Ethical Challenges in Cultural Stewardship: Ethics of Culturally Sensitive Materials



hello yes well it's my honor to welcome you to the final session of our symposium today my name is Steve Hallstrom in front of American Studies and faculty curator here at the Ransom Center our session ethics of culturally sensitive materials and it seems like to me a perfect way to end a incredibly stimulating day I want to begin by just connecting back to the second session you'll recall that the final slide that Teresa Soto showed us was a statement from the American alliance museums trends watch 2019 and this is a photograph that I took of her last slide let me just read it briefly museums in their cultural roles of memory keeper conscience and healer have an obligation to provoke to provoke reflection rethinking and rebalancing museums can help us deal with the dark side of history not just emotionally and personally but in a way that helps us build a just and equitable society despite our legacy of theft in violence and that strikes me as a suitable way to begin our discussion I'd like to introduce our panelists today we're joined by three distinguished members of the community who will have presentations and they will have a conversation after those presentations I mean I'm going to introduce the three of them together before we move on to the presentations our first presenter will be Jane clinger who earned her Master of Fine Arts in conservation in Florence Italy at the rosary College Graduate School of Fine Arts MS clingers chief conservator the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and is responsible for the conservation and preservation management of the museum collections and the holdings she has published articles and presented papers to various professional groups and universities in the United States and abroad most recently as the keynote speaker at the conservators conference on the conservation of World War two materials in Warsaw Poland she's a fellow of the American Institute for conservation served on his board for a number of years and has past presidents of the Washington conservation guild MS clingers currently pursuing a doctorate in the preservation Studies Program at the University of Delaware the focus of her research is on the identification and preservation material culture of trauma following MS clinger is Naomi Nelson associate university librarian and director of the David Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript library Duke University of the course of her career Duke in Emory University she's worked with a number of collections documenting hate and oppression including Nazi and Holocaust records Klan materials publications by right-wing extremists in the evidence of genocide and political repression she's collaborated with colleagues to consider when to acquire such materials helped create plans to process or catalog them has taught with them and has co-curated exhibitions and digital collections that make selected materials publicly accessible naomi has received at MLS from the University of Pittsburgh and a doctorate in American history from Emory University she's presidential appointee to the national historical publications and records commission and a faculty member at the rare-book school at the University of Virginia next will be dr. noel trent director of interpretation collections and education at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis Tennessee where she oversees its permanent and traveling exhibitions collections donations in acquisition in education programming and initiatives in a role she's presented internationally at European solidarity Center in Gdansk Poland and in high schools also in Poland in Warsaw she's recently curated an exhibition and planned the commemorative service the museum's commemoration of the 50th anniversary of dr. King's assassination MLK 50 dr. Trent is an accomplished public historian and has worked with several noted organizations and projects including the National Park Service the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum for african-american history and culture where she contributed to the exhibition defending freedom defining freedom the era of segregation 1876 to 1968 she's a member of the American Association of state and local history in the Association of African American museums dr. Trent is Pi Beta Kappa graduate of Harvard University where she I'm sorry Howard excuse me excuse me we're talking about Harvard a bit earlier and given it a hard time yeah so she's five data Kappa graduate of Howard University where she also earned her doctorate in American history please join me in welcoming our three speakers today [Applause] okay this this can you hear me okay good I just want to add my thanks to whatever amazing person thought of suggesting that I come and speak to you and my thanks to all of the other organizers and my fellow speakers my brain has been going off in a million different directions and actually I find I could have a lot to say about acquisitions perpetrator materials use of surrogates both digital and analog continuing to evaluate our approaches using critical thinking remaining curious about our visitors and about the other in quotes but I don't have time so I will start with the paper I prepared in 1976 the United States Holocaust Commission was established by presidential Charter its charge was to explore the commemoration of the Holocaust in the United States and what form it should take three years later when Elie Wiesel president of the Commission presented the final report he emphasised memory as the fulcrum around which all of the activities of the Commission revolved the report also points to memory as the founding principle of the proposed hybrid institution one that would serve as a memorial a museum and a research center and in this photo at the top we see Elie Wiesel receiving a very large gold key from Vice President Bush the key was to to government surplus buildings one of