Friday, 18 August 2017

Presenting Democratic Histories in Absentia: National Conference of African American Librarians

Dear Colleagues,

I regret that I was unable to join you in Atlanta last weekend for the National Conference of African American Librarians conference. As soon as I found out about the acceptance of our session proposal, my dear friend, Jinwen, informed me of her wedding date...August 11, 2017... in San Diego! As a bridesmaid, a big fan of Southern California, and a hardcore wedding enthusiast - I had to bow out of our presentation, Democratic Histories: Strategies for Engaging African American Communities in the Archival Process.

5 bridesmaids and the flower girl standing near the alter at the #totalifontastic wedding of Jinwen Li and Chris Fong, photo taken by Tracy Lin in San Diego, California
Although there is no substitute for sharing ideas alongside my co-presenters and answering questions in real time - I thought this blog post would be a good way to demonstrate my commitment to this work and keep the conversation going.   

Why this session?
When I saw the conference theme in the call for proposals -- Beyond Library Walls: Innovative Ways to Engage our Community, it was easy to make the connection to my work in the Southern Historical Collection as well as stories from colleagues doing library outreach work across the country. Recently, I attended the 2017 Movers and Shakers reception during the ALA Annual Meeting in Chicago and every award recipient had an element of engaging communities in meaningful ways. I met a school librarian from Massachusetts who found ways to bring parents to the library to engage in student learning outcomes and a youth public librarian in Illinois who designed programs about gardening and sustainability for immigrant communities. When I had a chance to meet my future co-presenters (Shanee, Holly, and Skyla) in a 2015 California Rare Book School course, I could see that they were interested in the same ethos of bringing established archival practices, collections, and institutions to new audiences.  

I called the session Democratic Histories, in the hope that it would invoke at least two concepts in the imaginations of our audience. The first being the total representation of all the people implied in the definition of democracy - we are striving to build archives that are more  representative of the people in our communities regardless of age, sex, gender, class, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, etc. The second is the idea of building citizenship through the participation in a democracy or an archive. Showing people how to use archives, how to contribute to archives, or maintain personal or family collections are forms of validating their experiences and giving them incentives and tools to question the status quo and effect change in their communities. If you are one of those people who hears the word democracy and laughs at the irony because you can’t see past the seemingly insurmountable inequality and corruption in this American democracy then you could probably provide an appropriate dose of cynicism to the discussion which can keep the scale of these outreach strategies in perspective.

The last reason that I was drawn to this topic at this conference is the opportunity to share an important moment of personal and professional reflection. Throughout library school and into the last five years of my career, many facets of archives work have called out to me. I love the way that archivists jump into collections, applying order, giving access, and churning through backlogs. I love to hear how we invent, adapt, and use systems and software programs to do this work more ethically, efficiently and across all formats. At the same time, situating archival materials in new contexts and adding to existing local, national, or international historiographies is fascinating. There is no better way to understand the past than to see people, places, and events through the lens of a stranger from history.

In the past three years at the Southern Historical Collection, I’ve grappled with the slippery notion of bringing material from marginalized African American communities or donors into an institutional archive. It’s easy for us as professionals to understand why this is important -- moral imperative, more complete histories for researchers, fulfilling missions of diversity, intellectual curiosity, etc; but why would communities look to institutions to preserve their stories when they have been doing it for themselves since the beginning of their existence? The examples that follow will try to answer this question -- but to me the question is really about outreach and ultimately requires a conceptual deconstruction and reconstruction of the formal archive. The opportunity to think critically and communicate clearly about what we do, why we do it, and who we do it for -- is a sweet spot for me. Hopefully the live session will include anecdotes from community members, archives professionals, and the general public that will keep your mind from going blank or dropping into “archives-speak” when you are inevitably asked why an investment in this type of outreach is worthwhile.    

What did I hope to share?
While my colleagues are well suited to discuss their engagement efforts with black churches, black college students, and black communities in urban environments - I was poised to discuss my work with black municipalities in rural environments. An extraordinary confluence of UNC professors, humanities scholars, and engaged mayors from these towns brought the Historically Black Towns and Settlements Alliance (HBTSA) to my attention in 2014. HBTSA was originally composed of five towns, Eatonville, FL, Mound Bayou, MS, Hobson City, AL, Tuskegee, AL, and Grambling, LA -- they have since grown to include more towns in more states.

