hosiery from the time capsule.
The exhibit will be on display outside the Biddle Rare Book Room until mid-June and is available during the general library’s open hours.
Post contributed by Val Gillispie, Duke University Archivist.
When Kate—our fearless Test Kitchen coordinator—assigned me to the Friday, April 15th post, I was very excited. Not because I love the month of April so much, although a couple of my nearest and dearest count it as their birthday month. And not because I love doing my taxes, it’s definitely not that. What I do love is a theme, and Tax Day—although not this year for a very good reason— provides an excellent opportunity for a monetarily themed baked good: financiers.
A financier is a small cake made with almonds. Its distinct name bears testament to the financial market in 19th Century France: financiers were first created in a bakery near the financial center of Paris, where many a financier could visit; the cakes are also a crisp golden color and baked in small rectangular molds (Hesser). So at their heart, financiers are really just edible gold bars, which may be even better than real gold bars, as food resembling precious metals most likely can’t be subject to additional income taxes.
While the origin story of these gilt cakes can be found on websites and is recounted in a 19th Century tome (Mémorial Historique et Géographique de la Patisserie), recipes for it don’t make frequent appearances in cookbooks (Hesser). Some of this may be born from the fact that the recipe is fairly straightforward, mainly involving eggs, butter, flour, and sugar. Haute cuisine (fine food) was very much a part of the French cookbook tradition, dating back to the publication of La Varenne’s Le Cuisinier Francais in 1651 (DeJean, 2005, p.107-109). Or, it could be a recipe known very well to the French, and just little known to Americans. In fact, there was little interaction between French cuisine and North Americans until the mid-to-late 20th Century when Julia Child, Simone Beck, and Louisette Bertholle’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking was first published, bringing French cuisine across the ocean (DeJean, 2005, p.131).
All this is to say, a recipe for financiers proved too elusive for me, and so I substituted in a similar recipe from our collections involving almonds, conveniently titled “Almond Cake” and found in Royal Baker and Pastry Cook published by Royal Baking Powder Company. There are only two notable differences between the almond cake selected and financiers: baking powder and brandy, which I didn’t have anyway, and so I just left it out.
Royal Baking Powder Company was based out of New York and copyrighted its cookbook in 1911. The company took baking powder very seriously, and in its cookbook included such sections as “General Directions,” which “must be carefully read by everyone using this book” (p.1) and “Facts worth knowing” (p.44). These sections pertain to the merits of different types of baking powder. Did you know that there were 3 kinds of baking powder in 1911, with 3 different main ingredients? These ingredients were 1) cream of tartar, 2) phosphate of lime, and 3) alum and alum-phosphate. Royal Baking Powder is made with the “wholesomeness of cream of tartar” (p.1), and the makers advocate using only those baking powders made with cream of tartar.
The recipe I used was appealingly tiny and contained mostly familiar terms. I did learn a new definition for the word “gills.” Not only does it refer to a specific kind of fish tissue, but it is also “a measure for liquids, containing one fourth of a standard pint.” (Gill, n.3). Thankfully, the latter definition is the one referenced in Royal Baking Powder Company’s recipe.
The ingredients in the recipe were all things that might normally be in a kitchen, which meant I made a couple trips to the store. And even though I’m truly enamored with the word “gills,” I did not follow this part of the recipe, instead choosing to grind my pre-sliced almonds with their skin still on. Because Royal Baking Powder so vehemently argued against aluminum based baking powder, I chose one that prominently advertised that it did not contain any:
Whenever I read my colleagues’ Test Kitchen posts, I always envision the labor involved in cooking the food– whether that’s scooping up lard to fry Mexican ravioles or carefully molding meat into a box shape.Some of these activities undoubtedly look exactly the same as they did in the recipes’ heydays. Others feature new technologies and look decidedly different. My own activities fell into the latter category. I chose to use my blender and hand mixer to combine ingredients, both because of time constraints and because my arms just aren’t strong enough to mix in each egg individually, with 3-4 minute intervals for beating. What would’ve taken me 12 minutes to do thus took me 5, and the recipe came together very quickly. Je ne regrette rien.
