Tag Archives: History

African American Music Appreciation Month 2017

Literatures & Cultures Librarian Katrina Spencer kneels next to a newly installed display featuring African American musics..

I grew up in a very musical household and that identity follows me wherever I go.

Name: Katrina Spencer

Title: Literatures & Cultures Librarian

Hometown: Los Angeles, California

Collaborators: Kat Cyr, Arabella Holzapfel, Amy Frazier, Terry Simpkins, Marlena Evans, Heather Stafford, Innocent Mpoki, Joe Antonioli, Sue Driscoll, Dan Frostman, Kim Gurney, Janine McDonald, Todd Sturtevant, Bryan Carson, Joy Pile, Ryan Clement, multiple student workers, Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter, and others. Many sincere thanks to all of the energy you all have put into this.

Whatcha got goin’ here in the atrium and on the main level of the Davis Family Library?

Of the 23,000+ CDs we have in our collection, we are highlighting over 300 works by and about African American musical artists from June 1st- 22nd. Former President Barack Obama declared June as African American Music Appreciation Month, an initiative first shaped in 1979. President Obama was able to draw further attention to the commemorative month with his 2016 proclamation and the many artists his administration invited to perform at the White House.

Generally speaking, the content spans the 1940s to the early 2000s, including artists from every decade in between. African American music started much earlier than this, but when it comes to largely accessible sound recordings, the early 20th century was perhaps a good place to start in terms of our holdings.  However, we do plan to include some very early recordings and have a few monographs that address African American music in the late 1800s- early 1900s.

What motivated you to put this together?

There were so many motivations. First, I have lived now in five states– California, Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, Vermont– and while the demographics, landscapes, weather, and food fare change, the consumption of African American music as an avid pastime does not. Scratch that: it’s global. People love the soulful sounds born deep in the South of our country, among pain, oppression, and affliction, within the church, in the Great Migrations to urban spaces, on stage at Harelm’s Apollo Theater, within both Motown’s and Los Angeles’ major recording studios, and shown on MTV and BET. When you tell the story of African American music, you tell the story of our nation.

Second, I attended the Posse Plus Retreat back in February when I was hired and some of the facilitators did a great job of playing music during our set-ups for activities. There I told American Studies professor (and musician) Dr. Will Nash, “I’ll give you all the money in my wallet if you can tell me who’s singing this song.” He thought for a minute and replied, “Is it Brandy and Monica’s “The Boy Is Mine?”” I wasn’t expecting a white man, some 20 years my senior, to know an R&B hit from the 1990s– and I was wrong. Thankfully I was only carrying $1.63 in cash! But that conversation made me realize even more profoundly that music transcends race, class, geography, and other markers we tend to think divide us.

Lastly (and transparently), I love to see people of color taking ownership of our library spaces, myself included. Frequently at predominantly white institutions, people of color and oppressed minorities do not see themselves systematically reflected in the curriculum, the history of their colleges, and/or in the body of faculty and staff. My efforts in the library aim to speak to that scarcity of representation. I’m on a mission to reassert esteem, to remind my audiences that we’re in the 21st century, and that “America” is increasingly and beautifully brown.

How’d you decide what to include?

We crowd-sourced. We started up an Excel file and invited various people on the library staff to add to it. The seven of us rather easily came up with hundreds of works that would fit into our theme. Ha! New recommendations were coming in while we were loading the shelves!

Can I just say that I learned so much in the process of preparing this display? I found out about “soundies,” some of the very first “music videos” of the 20th century that preserve early performances by black artists, that the ubiquitous tune,“The Entertainer,” was composed by a black man, Scott Joplin, and, perhaps most importantly for me, if you ask for help on a project, you’ll get it. This display was nothing if not a collaborative effort.

The layout of the display is a bit unconventional. Can you say a few words about that?

Sure! The idea of adorning our tables (and carrels) with display materials had been brewing for awhile, however, the opportunity to test it out only presented itself this month. The whole point of a display is to draw attention to a theme. While it’s easy to walk past shelving containing “themed” items en route to a study space, it’s harder to miss items in a display that occupy one’s study space. I call it a “guerrilla” method. It’s a more aggressive attempt to engage an audience. (And people are noticing.)

What were some of the challenges in shaping this display?

I wish the students who are normally here during the academic year could see and enjoy the display. Many of them who frequent the Anderson Freeman Center <3 would appreciate the work. However, as we prepare for Reunion, many alumni will likely have an opportunity to encounter it.

We also realize that streaming is perhaps the most popular way for young people to consume music. While we have resources for this (see “Music Online: Listening (North America” within our databases under “M” at go.middlebury.edu/lib), the CD cases and inserts make for great visuals. For those of us wanting to listen to the CDs, know that we have multiple disc drives behind the Circulation Desk to loan out.