It was clear from the beginning these towns did not represent traditional collection donors - they wanted to hear more about how the archives could serve their interests. Their primary one being support for using their impressive histories to promote cultural tourism in the towns. Representatives shared stories about how they could not register as historic landmarks because the necessary proof was last seen in someone’s shed - necessitating the need for a centralized archive. They wanted to have the genealogies of their founders properly documented and preserved. They wanted to honor the folks who had lived and died in their communities by cleaning up local cemeteries and clearly documenting the occupants.

Photo of cemetery, featuring an angel figure, flowers and the headstone Bernice Flowers; born: March 20, 1935, died September 31, 1973 in Grambling, Louisiana (2014), taken by Biff Hollingsworth
Photo of archival materials from the home of former Hobson City, Alabama mayor, Mrs. Willie Maude Snow - brought in to city hall to show the extent of dispersed collections (2014), taken by Chaitra Powell

Photo of an unprocessed archival collection in the Tuskegee History Museum in Tuskegee, Alabama (2014), taken by Chaitra Powell
Photo of an Eatonville baseball or cricket team, n.d. shared by Maye St. Julian in her home in Eatonville, Florida (2014), taken by Bryan Giemza
Photo of Chaitra addressing the audience about the Southern Historical Collection’s commitment to the Historic Black Towns and Settlements Alliance (HBTSA) during the conference in Chapel Hill (2015), taken by Jay Mangum
Lastly, they wanted opportunities to share stories in order to engage and inspire the community’s younger generation in the histories of their towns. In order to gain as much context as possible - we made visits to the towns, established working relationships with town stakeholders, conducted archival content surveys, supervised field scholars, participated in weekly HBTSA conference calls, and helped to orchestrate an HBTSA conference in Chapel Hill in the spring of 2015. All of this preparation culminated in three exciting pilot initiatives in Mound Bayou, Mississippi in the Fall of 2015.

  1. Document Rescue: The Administration Building of the Knights and Daughters of Tabor of organization held important documents in less than ideal environmental conditions. The building had been ravaged by storms and neglect, leaving it water damaged, dirty, and full of pests. The rooms within the building contained publications, insurance forms, photographs, and ceremonial artifacts that told the story of a Southern based, black fraternal organization. The Southern Historical Collection offered to rent a storage unit in nearby Cleveland, MS for three years and temporarily store the materials until an adequate permanent solution could be found. We worked with the community to move the materials into storage in October 2015.
Photo of a van filled with moving boxes during the document rescue event at the Knights and Daughters of Tabor Administration Building in Mound Bayou, Mississippi (2015), taken by Chaitra Powell
  1. Virtual Community Genealogy: In recent years, Mound Bayou has been the site of several field experiences for Duke and UNC graduate and undergraduate students. In the summer of 2015, students worked to compile biographical information on the town’s founders and early residents, up until the middle of the 20th century. They conducted interviews, visited local archives, perused obituaries in home collections in order to build a spreadsheet. In the fall semester, we were able to work with computer science students to turn this spreadsheet into an interactive and searchable website documenting the people, places, and organizations of early Mound Bayou.

Screenshot of the cover page for the Mound Bayou Virtual Community Genealogy (2015), taken by Chaitra Powell
  1. High School Student Outreach: One of our community liaisons, a former librarian, and I connected with the principal of John F. Kennedy High School, and organized an after school event in the library to discuss local history. Six students participated in several activities, one included creating an account for the Virtual Community Genealogy website, and entering biographical content found in primary source material borrowed from community members.        
Photo of Chaitra with the JFK High School students during the after school local history program in Mound Bayou, Mississippi (2015), taken by Ms. Edna Smith

And in conclusion..
After we finished all of these exciting outreach initiatives we took a serious victory lap! I cited these examples in presentations, conversations, interviews, and short videos for our fundraising campaigns and felt pretty good about the ability of an institution to participate in altruistic and meaningful collaboration with a marginalized community. Our team was feeling so good about it that we crafted a successful grant application to the Mellon Foundation to elaborate on this model of developing community partnerships. HBTSA, along with three other pilot communities are the site of development for a wide variety of tools and strategies to nurture the relationship between the community and the archive.