Financiers are most typically baked in individual molds. Royal Baking Powder specifies a fluted pan, which I don’t own. I thus didn’t follow the recommendations for either financiers or the almond cake and baked it in a clear pan. This was probably a mistake, as glass pans do not conduct heat as well as metal ones (Lawandi, J.).
As with other recipes of its time, Royal Baking Powder doesn’t specify a temperature, and so I arbitrarily chose 375 degrees. After checking on the cake at 20 minutes, and then again at 35 minutes, I decided to bump up the heat to 400 degrees. (You may recall that the recommended cooking time was 20 minutes.) Another 10 minutes resulted in a cake that would not poison eaters, and I called that success and took it out of the oven.
I attempted to give my almond cake a more financial appearance and shaved the cake down into gold bars. The cake was quite crumbly and didn’t quite take to my tender ministrations. I quickly let go of my gold bar dreams (and taking pictures) and just started eating, which was a good thing to do. The cake was much better than expected, and I quickly helped myself to another couple slices. I imagine that it would taste even better with ice cream.
My quest for a financier recipe ultimately reminded me of a library aphorism: let the resources guide your research, meaning that it’s probably not a good idea to choose a topic (or theme) until you look at the resources available to you. If I had paid more attention to that rule of thumb, I might have chosen a slightly more accessible recipe and ended up with a delightful French pastry that more closely followed the instructions.
To be fair, I also ended up learning more about financiers, French cuisine, and baking powder than I ever dreamed of, and those are things certainly worth knowing. Just as importantly, I ended up with a delicious dessert to get me to the weekend.
DeJean, J. E. (2005). The Essence of Style: How the French Invented High Fashion, Fine Food, Chic Cafés, Style, Sophistication, and Glamour. New York: Free Press.
Gill, n.3. (n.d.). Retrieved April 15, 2016, from http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/78285?rskey=ObQoES
Hesser, A. (1999, November 24). The Pastry Chef’s Rich Little Secret. The New York Times. Retrieved April 12, 2016, from http://www.nytimes.com/1999/11/24/dining/the-pastry-chef-s-rich-little-secret.html
Lawandi, J. (n.d.). When to Use Glass Bakeware and When to Use Metal – We’ve Got Chemistry. Retrieved April 15, 2016, from http://www.thekitchn.com/glass-vs-metal-bakeware-is-there-a-difference-food-science-217961
Royal Baker and Pastry Cook: A Manual of Practical Receipts for Home Baking and Cooking. (1911). New York, U.S.A.: Royal Baking Powder.
Post Contributed by Liz Adams, Special Collections Cataloger
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Date: Saturday, April 16, 2016
Time: 11:00 AM-7:00 PM
Location: Durham Armory, 220 Foster Street, Durham, NC 27701
On Saturday, April 16, librarians from the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture will be joining over 150 zine-makers, artists, print-makers, independent authors and booksellers at the Durham Armory for the 2nd Zine Machine printed matter festival.
We’ll be setting up a pop-up zine library and teaching people how to make mini-zines. (If you can’t make the festival, you can still download and make your own copy of the Bingham Center’s minizine! Instructions on how to fold it are included.)
The Bingham Center holds over 6,000 zines dating from the early-1990’s through the present, by women, girls, queer and trans identified people. Our collections are always open to the public, but this is a fun way to browse a few highlights while getting a chance to start your own collection with creative zines from local, national, and international writers and artists.
The festival is organized by local artists and Duke faculty Bill Fick and Bill Brown, along with Everett Rand of Mineshaft Magazine to celebrate autonomous, alternative printed media and create a venue for our vibrant regional self-publishing community.
This year, the festival will also be host such luminaries of the printed matter universe as Pat Moriarity, Mary Fleener, and Keith Knight, as well as returning guests Girls Rock NC, Internationalist Books, and the the Bingham Center.
Post contributed by Kelly Wooten, Research Services and Collection Development Librarian for the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture.