This display will last until June 22nd as the whole campus is gearing up for Language Schools and the content includes music in the English language. However, I have made efforts to include artists from the black diaspora like Beny Moré (Cuba) for the Spanish School, Les Nubians (France) for the French School, and Seu Jorge (Brazil) for the Portuguese School.

What do you want people to take away from the display?

I want people taking in the display to think critically about the contributions African Americans have made to this country. Music is merely one of them. Our economic contributions are often hard for people to stomach because they are mired in blood, sweat, and tears. Our scientific contributions experience historical erasures as The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and Hidden Figures suggest. And our political ones are often met with violence, aggression and unpopularity, as the Civil Rights Movements demonstrate, while ultimately forwarding this nation.

How else can we enjoy this effort?

Like our Facebook page. For three weeks we will be sharing videos and trivia that speak to the African American musical experience and history. The content will be loosely chronological and you can follow the evolution of African American music with us.

Last words?

This display is an act of love. We welcome students, faculty, and staff to approach library workers with display development ideas and to continue making the library spaces your own. Also, while the music CDs typically “live” behind the circulation desk, they are still accessible to you. Come check it all out.

Kitchen Stories from the Balkans

Photographs and text by

Eugenia Maximova
6a9faf915b5093f4acdc220dab915ef1-large 6f771773f64965185946ac7425f4ca42-large 24b35c7a93afc7b3a9eb2f904f762dc5-large 374f07c2abd140f868c2d525659497d0-large 743bf3f1e53ca1643c8c7aabdce857d4-large 1907ffe1c86346597954aa391cf0b77c-large

The people of the Balkans live in the shadow of a long history of wars, conflicts and unresolved ethnic tensions. Much of the energy that could have gone into building a future has been squandered on maintaining those tensions and the result is an impoverished present.

Young families must either pay exorbitant rents or live packed like sardines in their parents apartments. And most of those apartments are in the hopelessly ugly, crumbling concrete blocks which are the legacy of the communist era.

The term Balkan whether it is describing a culture or a geographic area, usually has a strong suggestion of the rural with a heavy overlay of the Orient. In whatever context it is used, the word reverberates with cultural and sociological connotations, with a sense of division and disagreement.

When I set out to tell a story about the Balkans, it was food that sprang to mind as being the only thing people in the whole region agree that they have in common. After five centuries of Ottoman occupation we have all continued to eat the dishes they brought.

Thinking about this shared culinary heritage, I began to wonder what was happening in Balkan kitchens these days. The kitchen is a multipurpose room, a space which reflects identity and self-perception. It embodies the spirit of the Balkan home and mirrors society as a whole.

People in the Balkans would rather spend what little money they have in a cafe than on interior decoration. The functional, unadorned style which results from this conveys a tangible sense of the region’s lost identity, the inevitable legacy of half a millennium under the Ottoman yoke and half a century behind the Iron Curtain.

— Eugenia Maximova


New library collections for American history

American West
Original manuscripts, maps, ephemera, and printed sources from the Newberry Library, Chicago detailing frontier life, Native Americans, the growth of urban centres, the environmental impact of westward expansion, and life in the borderlands.

Everyday Life and Women in America, 1800-1920
An archival research collection documenting the social and cultural forces that shaped the lives of Americans from 1800 to 1920 including the study of families and home life in the South and in the North, religion, race, education, employment, politics, marriage, sexuality, health, childhood, fashion, travel, and entertainment.

Lily: A Temperance and Abolitionist Newspaper
The first newspaper for women, The Lily was published in Seneca Falls, New York from 1849 until 1853.  The Lily originated as a temperance journal for the Seneca Falls Ladies Temperance Society and was edited by Amelia Bloomer (1818-1894).

Slavery, Abolition and Social Justice
Original material from 30 libraries and archives including the British Library, Duke University, and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, NYPL. Close attention has been given to the varieties of slavery, the legacy of slavery, the social justice perspective and the continued existence of slavery today.

 

Visit our New & Trial Resources page to find these and other newly added items. 

Trial access to three American history databases

Until June 25th, you can investigate these databases, focusing on 19th and early 20th century American History:

The American West (archives drawn from the Western Americana collections at the Newberry Library, Chicago)

Everyday Life and Women in America, c.1800-1920 (archives from the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History & Culture, Duke University and the New York Public Library)


Slavery, Abolition and Social Justice
 (drawn from the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Duke University, U.S. Supreme Court, British Library, and others)

  • Please check these out and send comments to Rebekah Irwin (rirwin@middlebury.edu) or your library liaison.

Trial access to South Asian historical archives (through April 30)

For the month of April, please visit the following East Asian historical archives databases. The Library is considering them through a collaboration with several Vermont colleges:

India Raj and Empire
Original manuscript material ranging from the foundation of the East India Company in 1615 to records of daily life in Agra, Bombay, Lahore, and Madras. Included are diaries, letters, maps, sketches and official and private papers. The collection is particularly strong for the 18th and 19th centuries.