From this short synopsis, it is clear that sustainability, replicability, costs, personnel, scale, parity across communities, institutional priorities, and many other considerations are necessary to develop a toolkit that has the potential to work with other communities and institutions around the world. So, we are currently using Mellon funding to hire a team of archivists, documentarians, and communication specialists that will unpack what we’ve done thus far, develop techniques to do it better, and determine if our work is having the positive impact that we have been shooting for since the beginning - informed communities who feel empowered to challenge the status quo.

There will be updates on our Community Driven Archives work via my personal social media and all of the public faces of Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library Special Collections, as well as UNC Libraries. I welcome your feedback and thank you for taking the time to read this extra long blog post.


Chaitra Powell
African American Collections & Outreach Archivist         
Southern Historical Collection
Wilson Library Special Collections
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Libraries    

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Bright Lights, Big City

Society of North Carolina Archivists (SNCA) Annual Meeting 
Mint Museum Uptown, Charlotte, North Carolina
March 30 – April 1, 2016

Opening Plenary Session: “The Collector, the Community, the Reel, and the Real” (Dr. Seth Kotch)

Session 1A: Kids These Days!: Archival Programming to Engage Youth from K-12
Kathleen Gray from Charles County Public Library talked about the success of her papermaking/bookmaking programs for kids, the Star Wars Reads Day event which included a scavenger hunt with hallowed out books, and the Sher-locked, live action mystery game that brought young people into the special collections. Barrye Brown from the College of Charleston discussed the success of an African American history magazine (The Bugle) for 5th graders which incorporated information and artifacts from the Avery Research Center. The funding for the printing came from a successful RFP submission to the South Carolina Department of Education. The magazine also features hands on history activities like scrapbooking, oral history gathering, and making family trees. The archive solicited the support of educational experts, retired scholars, and history professors to put the publication together, but the bulk of the writing and editing was don’t by archives staff. Virginia Ellison from the South Carolina Historical Society talked about her initiatives to bring elementary school students to the archives for research. For a smaller group, she used a speed dating exercise where the students moved around to examine artifacts and take notes. For a large group preparing for their disparate history day projects, small groups rotated through the research room during the visit – at the end of their project they exhibited their displays in the archives. Carol Waggoner-Angleton from Augusta University took a history detectives approach to her engagement with primary school students. By fixating on one figure in the archives, they traced newspaper articles, family photographs (visual literacy skills), and correspondence to generate a full biographical sketch of a woman in the archives. The speaker referenced, Writing with Scissors: American Scrapbooks to help the audience understand the various types of information that a scrapbook can yield.

Session 2B: Sharing the Love: Generating an Archival Perspective in Community Groups
Chaitra Powell from the Southern Historical Collection discussed the diverse ways that her department is reaching out to Historically Black Towns and Settlements across the South. She described the unique needs of each town relative to historic preservation and cultural tourism. The work has unfolded via site visits, conferences on campus, summer fellowships, a virtual community genealogy platform, document rescue, and youth engagement. Kelsey Moen and Elizabeth Grab, two graduate students at UNC’s School of Information and Library Science presented on the Artist Archives program. Their outreach focused on getting artist communities to begin to think archivally about their work product and connect with archival institutions. A workshop at the North Carolina Museum of Art and a workbook for the artists to reference are two big deliverables to support this work. Ongoing outreach in the form of an unconference, more workshops, and artist/SILS student pairings will demonstrate the important impact of this work. Colleen Daw and Wick Shreve, former students in Denise Anthony’s Community Archives class, spoke about their experience archiving a personal audio/visual collection in the Washington D.C. metro area. The collector is a former hockey player who founded a hockey league for underprivileged youth. His collection is primarily composed of recordings from over the years that he keeps in his basement. The students talked about the challenges of convincing him that no one planned to profit from his participants and giving him preservation strategies to maintain his collection at home.