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As the Josiah Charles Trent Intern for the History of Medicine Collections, I have the opportunity to work with closely with a number of rare books, manuscripts and artifacts spanning hundreds of years and several continents. Because I’m here for a brief period of time, I’ve had to immerse myself in the materials in order to become familiar with them. While learning about the breadth and depth of the collections, one item in particular stood out to me: the nkisi nkondi figure in the History of Medicine artifacts collection.
Nkisi nkondi figures come from the Kongo people, a Bantu ethnic group located in the present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo. Nkisi are spirits or objects that spirits inhabit, and nkondi are an aggressive subclass of nkisi that are used to punish wrongdoing and enforce oaths.
The figures were created collaboratively between sculptors and spiritual specialists called nganga. The wooden figure would be carved by the sculptor, and they could range in size from less than a foot tall, like the figure in the Trent Collection, to lifesize. The sculptor would create a cavity in the head or stomach, which then would be packed with materials chosen for their spiritual significance, such as dirt from an ancestor’s grave. The cavity would then be covered by a mirror or glass, which was believed to allow the spirit to peer through into our world. The figures were often created at the edge of a village because it was the borders and entrances that needed to be protected from outside harm.
The nails in the figure indicate the number of times the spirit was invoked. The spirit would then hunt down wrongdoers, such as thieves or an oath breaker. Nkisi nkondi were used publicly by entire villages and tribal leaders and were intended to protect the innocent. Use by an individual for private gain was considered to be witchcraft.
Although nkisi nkondi figures have been made since at least the sixteenth century, the nailed figures which are predominantly found in western collections were most likely made in the northern region of the Kongo cultural area during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Prior to the availability of nails, nganga would invoke the spirit through other means such as banging two figures together.
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, colonizers from Belgium, France, and Portugal viewed the figures as weapons of resistance. Missionaries removed them through coercion, or force if necessary, in an effort to remove what was seen as their pagan influence over villagers. Most figures found in western collections were removed during this time period. Because of this history, provenance of the figures can prove to be elusive. Today, the beliefs that underlie these figures still exist, but they no longer take these elaborate forms.
The nkisi nkondi figure is currently on display in the Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Room as part of an exhibit celebrating the sixtieth anniversary of the collection’s arrival at Duke University, which will be up through the end of June.
Post contributed by Amelia Holmes, Josiah Charles Trent Intern for the History of Medicine Collections
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The Hartman Center is currently processing the Gary B. and Sandra G. Baden Collection of Print Advertisements, a collection of about 50 linear feet of print ads that cover primarily the first three quarters of the twentieth century. It is notable and was initially attractive to the Hartman Center for its early ads for automobiles, perfume and watches, but it also includes a wide range of corporate ads as well as some travel and tourism literature.
The Badens were avid collectors, and the collection also includes some non-advertising-related materials: issues of international magazines; direct mail materials; packaging; old maps; and some sheet music. There are about eight compositions from the early 1900s-1930s, including Stephen Foster, Irving Berlin as well as some tunes from the Ragtime/Minstrel/Vaudeville era. Of these, two items especially stand out.
The first, a Thomas Allen/William Macauley ragtime tune entitled “M-M-Mazie” from 1904, is fairly well known, but this one has a seemingly rare cover. Most digitized versions, including one held by Duke, features a red cover with a photograph of pianist Joseph A. Callahan. The version found in the Baden collection features a blue cover with a photograph of the African American Vaudeville duo Brandow and Wiley. Brandow and Wiley were quite prominent in their day, one of the few black song-and-dance acts to star in the mainly white Keith-Orpheum circuit of theaters. Russell Brandow was an acrobatic dancer and a specialist in what was known as comedic “grotesque dance.” Stella Wiley was a singer and dancer who was previously married to the notable composer, producer and musician Bob Cole, credited with creating the first all-black musical production, “A Trip to Coontown” (1898), and a creative who worked to break down the minstrel-era racial stereotypes in theater. The history of African American vaudeville, minstrel shows and other performing arts in the early 20th century is still an emerging research field, so it is exciting to find a picture of this pair of performers.
As a side note, March was Disability Awareness Month, and “M-M-Mazie” regularly appears in scholarly work on the exploitation of speech impediments and other disabilities in popular cultural productions like songs and story narratives. The chorus goes “M’m M’m M’m Mazie My d’d d’d daisy You I adore; and everyday that passes by I love you m-m more and more.”