which would be demolished and the other would remain and become offices for the museum and and to replace the demolished building they would build the museum which you see in the bottom picture just four months before its formal opening well last week I was at a kickoff meeting for a new round of strategic planning where our director Sara Bloomfield reaffirmed the museum's 2004 vision statement and she also described memory relevance and permanence as the guiding principles of the museum now for the survivors and their families the artifacts in our collections are memory in tangible form unfortunately for many there was no goodbyes to friends and loved ones there was no funeral there is no gravesite so the items they donate are the memorial to the people they lost as well as proof of their unfathomable experiences the idea of collections materials serving both as a memorial and as concrete evidence pops up time and time again in oral histories and testimonies it not only speaks directly to the mission of the museum to preserve the memory of the Holocaust but it's also reflected in our conservation policy part of which I've quoted here now we're looking in the photo at you heel Donora cuts ethnic a survivor of Auschwitz as he was testifying during the Adolf Eichmann trial in Jerusalem in 1961 the officer of the court holds up one of the camp uniforms submitted as evidence yeah Hill was born yeah he'll Feiner but upon immigrating to palestine after the war he changed his middle and last name his middle name to denooyer which means of the fire in aramaic and cuts ethnic or concentration camp er in Yiddish so when a camp uniform comes into the conservation lab for us to assess and possibly treat we understand the import of the history and the evidentiary value it carries with it these textiles like other types of artifacts bear the scars of their owners experiences the physical damage stains and accretions that come to serve as the testimony of difficult histories our first line of inquiry is to review what the donor says about the uniform and the history of the person who wore it including the type of labour the person may have been forced to do it was the imprint of that labour whether it was mining coal cutting wood playing in a camp orchestra or sitting all day in the tailor's workshop where we can read the damage and deterioration of the textile itself why it stretched across the back why it may be stretched at the elbows or the knees why tears appear where they did and the source of stains well some of the survivors continue to use their uniforms post period such as Alexander Coolidge shave its in the upper left he was a law student wrote a few papers that were distributed that were highly critical of the Nazi government and so of course he was rounded up and sent to camp he was also an amateur singer and songwriter he composed dozens of songs during his nearly six years in Saxon housing which he viewed as testimony of life in the camp here he's seen performing one of his works at the teatro comunale in bologna in 1965 other survivors wore their uniforms to memorial services and dedications as we see in this photo of a ceremony for the victims in Neustadt in 1946 and of course they were worn during reunions such as the three survivors from luke involved in the studio portrait and a more casual portrait of survivors from Landsberg and both of those photos were taken in late 1945 the more we know about the history of the uniform itself the better we are able to assess original damage and original wear and tear from post period use and even post period neglect this uniform was issued to Herschel's Reitman who beginning in 1942 worked as a slave labor at the buna concentration camp which was a sub-camp of Auschwitz two years later he was transferred to flossenbürg in South East Germany there he most likely worked in the production of fighter planes or other armaments and you can see if you look at the Hat there's a repair and I'm sorry I don't have a pointer but there's a repair in the back of the and to keep the Hat tight on his head on the pants I think you can know that's at the right leg there's a very large patch which was made from the part of another uniform that had become unwearable there the rectangular stain just above that large patch I was characteristic of those left by synthetic adhesives so a badge that may have been there we're not a hundred percent sure but probably was adhered rather than sewn at some point the adhesive failed the badge fell off and was lost not visible in the photo of the pants are the two darts sewn at the back of the waist to make it of a smaller size as Hershel was losing weight on the starvation diet and I'll show you a closer view of the jacket and in the jacket I think if you know this on your right side it would be the the left panel of the jacket there's some stitching across that is because there's a hidden pocket on the inside hidden pockets were pretty common if someone was lucky enough to find the material to make one they were used to hide forbidden items such as an extra bit of food writing implements paper or any other for being the item one detail on this jacket there really jumps out is the bright red thread that's sewn around the badge we don't know exactly when this happened but we're pretty sure it was after liberation because it would have been very difficult to get such brightly colored thread in the labor camp and I I just want to point out the P indicates that Herschel was polish his number is stenciled on the badge which is the same number obviously as as what was tattooed on his arm and the red inverted triangle typically denotes a political prisoner although we do know that Herschel was Jewish now considering his long internment and hard labor the uniform came to us although very very soiled it was really in relatively good condition in fact we know buna was one of the more brutal slave labor camps the typical lifespan of the prisoners was counted in months not in years