Session 3B: The Spirit of Collaboration: Community Engagement Initiatives at UNC Charlotte Special Collections
Dawn Schmitz, the head of special collections at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte started the session off by summarizing each panelists’ contribution and explaining how their work fit into the broader vision of the university, mainly that the “spirit of collaboration is a university hallmark”. Nikki Lynn Thomas talked about the King-Henry Brockington CommunityArchive for LGBTQ materials, as a custodial approach to community archives. Now that UNC-C has a community champion, they are patiently and persistently seeking new materials to add. Thomas quoted from “Latino Arts and Culture: CaseStudies for a Collaborative, Community-Oriented Approach”, written by Tracy B. Grimm and Chon A. Noriega in the American Archivist, (Spring/Summer, Vol. 76, No. 1, pp. 95-11) to explain how they are moving along without much of a model. Tina Wright spoke about the implementation of community led oral history projects in the LGBTQ archive and how the recordings have been able to capture motivations among other hard to pin down emotions. Rita Johnston discussed consultative outreach from UNC-C to smaller institutions in relation to their digitization projects. After reviewing collections and discussing goals, Johnston can advise institutions on appropriate workflows, equipment, or collaboration with the Digital NC. She has advised five institutions at this point, including the libraries at Belmont Abbey College and Livingstone College. Joseph Nicholson from UNC-C discussed his work in bringing the donor of a large motorsport photograph collection into the metadata creation process. The workflow included getting photos scanned and placed into Excel Rows, the Excel sheet with images was shared via Dropbox, the donor added his information, and the library used the OpenRefine tool, wrapped the data in XSLT and created MOD records to post online. The process was riddled with inefficiencies and inaccuracies, resulting in some people being identified and some captions for the photos; not the exhaustive presentation of dates, subject headings, and context that they had hoped for. They have some ideas for improvement and are eager to find more ways to engage donors in the descriptive process for their materials. Lolita Rowe talked about her work with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Black Heritage Committee and how it has resulted in the acquisition of important African American collections. Her involvement includes serving on their board, participating in their recognition programs, and getting to know the members and potential donors.

Keynote Address: “The Storied South: Voices of Writers and Artists” (Dr. Bill Ferris)

Session 4A: Highlighting Materials that Document Underrepresented Groups
Beth Bilderbeck from the University of South Carolina, Columbia talked about the responsibility of archivists to develop our own sense of visual literacy with photographs and share it with our users. To her, this means a willingness to explore, critique, and reflect on the photographs in our collections and have those interpretations reflected in our catalogs and finding aids. Her presentation consisted of a wide assortment of Civil War, Segregation, Housing, Education, Photography Studio collection materials for us to consider critically. Andrea L’Hommedieu from the University of South Carolina, Columbia discussed her work with embedding oral histories in classroom instruction, exhibits, and programs in her community. Her presentation included examples of important local figures of African American and Women’s history. Stephen C. Smith from the Spartanburg Public Library discussed the motivation and products of his library’s publishing arm, Kennedy Free Press. The library was influenced by the nearby Hub City Writer’s Project (press) and the incredible research and discoveries that were coming out of patrons in their library. Smith spent the bulk of his time talking about the confluence of a local folk hero, Trotting Sally, a fascinated folklorist, John Thomas Fowler, and a local family who wanted the truth about their ancestor to be known. All of this came together in a publication, as well as a series of well-received events and programs that brought the community together. Of course there are a lot of logistical decisions to be made before an institution gets into the publishing business but Smith says it is worth it for his library and they have several projects coming up designed on the success of this model.  


Article Review: From Smiles to Miles: Delta Air Lines Flight Attendants and Southern Hospitality

Title: From Smiles to Miles: Delta Air Lines Flight Attendants and Southern Hospitality
Author: Drew Whitelegg
Citation: Southern Cultures, Volume 11, Number 4, Winter 2005, pp.7-27

As a recently transplanted southerner, I thought an article about the impact of regional expectations on an airline company would give me some more context for the people and the materials that I am working on.

