Student research exhibits showcase Yale Library’s diverse collections
A study of two travellers in the Near East at the dawn of the 20th century; a retrospective of a pioneering Yale sociologist murdered in Indonesia; an examination of public housing in New Haven; and a story of three generations of an African-American family in California — four student-curated exhibits on view at Sterling Memorial Library demonstrate the rich and varied research opportunities awaiting undergraduates at the Yale University Library.
Located in the library’s Exhibit Corridor, the displays are a result of original research by Yale students. The curators are Daphne Martin ’19, Jun Yan Chua ’18, Sarah Holder ’17, and Eve Romm ’18.
The library’s research exhibit program highlights the work of students who have demonstrated exceptional commitment to their research and to using the library’s resources. The Sterling Library Exhibit Committee selected the student curators from nominations provided by Yale librarians and faculty.
The exhibits will be on view through May 4, 2018.
“The Traveller’s Eye: Archaeological Wanderings in the Near East”
At the turn of the 20th century, Gertrude Bell and James B. Nies travelled extensively, though never together, through the Near East — Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and modern-day Israel.
This exhibit traces their travels, revealing how the two individuals interacted with the same cities and archeological sites.
Daphne Martin ’19 discovered Nies, a clergyman and collector of antiquities, while working as a student curator in the Yale Babylonian Collection, which houses his travel diary along with about 12,000 tablets he donated to the university.
“Essentially, what’s happening in the exhibition is we’re looking through his diary and observing his photographs — the notes he meticulously took, and the sketches he drew of nearly everything that he saw,” she said.
Martin, who is majoring in art history and classics, contrasted the clergyman’s experiences with those of Bell — a groundbreaking British archaeologist, writer, and diplomat. Bell was fluent in several languages, including Arabic and Persian, and an accomplished mountaineer, and helped draw the boundaries of the modern Middle East.
“I was interested in presenting the two ways in which these people saw the world,” she said.
Nies, who was born in Newark, New Jersey, focused much of his travels on visiting the holy sites, while Bell visited the region for primarily political and archeological purposes. Both travelers took care to document the places they visited. Excerpts from Nies’s diary on view show his sketches of body decorations he observed on local people during his travels in the Near East as well as a description of his visit to the Lake of Galilee and Tell Hum — sites mentioned in the four Gospels.
Bell was a central figure in the founding of the modern state of Iraq, established the National Museum of Iraq, and formulated the nation’s first laws governing antiquities. The photos and other materials about Bell on display are largely drawn from her archive at Newcastle University in England. A photograph on view shows her seated among dignitaries — all men— who were involved in setting Iraq’s boundaries after the First World War.
Martin’s exhibit was adapted from an exhibit she organized at the Babylonian Collection’s offices on the third floor of Sterling Library. Agnete Lassen, associate curator of the Babylonian Collection, assisted Martin in her research.
“Sociologist with a Conscience: Raymond Kennedy and the Making of the Global United States”
Raymond Kennedy, a professor of sociology, was one of the first scholars at Yale to study Southeast Asia. Students in his Sociology 10 class would have listened to him describe the people he encountered, including witchdoctors, during his fieldwork in Malaysian jungles.
The exhibit, curated by Jun Yan Chua ’18, describes Kennedy, B.A. 1928, as a pioneering scholar who sought to serve his country while advocating for justice and maintaining his intellectual integrity.
“Raymond Kennedy truly was a campus hero,” said Chua, a history major.
The exhibit draws on Kennedy’s papers, which are housed in the library’s Manuscripts and Archives Department as well as the records of former Yale President Charles Seymour.
Kennedy’s expertise on Indonesia proved valuable during World War II when he worked for the Office of Strategic Services directing anti-Japanese propaganda in Southeast Asia. After the war, he continued to advise the Secret Intelligence Branch and the State Department, frequently commuting from New Haven to Washington D.C. At the same time, he became profoundly critical of U.S. foreign policy in the Far East, which he came to view as imperialist.
“Kennedy struggled between engaging in public service and working for the national purpose while at the same time maintaining his intellectual integrity,” he said.
Kennedy publicly condemned what he viewed as American imperialism in Southeast Asia and used his criticism of U.S. policies abroad to address questions about racial injustice at home, Chua said.
He regularly appeared on a local radio program — “Yale Interprets the News” — to discuss global affairs. He became involved with the East and West Association and Students for Wallace, which supported Progressive Party candidate Henry Wallace in the 1948 presidential election. Both groups challenged Cold War policies while advocating for progressive domestic measures.
In 1950, Kennedy was murdered while conducting fieldwork in Indonesia. Bandits ambushed his Jeep and accused him of being a CIA agent. He was shot execution-style. The exhibit features the cover of the Yale Daily News announcing Kennedy’s death as well as a telegram of condolence from Indonesia’s ambassador to the United States to Seymour.
Other materials on display chart Kennedy’s research and activism. Michael Lotstein, the head of the University Archives, assisted Chua on the exhibit.
“I think one of the great things about being at Yale is working in the collections but also working with the great people who put these collections together,” Chua said of working with Lotstein.
Housing/Houses/Home: A Visual History of Physical Space — Lived Experience in New Haven’s Oldest Public Housing
New Haven was among the first American cities to establish a public housing authority. This exhibit, curated by Sarah Holder ’17, examines how the narratives surrounding public housing have changed since 1939, when the city’s first public housing development opened, to the present day.