The second piece of sheet music poses a bit more of a mystery. It’s an 1899 piece entitled “Coontown Promenade” or alternatively, “Coontown or Loyola Minstrels Promenade,” a cake-walk and two-step composition. The composer, Johann Schmid, was quite prolific composer of popular music, with nearly 300 known compositions ranging from minstrel tunes to rags and schottisches, but very little is known of him as a person. “Coontown Promenade” does not seem to appear in any library holdings, digital sheet music collections or in the WorldCat database. It also does not appear in online databases of known compositions by Schmid, although it does appear in the register of U.S. copyright applications. The Loyola University Music Club did perform minstrels in the early 1900s but it is unclear whether this was among them. A very exciting find in a very unexpected place.
The international media has long presented a distorted image of Haiti, one that leaves out the multiplicity of our people, exoticizes our culture, and depicts poverty as universal, without context or history. Haiti is labeled the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, a country teeming with chaos and suffering, the eternal recipient of foreign aid.
One of my tasks at the Radio Haiti archives is to help process the hefty stacks of US newspapers collected by Jean Dominique and Michèle Montas during their 1980-1986 and 1991-1994 exiles in New York. Often, I had to keep myself from being distracted by sensationalist headlines in order to get through the newspaper clippings that had yet to be sorted. Every so often, however, I would come across something so startling that I would have to pause to absorb the shock. How could such things be published in supposedly unbiased sources of international news? It disturbed me that people with limited knowledge could make derogatory claims that would have permanent effects on people’s understanding of Haiti’s place in the world.Over 700 miles from Miami, but several centuries away.” Miami News, 1981 In which the New York Times describes the refugee camp at Guantanamo Bay as an “oasis” – November 1991
Haiti, “Land of Fear and Death”, New York Post, 1991
When I came to Duke as a freshman, I had preconceived ideas of the struggles I would face, but a challenge to my identity as a Haitian was not one of them. Whenever I would tell people I was from Haiti, I would get skeptical gazes or looks of astonishment followed by remarks like “Haiti! Where in Haiti? Both your parents are from Haiti? Are they doctors working in Haiti?”, so that I could further validate the incongruence between my appearance and my claim. When I noticed a trend in these reactions, I began to reflect and question my origin and actually felt shaken when a simple “Yes, I’m Haitian” was not enough. I was not oblivious to the fact that I did not look like the “average Haitian”; I grew up very aware of this fact. It did not come as a surprise that I would be met with these reactions upon introducing myself, but as I thought about it, I began to uncover truths about my position in Haitian society that were difficult for me to accept. It was extremely uncomfortable to face the fact that I did not belong to the Haitian majority, but to a very small elite minority, because it confirmed the existence of the chasm between the two groups that I had observed my whole life but never fully come to terms with.
Never before had this difference invalidated my sense of belonging. My insecurity persisted, however, because it stemmed from the possibility that my sense of belonging was laced with ignorance. Could I truly claim to be part of a group whose struggle I never had to fully share? There is an undeniable and deep-seated social-class hierarchy in Haiti that often corresponds with the pigmentation of one’s skin. After Haiti won its independence, the first republic to emerge from a large-scale rebellion by enslaved people, conflict arose between Black Haitians and Haitians of mixed race, a division that remains to this day. Since Haiti’s birth as a free nation, its image has been vastly shaped by the outside world’s interpretations; the international media rarely depicts Haitians looking like me. Yet to claim skin color alone as the defining factor of Haitian identity would undermine my lived experience: if I am not Haitian, what am I?