From its inception Delta Airlines flight attendants were the brand. Although they were trained as, and expected to act as true Southern belles, their real lives represented a departure from the static and subservient existence of the prototype. In the early days, Delta's flight attendants were trained nurses to inspire confidence in the passengers, they also knew about local sports in order to carry on an intelligent conversation with the mostly male clientele. Other requirements from their small Southern town recruits, included being unmarried, not having children, and as nurses became scarce due to World War 2, at least 2 years of college. Delta billed the flight attendants as “Scarlett(s) in the Sky” alluding to Gone with the Wind’s Scarlett O’Hara, they wanted the women to embody her behavior, appearance, and autonomy. 

Rather than choosing standard beauties, the company preferred women who were gracious, well-groomed, and well-mannered, positing that these attributes have translated as beauty in the South. The flight attendants were there to meet consumer’s expectations of Southern hospitality and treat passengers like guests in their homes. This was a strong contrast to Pan-Am, whose flight attendants were pretty and sophisticated and an even stronger contrast to hyper sexualized flight attendants commissioned by Braniff, National, and Southwest in the 1970s. For its role in the conflation of sex and flight attendants, Delta quietly embraced the matchmaking between their single female flight attendants and male bachelor passengers, as well as editions of their magazines that featured Delta beauties pictured in more revealing clothing than their conservative uniforms. 

Delta gave small town Southern white women an opportunity to make a living wage, see the world, and command increasing power in the workplace – for these reasons it was hard to get them to unionize. However as the workforce began to change as a result of new laws (anti-discrimination and integration), corporate mergers (PanAm), increased pressures of globalization, and 9/11; rifts began to arise between the original brand of Delta employees and the newcomers. These factors ultimately led to a loss of identity for Delta Airlines by 2001.The article ends with an admission that all good things must come to an end.

I wonder if the story of Delta could be a precursor to the consistent buzzing I hear about the coming of the New South?

Friday, 26 February 2016

Article Review: Radical Archives and the New Cycles of Contention

Title: Radical Archives and the New Cycles of Contention
Author: Kimberly Springer
Publication: Viewpoint Magazine (online), Issue 5: Social Reproduction, October 31, 2015.

This article has a very clear focus on the importance of the preservation of digital archives for activist groups, but I think that there is much content to be applied to historically marginalized groups, in this context, survival itself is a form of activism. I appreciate the way that Springer consistently writes in a way that de-mystifies the archives; these are meeting minutes, poster designs, manifesto drafts, not just boxes on a shelf. The safe custody of these items comes down to the issue of trust; do we trust Facebook and Instagram to keep our materials safe forever? Is the University of X any more trustworthy than these social media platforms? What are the chances that valuable content will become too expensive to access, be trashed, or misplaced in an anonymous archive?  Until groups have a reason to believe otherwise, it would be in their best interest to learn how to maintain their own materials.

She also makes note of the value of self determination when it comes the official documentation of an organization, especially when archivists are on the fence of  whether they will be active agents or passive collectors in their work; activist papers can easily be lost in the shuffle. I would recommend reading the article to learn more about how Springer's scholarly interest in black feminism led her to FBI files as the documents of record, barring a few individuals who kept sparse archives under the bed or in the attic. The writer wants this to be a cautionary tale for budding social movements and digital platforms, don't rely exclusively on outside entities to keep your records safe. She concludes with some very tangible tips on preserving various file formats, as well as using migration and repetition to protect against damage or theft.