“I wanted to examine the concept of ‘home.’ How the housing looked like and felt like for the residents who lived there. What did community look like? What did neighborliness feel like?” said Holder, who majored in American studies and graduated in May. “I wanted to ground those ideas in the history of public housing in American so people could wrap their heads around them.”
The exhibit, which draws on materials held at the Yale Library and the Whitney Library at the New Haven Museum, charts the histories of two local housing developments: Farnam Courts and Quinnipiac Terrace.
The exhibit opens by exploring public housing’s image in the American imagination in the early 1940s when the two developments were under construction.
“It was a progress narrative where public housing would transform streets from dirty slums to hospitable neighborhoods,” said Holder, who adapted the exhibit from her senior thesis.
Fliers on view published by the Housing Authority were meant to reassure people that public housing would not be a method of government control: The overarching message was that people could live as they pleased so long as they behaved as good neighbors
The exhibit shows that the first residents if the housing developments were largely Italian immigrants and factory workers. Photos show residents gathering for pasta dinners and holiday parties.
Holder discovered copies of The Quinnipiac Eagle, a newspaper produced by the developments’ residents.
Political and economic forces began to change the city’s demographics, Holder said.
Factories began to close. Redlining and discriminatory lending policies affected the Wooster Square neighborhood where Farnam Courts is located. The GI Bill provided white middle-class veterans the means to move to the suburbs. Aggressive urban renewal changed the face of the city and isolated Farnam Courts between a highway and an industrial yard, Holder said.
By the 1970s and 1980s, the populations of the housing developments had changed, as had the popular image of public housing, she said.
“Public housing, both the design of the buildings and the existence of government-funded properties in the first place, becomes a racially coded narrative, and it’s developed without acknowledging the isolation wrought by urban renewal or the lack of federal and municipal funding for public housing maintenance,” said Holder, who is a journalist.
The exhibit shows that people continued to forge homes and communities within the developments. The same hall at Farnam Courts that once hosted pasta dinners began hosting Headstart graduations while the Christmas parties continued.
The exhibit’s final panel documents the physical decline of the developments and their ongoing transformation. In 2005, Quinnipiac Terrace was renovated into single-family row houses that emphasized private yards over public spaces, Holder said. Farnam Courts is currently being remade into a mixed-use high-rise complex and its residents are stuck in limbo, she said.
“It’s very complicated, but I believe that investing in public housing is still important and necessary, especially as housing prices rise,” she said, noting that 6,500 families in New Haven are on the waiting list for public housing.
“Dear Ones at Home: An Archival Portrait of an American Family, 1857-1982”
William Sugg, a slave from Raleigh, North Carolina, was taken to California during the Gold Rush. He was manumitted in 1857 and settled in Sonora, California, where he built a three-room house for himself and his wife, Mary Elizabeth. They raised 11 children there. Their grandson, Vernon McDonald, lived in the home until his death in 1982.
In 1984, the house was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and the family’s archive was preserved. After the archive arrived at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, it fell to Eve Romm ’18, a curatorial assistant, to organize it and describe its contents in a finding aid. She expected to encounter files of correspondence and notebooks.
“I couldn’t believe when I first opened a box and found chaos of empty envelopes, receipts, sewing supplies, stamp collections — pretty much any sort of ephemeral piece of paper you could imagine in very little discernable order,” said Romm, a literature major. “In once case, a large block of receipts held together by a rusty nail.”
She spent a year working her way through the archive, slowly bringing order to chaos. Her exhibit focuses on the family’s third generation: Vernon and his brother, Earl. Their mother, Rosa Suggs, was the only member of the family’s second generation to have children.
Forming a narrative from the archive was challenging as there were no diaries, scrapbooks were wildly disorganized, photographs were unlabeled, and the correspondence usually included a single side of an exchange, Romm said.
“What was both sort of frustrating and incredibly fascinating was the degree to which this archive resists research,” she said. “It is very hesitant to yield any information. Even having read through the archive at least once, there remains huge gaps in what it’s possible to know about this family.”
She approached the archive as a “holistic record of life,” piecing together bits of correspondence and ephemera to get a sense of what her subjects’ lives were like.
The exhibit features Rosa’s letters to her sons. She had moved to Oakland to work after her husband, David McDonald, left the family. (What caused his departure is unclear.) The boys stayed with their aunts and uncles in the Sonora house.
“Dear Ones at Home,” the letters begin, and she goes on to encourage the boys to do well in school and go to the dentist as she reminds them about sending thank you notes and Christmas cards — a lot of routine maternal advice.
There is a selection of material from Earl and Vernon’s childhood, including photos of them as adolescents, a drawing of a house in a snowy landscape by Vernon, and Earl’s sixth-grade report card.
Through the archive, Romm learned that Earl was a talented amateur radio operator while Vernon enjoyed stamp collecting and photography.
“This sort of archive encourages us to think about new ways of doing archival research,” she said. “Instead of acquiring a historical understanding of a sequence of events, we can make a real connection with the past in a more emotional and aesthetic way.”
George Miles, curator of the Beinecke Library’s western Americana collection, assisted Romm with the exhibit.
Mike Cummings: firstname.lastname@example.org, 203-432-9548