and this was for several reasons buna the the buna factory produced synthetic rubber there was were no there was no OSHA there were no health and safety regulations so the prisoners other than literally being worked to death were also exposed to some pretty strong chemicals and solvents now since Herschel survived buna for two years we actually surmised that he was not involved in synthetic rubber production but was doing other labor at the camp and in fact the testimony of his son indicates that the uniform we have was issued to Herschel upon his arrival in flossenbürg roughly a year before he was liberated by American troops in 1945 so the conservation protocol was to gently wash the uniform to remove the surface dirt and grime but not any of the stains evidence tits use with each bath the water was checked in order to avoid over cleaning the goal of the textile couldn't server there was not for the water to necessarily run clear but instead checked for signs that the particulates were removed and I hope you can see that in the detail of the bathwater in this way all of the accretions that are damaging to the fabric were removed while its history and the history of Herschel schribman was preserved and the stains remain so at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum when we speak of ethics and conservation we cannot help but speak of memory and the role it plays in our work the provenance of most of the collections cannot be found in auction records or exhibition catalogues but relies on rigorous historical research and the memories of survivors and witnesses in order to develop an appropriate and sensitive approach to the conservation of Holocaust materials the full context of what history can tell us about the object and what the object can tell us about its own history must be examined in detail now much of this work is done beyond the laboratory walls and brings the conservator into dialogue with the curator historian and donor so in constructing and are the facts full provenance historic and intrinsic values are intrinsically intertwined with the importance of memory and it is this process that both informs and leads us to a principled and ethical approach in our conservation work thank you [Applause] good afternoon I'd like to echo the thanks of other speakers to the HRC for this conference for putting together such thoughtful panels into that Daniele Ziegler and the the panel leaders for so thoughtfully and seamlessly putting together the panels it really is a pleasure to be here and it's been a very interesting day and a half I'd like to highlight two large collections that were acquired by the Duke University Libraries about seventy years apart and then talk a little bit use them as examples to talk a little bit about some of the questions and considerations that we are bringing to some of the collections that we hold related to hate and oppression so the first collection came in the wake of World War two in the immediate aftermath of the war the Allie's allies were intent on Donata fiying Germany in May of 1946 the Allied Control Authority signed a bill ordering all German schools libraries bookstores and publishing houses to remove from their possession all books pamphlets printed materials and even magic lantern slides that might convey Nazi ideology and there are also Germans who were interested in just destroying evidence of Nazi activities and ideology for very different reasons many of the publications ended up being pulped to provide paper for new textbooks for the schools at the time the Library of Congress was a leading US purchaser of materials overseas and they had identified documenting Nazi Germany as a priority in October of 1944 the association of research libraries asked Library of Congress if they would be willing to formally join together in a collaboration to collect these kinds of materials and distribute them to ARL libraries this turned into one of the earliest cooperative library projects so it's a little ironic that Nazi Germany sponsored that or inspired that in some cases the LC staff would follow the army into newly liberated areas to find materials by the end of the summer of 1948 LC in the air libraries had amassed some eight hundred and twenty thousand books and period and bound periodicals seventy-two percent of them went to ARL libraries Duke was one of those libraries and received about twelve thousand titles and there was some discussion among the faculty about whether these these materials were worth keeping and cataloging as they had in they were seen to have reprehensible content and that wouldn't have future use by some of the faculty other faculty and the library staff argued that the material should be kept in catalogued and over the course of some years they were some of them went to the general library collection some of them went to special collections and over the years students and faculty have found them in the stacks using the catalogue or through browsing and been surprised that a Southeastern University would hold such strong collections in this area and they have become an important resource for teaching and research on campus the other collection was acquired directly from the institution that created it in 2013 the Rubenstein library brought in a collection of radical right-wing literature assembled over 40 years by the Southern Poverty Law Center's intelligence project that project began in 1991 as Klan watch and then expanded its mission in 1998 to bring in materials from hate groups and extremists throughout the United States the explicit purpose of the project was to shine a light on the activities and the ideology of these groups for the press for law enforcement and for the public as a part of that project they collected flyers brochures letters books all kinds of materials that were printed and distributed by the groups that the SPLC was monitoring in all there were 90 boxes that came to the Rubenstein library we agreed to redact mailing labels