Foreign Office Files for India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, 1947-1980
Three archival collections drawn from the British Foreign Office files on the countries of South Asia from shortly before Indian partition and independence up to 1980. The archival documents are divided into the following sections: (1) Independence, Partition and the Nehru Era, 1947-1964, (2) South Asian Conflicts and Independence for Bangladesh, 1965-1971 (3) Afghanistan and the Cold War, Emergency Rule in India, and the Resumption of Civilian Rule in Pakistan, 1972-1980.

Empire Online
Empire Online is an interactive digital collection exploring colonial history, politics, culture and society. The archive is designed specifically to encourage the use of primary sources in teaching and includes 1000s of images of unique primary material including maps, manuscripts, pamphlets, paintings, drawings and rare books spanning five centuries from a translation of Columbus’s 1492 voyage to the 21st century.

Although these three collections are available separately, they can be searched as a group using Archive Explorer.

These trials can also be found on the New & Trial Resources page (go/trials).

Please send comments to Rebekah Irwin (rirwin@middlebury.edu) or your library liaison.

Trapped in the ’70s, Dreaming about the ’40s: What about Tomorrow?

I’d like to write this entry in a slightly less belligerent tone that usual. Not that I think it will offend anyone in particular, but because I should really practice calming down once in a while.

Lebanon will soon be remembering the 35th anniversary of the beginning of its disastrously famous civil war (April 13th), and an article I read today on NowLebanon inspired me to think over the issue a bit. NowLebanon is an independent news site that leans towards the March 14th end of the political spectrum, and so what it says has to be taken with a grain or two of salt, but nonetheless I found the article, which was about memorials and memory in Lebanon, fairly spot-on.

In general, Lebanon is not very gung-ho about remembering its Civil War – it’s a touchy subject. Unfortunately, the end of the War did not really coincide with any sort of meaningful change of relations or attitudes between the parties involved – it was more like an end to killing. While nice enough, the Taif Accord did not really change the political scenery enough to prevent another war in the future. Furthermore, it is the older generation – those who experienced the war – that is least interested in violence, but the newest generation has been raised in an environment in which it hasn’t really been public discussion. Their discussions have been mostly private, and (if they’re anything like mine were) highly partison, which simply hands down old prejudices instead of rethinking them. The current generation, then, remembers very little or nothing of the War and its effect on the country. This is very, very dangerous.

In the developing world, the million dollar question has long been simply, ‘how do we move forward?’ The reality is that everyone has different ideas of what sort of future they want for their country, and Lebanon – a pluralistic society to some extent – is no exception. A country that cannot agree on the legacy of its past is crippled in the present, and so the task of moving forward, of making life better for the people now and in the future, is shelved or dead in the water. It is therefore important, one way or another – through public or private initiatives – for the Lebanese to address their past.

Possibly the worst thing the country did when it began reconstruction after the Civil War was to hire an architect to design the downtown area (now Place de l’Etoile) who essentially recreated the French mandate in architecture. Rather than hiring the famous Bernard Khouri, who had grand plans for Beirut that aimed to create a city space ‘of the future,’ Solidere recreated Lebanon as people wanted to remember it before the War, looking towards a moment of past glory that is in no way in sync with the present reality. Now, I will be the last to say that Place de l’Etoile is not pretty – it is beautiful, in fact. But instead of creating an urban space to orient Lebanese towards the future, it merely traps them in grandiose memories of a lost past – the French mandate and the Maronite hegemony associated with – whose power inequalities are simply  untenable today. It was the easy way out to construct this, because it essentially forgot the two decades of war. Personally, I’m glad some neighborhoods of the city are still gutted and flame-charred, because at least young passersby will look, shudder, and contemplate.

As the NowLebanon article notes, there is very little in the way of public art of memorials to form a coherent national history of the war, accessible to all Lebanese. The paucity of memorials is awful, but it should be acknowledged that memorials are almost impossible to agree upon, even when everyone is happy. Germany has had an awful time erecting monuments to the Holocaust, but there they are – and they are some of the best ones in the world. Without addressing its dark past, Germany could not move forward, and move forward it did. Lebanon, though not a mirror of Germany, will find its path ahead through this very lesson.
Why am I writing about this? Well (and here I’m going to mention that I am Lebanese-American again), it touches me pretty directly. On the other hand, Lebanon is often called the microcosm of the Middle East, and the lessons learned there might be applicable to its regional neighbors like Egypt and Iraq. So if I’m talking about a ‘lesson,’ it’s more or less something everyone already knows:  there can be no future if you are stuck in the past.  So please, let’s do ourselves a favor and get out of the past.

100_3423100_3456