Each time I left Duke and returned to the bubble of elite Port-au-Prince, the social system there seemed more and more problematic, one in which the rich and poor live side by side but are worlds apart. There were people who blatantly proclaimed that the divide between rich and poor was inevitable and necessary, and those who claimed that we were all “one nation” despite the inequality. No matter how idealistic and deceptively unifying it sounded to claim that all of us are one despite our social class and backgrounds, I felt it unfair to ignore the differences in our experiences as Haitians. Overlooking the divide leads to a form of hypocritical erasure, one that disregards the oppressive elitist perception projected onto one group by another. Denying the complex situation of social class in Haiti belittles the suffering of many and excuses the powerful for their contribution to this disparity. Though I’d often heard criticism of the “savior complex” of foreign aid workers in Haiti, I found it within our walls in air of superiority held by those overlooking the masses, who believed that the poor were the reason for the deprived state of the country today.
After my second summer at home, I returned to Duke as a junior and began to work as an assistant on the Radio Haiti project. In order to better understand the station’s work and legacy, I watched The Agronomist, the documentary about Jean Dominique and Radio Haiti. I had to pause the movie several times to collect my racing thoughts and feelings. I felt deep pain and nostalgia: what the film showed was at once so familiar and so foreign. I was angry that I had never heard many of these stories, that I had grown up among those same landmarks and never understood the events that had unfolded there not long before.
A veil lifted for me when I learned about the work of Radio Haiti, impacting how I thought about home. I heard uncompromised truth verbalized, one I had struggled to define and speak out myself. I discovered a way of thinking that seemed fair and just. I felt disappointed about the state of oblivion I had lived in for so long, as I was learning about events that my parents and grandparents had lived through, yet never spoken about within our household. The silence felt like an injustice to the lives taken and the history that left the nation the way it is today. Radio Haiti brought the truth to light and never compromised their mission to uphold this truth, even in the face of violence and intimidation. It brought me solace, and gave me the strength to challenge the perceptions that had been passed on to me and quieted the anxiety that told me that there was no place for those who contradicted and challenged the system. To see members of the mixed-race elite who choose to align themselves with the struggles of the urban and rural poor gave me courage to follow their steps. It instilled in me a desire and sense of responsibility to actively connect with the history of my homeland if I am to bear the title of being Haitian.
Post contributed by Krystelle Rocourt (Trinity ’17), student assistant for the Radio Haiti Archive project
The post Learning About Home, Away from Home: A Student Assistant in the Radio Haiti Archive appeared first on The Devil's Tale.
Laura Wagner is the Project Archivist for the Radio Haiti Archives. She joined the Rubenstein in 2015. She has a PhD in anthropology from UNC. Her dissertation is about the 2010 earthquake and its long aftermath: how did people’s everyday lives and social worlds change (or not change) in the wake of the disaster and displacement? How do people get by in an aid economy? How did Haitian people and non-Haitian interveners make sense of the humanitarian response and its failures? She also wrote a YA novel, Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go , which deals with some of the same issues. Her interests include Haiti, literary fiction and nonfiction, humanitarianism, human rights, and social justice. She has been a frequent contributor to the Devil’s Tale since joining the RL.
How do you describe what you do to people you meet at a party? To fellow librarians and library staff?
At parties I say “I work on the archives of Haiti’s first independent radio station.” Then that confuses them and they think I’m doing research in the archives, and I have to clarify that I’m processing the materials. Then they generally want to know why these materials live at Duke. And if I’m at a party in Haiti, people then want to talk to about their own memories of Radio Haiti and of Jean Dominique, and they ask me if the station will ever reopen. To librarians and library staff, I say I’m a project archivist who never trained as an archivist.
What led you to working in libraries?
This project. I had never worked in a library before. I began working on this project as an external contractor for the Forum for Scholars and Publics, which was collaborating with the Library to create a public-facing pilot website with a small sample of the Radio Haiti recordings. When the opportunity to apply for the Project Archivist job came along, I applied. I had already decided that if it was possible, I wanted to work on this project full time. Temperamentally and experientially, I am probably a bit of an outlier among the library set.
Tell us about your relationship to Radio Haiti. How has it evolved since taking on this position?
Jean Dominique, Michèle Montas, and other members of the Radio Haiti team had numbered among my heroes since I first started learning about Haiti and learning Haitian Creole, back in 2004. I never could have imagined that one day I would have the opportunity to work on preserving the work of Radio Haiti. The first time I met Michèle, in April 2014, I was embarrassingly giddy. It is a huge honor to work on this project.