addresses and any other identifying material that might identify the groups or individuals who had helped to collect that material in some cases they were actually subscribing individually to these publications students have been dumbstruck when encountering these materials and classes it's a very different thing to read firsthand from a printed periodical or from a book or flyer than it is to read about these groups in the newspaper or and scholarly accounts so I'd like to share some of the considerations that are part of our ongoing internal discussions about whether to acquire such materials and when we do how to ethically manage and provide access to them a critical play it is critical to place the materials in context and as with most materials provenance is really important to understanding the records so for example the SPL C's collection of right-wing literature is intended to document the groups that the SPLC was actively opposing so when we teach the SPLC collection we discuss it as an authentic record of the SPL cease work rather than an accurate record of hate and extremism in the United States in other cases we might have the records of a particularly Durov an extremist organization or the records of a non-profit pursuing justice through the legal system or even a group of materials that was artificially assembled by a dealer we tried be as transparent as we can about who is defining hate or extremism in the context of that collection it's important to be very clear about where the metadata and descriptive text come from it's some of the organizations have very detailed metadata about the work that they're doing or the groups that they're documenting we don't have the same expertise that they do and we also don't have the time to go back through and double-check all of that metadata and so we might include it in the finding aid but note that it came from the organization the deed of gift with the SPLC specifies that the materials to be known as quote radical right-wing literature close quote and it was important to us to have to use words the words that they were using to describe the materials and so that is our source for saying that is why we were describing these materials this way in the finding aid we often collect additional materials to provide a wider context so for example we wanted to make sure that we had documentation of anti-semitism from other parts of Europe to go along with the material that we had from documenting Nazi activities and we present these kinds of collections along with the records of those who have resisted and opposed hatin and repression and indeed the activist organizations themselves are often the best source of information on some of those groups these records were designed to invoke and spread hate and fear and so they must be handled with care libraries make it easy to find and reuse information it's something we do really well and so it is important to think about both trying to make our materials accessible findable and equitably so and not amplifying a message that might be harmful we consider carefully before putting materials online these materials may invoke a strong reaction in those who see them whether the staff who are facilitating use of student in a class a researcher at the next table or someone who's visiting an exhibition staff may need support and accommodations if they're working long term and in-depth with these materials so for example the staff cataloging SPLC materials who were some serials catalogers from our general library collection talked about feeling very strongly impacted by the materials it was very upsetting material and they had developed some strategies to try to help themselves cope with that some human rights groups who do similar kinds of work of cataloging evidence of atrocities actually have counselors on staff and we've talked with our staff about taking breaks away from the material and we focused a lot of attention on how the work that we're doing together is really helping to document the the genealogies of some of these groups in ways that would not be possible without that mass of material on the other hand there is a tendency for staff to become desensitized and to forget the impact the materials might have on others and we've seen that that impact as well in staff working with the materials one way to try to deal with disturbing or offensive content is to make a joke to try to break the tension and we have staff processing collections who have felt uncomfortable by others attempts at humor as they pass by and might see something on a table or on a desk making a joke out of perhaps best of attempt intentions it's important that to talk about how we will talk among ourselves about these materials and about these collections and subjects we have been talking in the Rubenstein library about self-care and a number of different kinds of contacts as some of our work together and we're looking at how we're working with these materials in particular is an important part of that we have a new code of ethics for instruction that we're using to try to get students to open up as they're working with materials and to try to prepare them from some of the kinds of questions that we'd like them to ask as they're working with materials in the classroom and we've been projecting that up on the screen asking them to read it and reflect on it doing a little discussion of it and then referring back to it during the session and there are two parts of that that relate specifically to collections that might be related to materials that might be upsetting so the first one lets them know that there might be materials that might are upsetting to them in the room and to be self aware and to be kind to themselves and step away if they need to or use something else for a while if they need to and that is really meant to encourage them to be a little self aware as they're in the space working with the materials and to give them permission to step away secondly we