For the big question of why all of this matters, Springer sprinkles gems throughout the paper and ends with a chart that I will attempt to paraphrase:

- Archives help us to shape and document our reality
- We do it to provide points of reference for ourselves (to remember), the next generation (to not have    to re-invent the wheel), and the historians (to get closer to the truth)
- Holding the evidence of certain historic events is a form of power
- Ensure transparency
- Generate discussion
- Enable direct action
- Define our own movements
- Provides content for classrooms, workshops, and ongoing mobilization
- Past movements can be a source of inspiration  

You would think that an article like this would be shunned by an archival curator of a major manuscript collection, but I beg to differ. People need to be informed and empowered about the strength and value of their experience. Records do not have to live in a large institution to be important, but they do need their creators to understand that they are important for any meaningful action to protect them can be initiated.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Article Review: A Question of Custody: The Colonial Archives of the United States Virgin Islands

Title: A Question of Custody: The Colonial Archives of the United States Virgin Islands
Author: Jeannette Allis Bastian
Publication: The American Archivist, Vol. 64, No. 1 (Spring-Summer, 2001), pp. 96-114

This article describes the competing archival principles at work between the United States, Denmark, and the Virgin Islands. The lands now known as the U.S. Virgin Islands, made up of St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas were Danish colonies in 1672. The Danish West Indies Company brought enslaved people from Africa to work on plantations run by Englishmen, and they operated a moderately successful sea port in the islands. In 1848, the island's African majority won their freedom from Denmark, and the Danes attempted to govern the islanders. By 1916, the Danish felt that they were losing more money than they were making with the colony, and decided to sell the land to the United States.  

In the 20 years leading up to the sale of the islands, the colonial government began to ship island government records to Copenhagen. The Danish were meticulous record keepers and the weather, insects, unstable political climate, as well as the belief that those records were an extension of the "home" country, made them want to keep records in Denmark. Although the United States could have made a claim for all of "Denmark's" records when they acquired the islands, there was no national archives program at the time, the records were written in Danish, and the infrastructure needs of the new territory trumped a tug-of-war over records. Not only did the Danish keep the 4,000 linear feet of materials that were transferred in the late 1800's, the United States did not protest an additional 2,000 linear feet which was transferred in 1917. By 1936, a U.S. national archivist was in place and arranged for any government archival materials (1,260 linear feet) remaining on the islands to be shipped to Washington D.C. During the 1940's, the U.S. plan to extract more records was executed but contested by the local government; and by 1950 the practice of removing records from the Virgin Islands was stopped completely.

So what is there to be done with this fragmented set of records, the subjects of which have no clear line of access or control of? The United States and Denmark felt satisfied with the arrangement because they have provided sound storage and protection of documents, and are legally entitled to the government records of their past or current territories. While the inhabitants of the Virgin Island have a basic need and numerous obstacles to the access of their community records. Based on the principle of provenance, all of the records should be in the Virgin Islands because all of the records are about the Virgin Islands; inhabitants are critical to the "context creating process". Without the benefit of autobiographies or diaries, inhabitants have to rely on government records to re-create the worlds of their ancestors, records that are an ocean away. Hopefully with the on-going use of EAD, and other forms of linked data in the archives, we can intellectually piece together community histories that are physically separated.      

As I read this article, my first impression was that hegemonic nations have always disenfranchised the poor on every front; land, people, language, and now the records! Then I began to consider how complicated the situation really is. Can we say for sure that if left to their own devices, the locals would have maintained these 6,000 linear feet of archival documentation? Would the Danish records have been destroyed once the Danes left the port? Perhaps there is wisdom in the big bad colonizers for protecting these documents. Also, can we eliminate all other forms of record keeping in favor of the written one, what about oral traditions, sacred objects, or songs that are passed down from one generation to another? Removing the records does not necessarily mean that entire nation's history is gone. I suppose the greatest injustice is the inability to choose, perhaps the islanders would have happily shared certain records with Danish or Americans in exchange for some airplane vouchers and second language correspondence courses. Since they never asked, I guess that we will never know.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Article Review: Local Color: The Southern Plantation in Popular Culture

Title: Local Color: The Southern Plantation in Popular Culture
Author: Jessica Adams
Publication: Cultural Critique, No. 42 (Spring 1999), pp. 163-187

This article represents a detailed analysis of how race is simultaneously presented and obscured in the experience of plantation tours, novels, and popular films. Adams also discusses how Southern identity is portrayed as "otherness" as well as normative. She uses the film Deliverance as an example of how backwards and grotesque a Southern existence can be, but points to the success of Gone With the Wind as the highly praised tale of a woman portraying important American values like, loyalty, strength, and optimism.  When it comes to plantation tourism, she cites multiple examples of how the plantation building and the planter are draped in the nostalgia of a pure past, a national treasure, and relic of a more peaceful time. This whitewashing of history comes straight from the archives of planters who lament the work of "tending to negroes", they can't get any rest as they are always called upon to resolve problems on their land.