I’m learning a lot about late twentieth century Haiti, in a very granular way. I already knew the major events and trends, the main themes, but always analytically and in hindsight. It’s a very different experience to learn about events through real-time, day-to-day reporting, done by people who did not yet know the outcome of the story. It’s fascinating, but also often sad and frustrating because you see the same things happening over and over and over again, until today. The same injustices, the same impunity, though sometimes it “repaints its face”, to use a phrase that Jean Dominique uses.
How does your work at the Rubenstein influence your approach to research and writing?
I was a researcher and writer before I started working on this project, so I have to keep myself in check; I cannot follow my instincts and desires by letting myself act as a researcher and writer when my job, for the moment, is to be processing the archive. That said, I hope to someday write something substantial about this archive. I can also say that my experience as a researcher and writer influences my approach to processing this archive. I want it all to be clear and transparent; I want to provide context and thematic guidance for future researchers and listeners. Working on the Radio Haiti archive has been a huge learning experience for me, and I want to impart as much of that knowledge as possible to others down the line, by incorporating that knowledge into the structure and description of the archive.
What does an average day at RL look like for you?
Because this is a single project with a clear goal and endpoint, and with defined stages, my typical workday varies depending on what we’re working on. These days I am mostly working through Radio Haiti’s paper archive. So I get to work, answer some email, and start organizing the papers, removing the faded invisible Thermofax pages, sorting them by subject and year. I have two excellent undergraduate assistants this semester, both Haitian, who are starting to listen to and describe some of the recordings. I am very eager to finish processing the papers so I can focus on the audio full-time. I also spend part of the day thinking about broader questions of access — how we’re going to make this collection as available and accessible as possible to people in Haiti, given the social and infrastructural realities there. I am very eager to begin working on the recordings full-time, of course.Laura working alongside her student assistant Tanya Thomas.
What do you like best about your job? What excites you most?
What excites me the most is that I am helping keep this important work alive, making it accessible to people in Haiti and beyond. And I just really like the experience of listening to the recordings. Sometimes it’s hard for me to listen as an archivist, rather than as a researcher and writer. So it’s fun when I get to write a blog entry about the project, and synthesize and put together different parts of the archive, translate some excerpts, and provide context to people who may not already know the story of Radio Haiti. As I said, it’s a great honor to work on this collection, to be entrusted with this collection. As Michèle says, part of Jean’s soul is here.
What might people find surprising about your job?
I think it depends on the person. For people who aren’t used to processing archival collections (id est most people), I think they’d be surprised at how much physical restoration, intellectual labor and time this job takes. A lot of people want the Radio Haiti collection to be available as soon as possible. (I’m one of them!) And many people don’t understand why we can’t do it instantly.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
I have two answers to that, which are sort of incommensurate with one another. In a day-to-day sense, it can be tedious, and I sometimes feel isolated in this work. Radio Haiti itself was a team effort — it was a social, collaborative, interactive entity, an act of ongoing solidarity, both in terms of the journalists and their audience… and the audience was nearly all of Haiti. So engaging with that work in my cubicle in a converted tobacco warehouse in Durham, North Carolina, can feel lonely. At the same time, I feel connected to the people who appear in the tapes, across time and space, even across life and death. Which brings me to the second challenging aspect of this job, which is actually the same as my favorite thing about the job: the weight of history, the weight of memory. This collection is a huge part of Haitian national heritage. And so much of it is sad, frustrating and infuriating — there is so much injustice, suffering, and absurdity in this archive. Sometimes it’s emotionally difficult to listen to these things — though Jean Dominique’s incisive intellect and humor make it easier. It sounds strange, but I laugh all the time.Laura surveys her boxes
Do you have a favorite piece or collection at The Rubenstein? Why?
Well, the Radio Haiti collection is obviously my favorite collection, for all the reasons I’ve mentioned. I’m not intimately familiar with the other collections, but the National Coalition for Haitian Rights archive has some fascinating material in it that often complements the Radio Haiti collection. And I like all the History of Medicine collections, especially Benjamin Rush papers, which are poignant, and the creepy suede baby + placenta.