On plantation tours, guides use words like butlers, skilled nannies, and servant boys to describe the work of enslaved Black people in chattel slavery. Of course this mythology is problematic because it erases all of the horrors of a plantation system and makes white privilege and superiority the preferred societal system. Adams argues that these versions of history have very real social and psychological consequences for African Americans today who are facing challenges that they may not understand because the historical context is not clear. The article ends with several deep literary analyses of plantation motifs and race in Gone with the Wind, Jezebel, Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte, and Interview with a Vampire.

I hope that the director of every plantation tourism site has an opportunity to read this. I can say that I have been on two plantation tours, Drayton Hall (Charleston, SC) and Stagville (Durham, NC) and the treatment of African American history has not been as hidden as the author describes. At Drayton Hall, the guide explained that the there are annual Christmas celebrations for planter and slave descendants from the plantation. In Stagville, the relatively stable slave quarters structures are called Horton's Grove, and make up an integral part of the tour. To me, there is no way that a rational individual can be aware of the climate, the technology, and the land mass of these Southern land parcels in the 17th and 18th centuries without considering the volume of human labor that made any of this success possible.

I would encourage the use of more slave narratives and other primary sources in the interpretation of these historic tourism sites. The guide at Stagville related a story from a letter in the Cameron family papers which is summarized as follows: The mistress of the house is writing a letter about a recent encounter with one of her female slaves shortly after the war the Civil War. The mistress is trying to give instructions about sweeping the floor, and the black woman stops her work, stands up straight and says that my skin is as white as yours and now I am as free as you and she marches our of the house and off of the plantation. That was one of the best examples of dis-spelling the victim myth of the Southern planation family. Let's find some more!

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Program Review: Department of Sociology Colloquium Series

Title: Thomas Jefferson’s Bordeaux and W.E.B. Du Bois’ View of the French Revolution
Speaker: Dr. Karen Fields
Date: February 4, 2015

Dr. Fields was certainly one of the most personable and affective sociologists that I have ever come across. Rather than spend the entire hour talking about Thomas Jefferson in France, Fields discussed her decision to study in Bordeaux, what it was like to talk about race in France, and how she make her research has led to her “obnoxious juxtapositions”. It was interesting to hear a macro analysis of the 18th century slave trade that included observations about the incredible wealth that the trade of African slaves brought to European port cities like Bristol (England), Lont (France), and Bordeaux. When Field described the opulent opera house that was more important than any venue in Paris, and as large as city block which was constructed by the nouveau-riche merchant class in Bordeaux, I had a picture in my mind’s eye.

Bordeaux's eighteenth-century opera house, designed by Victor Louis

While living in Bordeaux and studying at the university, Fields could not ignore the traces of Africans and the slave trade in this city. She saw brown figures in the stained class of 16th century Catholic churches, student protests urging the city to “take on its history” with slavery, even the merchants who built the opera house commissioned ceiling artwork that depicted slaves, ports, and other implements of commerce. Moving into a 20th century context, Fields told how the French recruited Africans to fight and protect their land during World Wars 1 and 2, and there are monuments to mark it. Fields was slowly building an argument of the increased complexity of the influence of Africans in France. W.E.B. DuBois wrote (ironically) that the fortunes made at Lont and Bordeaux (slave ports) engendered the pride that made them demand liberty. No matter how rich those merchants became they were never accepted into the upper class, even the writer Alexis de Tocqueville remarked that American race relations were so similar to the tensions between aristocrats and commoners in Paris. Fields summarized, “no amount of money could outdo an accident of birth”. It would seem that the transitive property is at work when slavery creates rich merchants, and rich merchants overthrow bad monarchs; slavery must result in French Revolution. I don’t presume to express how Fields elaborates on these connections, but I am most certainly intrigued.