Where can you be found when you’re not working?
Cooking dinner with friends, baking cakes, drinking a beer, vaguely working on novel #2, vaguely revising my dissertation, singing in the car, asking my cats why they are thundering hither and yon at 2 am. I like making silly little greeting cards for friends; I’ve been thinking about taking an actual art class or something. I’d like to know how to access all the other seasons of the Great British Baking Show. And I’ve started running as of late, at which I am truly mediocre. It’s liberating to do something you know you have no hope of being good at.
What book is on your nightstand/in your carryall right now?
There’s a stack! I’ve been slowly savoring the Complete Stories of Clarice Lispector for a few weeks, but it’s a bit heavy to carry around.
Interview conducted and edited by Katrina Martin.
The post Meet the Staff: Laura Wagner, Radio Haiti Project Archivist appeared first on The Devil's Tale.
I was delighted to find that one of our newest collections, the Terence Mitchell Collection of Tobacco Advertising, includes a run of Real Photographs, a series for the De Reszke cigarettes produced by J. Millhoff & Co. in England. These tiny cards feature animals posed in funny ways, doing adorable things, with cute captions. They are basically the tobacco card version of today’s Internet cat memes.
These tobacco cards gave me an excuse to look into the history of cat photography, particularly pictures of funny cats with captions. It turns out that posing cats in outfits is not a new trend, despite the persistent popularity of Internet memes like LOLcats and I Can Haz Cheezburger. Matthew Hussey’s 2012 article on A History of LOLcats explains that early photographers quickly discovered the marketability of cats, and began selling cat postcards and cartes de visite as early as 1870. Harry Pointer, the first known photographer of cats posed in silly ways, marketed his photos as The Brighton Cats – so named for his Brighton, England, photography studio. A later photographer who was even more commercially successful was American Harry Whittier Frees (1879-1953), whose postcards and children’s books featured animals, especially cats, doing funny things. Frees was so talented in posing and photographing his animals that some questioned their authenticity. In his preface to The Little Folks of Animal Land (1915), he explained his techniques, saying, “The difficulties encountered in posing kittens and puppies for pictures of this kind have been overcome only by the exercise of great patience and invariable kindness.” After their photoshoot, Frees writes, “my little models … enjoy nothing better than a frolic about the studio.” The Library of Congress now holds a collection of Frees’ photographs. You can view them here.
I think that the tobacco card industry jumped on the funny animal pose trend, which explains why the run featured here is the fourth of five runs of Real Photographs produced by J. Millhoff & Co. between 1931 and 1935. The fourth run that I found in the Mitchell Collection dates to 1932. (It could be that the other runs are also present! We are continuing to process these tobacco cards – there are several thousand of them.) It makes sense that tobacco companies would have realized the marketability of cute animals. They were also smart enough to recognize the popularity of baseball players and pretty actresses. (Check out the newly digitized W. Duke and Sons collection of tobacco cards.)
Looking at all of Harry Whittier Frees’ photographs online led to me wonder what sort of cute cat pictures we hold in Rubenstein. You’ll be pleased to know we have several in our vast Postcard Collection. Here are some of my favorites, all from the early 20th century.Caption reads: Why So Cross Dear? Photograph by E.D. Putnam & Son, Anich, N.H. Photomechanical print. No known photographer. Salt print postcard. No known photographer. Caption: Little Miss White. Copyright by C.E. Bullard. Published by M.T. Sheahan, Boston, Mass.
This last one is by Charles E. Bullard, another early twentieth century photographer who wisely copyrighted his cat pictures, and then worked with publishers to distribute them widely. This 1915 profile of Bullard in The American Magazine is truly hilarious and details his methods for capturing the perfect LOLcat. Here’s an excerpt:
“It is no easy job to photograph a cat. He is very unreasonable as to staying where he is put, and the only system is to use infinite patience. I have worked half a day trying to photograph a cat in a particular pose, and then had to give up in despair.”
I am on the lookout for other photographs of historical cats, especially those held in Rubenstein collections. If you find some, let me know!
Post contributed by Meghan Lyon, Section Head Manuscript Processing.