talked about the language that might be used in historical documents that some of them that language might be racist or outdated and we also talked about the fact that the language in some of our archival descriptive materials might also be racist and outdated we like many institutions have not gotten back through all of our descriptive materials yet and so we we say we remind them that when we discussed these items in class we will want to use terms that reflect the way these communities refer to themselves today and so establish a community norm for the session finally we think through as we're thinking about these collections about whether there are third parties who should be considered so I mentioned that we redacted the names of the organizations and individuals that might have helped collect the SPLC materials with other human rights collections documenting alleged perpetrators or victims of human rights abuses we try to talk with the donors about the sensitivities that there might be around those names realizing that there could be real-world consequences for folks whose names might be associated online with particular events or particular subjects and so I think Teresa helpfully reminded us in her talk this morning about the hpn about the importance of really working with our donor partners on being sensitive about names and and probably issues of privacy we also can impose restrictions or have researchers sign a privacy agreement before using a collection but we try to be very transparent with our donors that we can't promise them that if we put a restriction on the collection that we can truly keep it restricted if the federal government comes or if we get a subpoena or something else there are limits on what we can do in terms of restricting materials and so that's an important collection to have as well so I look forward to a broader conversation thank you and I will hand things over to know [Applause] all right can you hear me great so I am like my colleagues here on the panel this afternoon honored to be here and excited to have this conversation among like-minded individuals it's always great when you can really and truly nerd out with people who understand your language somewhere right so today what I would like to do is just talk about ethically ethics of culturally sensitive materials and how we at the National Civil Rights Museum handle this is particularly when we're dealing with it in the interpretive environment and as I was preparing for this I reflected back on the question that was sent sent to us and the initial question to spark our inspiration was how should institutions and communities responsibly collect curate conserve interpret and provide access to records of oppression hate and violence the glib answer is very carefully however I want to more astutely unpack this and how it's done and particularly our challenges at the National Civil Rights Museum and what we experienced as we prepared for MLK 50 which was last year at the fiftieth anniversary commemoration of dr. King's untimely death we just commemorated the 51st anniversary yesterday so the National Civil Rights Museum is located in Memphis Tennessee and it occupies the historic Lorraine Motel in downtown Memphis it was purchased in 1945 by walter and laurie bailey an african-american couple and it was one of the few places where african-american travelers could stay when traveling through the segregated south and particularly segregated Memphis so to give you an idea people like Sam Cooke Aretha Franklin all stayed at the Lorraine Motel songs like wait to the midnight hour and knock on wood or written at the Lorraine Motel and here in our courtyard at one point there was a pool so it wasn't unusual to see Isaac Hayes and other from the Stax record label which wasn't too far away hang out here at the Lorraine Motel so it has the storied history before the tragic moment of April 4th 1968 at 6:01 p.m. when dr. King was tragically gunned down on the balcony of room 306 which you can see where we have the reef designated there this moment forever changed the motel its location and its significance in history in 1991 after several years of a community effort and a collaboration with the state of Tennessee the museum opened and it was the first Museum in the United States specifically dedicated to telling the story of the african-american civil rights struggle in 2002 we purchased the young immoral building which is late which was later known as the legacy building or the boarding house and this is where the fatal shot was taken in 2014 we completed a twenty seven point five million dollar renovation which allowed us to re-examine our interpretation as well as add new technology in that into the museum spaces you look here you'll see some of that some of our new exhibition spaces that were part of that and behind me here is the legacy building or the boarding house as we now call it this is the bathroom in the boarding house where the alleged shot was fired from now as part of the renovation process after the museum reopened one of the things that we did as an institution was to step up and re-examine our mission statement and so the mission statement today reads has central themes one to chronicle the key episodes of the American civil rights movement examined today's global civil and human rights issues and provoked thoughtful debate and serve as a catalyst for positive change you know that's pretty simple to do not complicated at all and one of the things that we've we've wrestled with and realized is that we are an institution dedicated to telling a story of the past and the present and that allows us to occupy a space that's very unique for many museums and other institutions and for us we know that we cannot tell the story and the successes of the oppressed without explaining for folks what the oppression looked like and it means that when people come through the museum when they visit that this is an emotional experience and we have to we are aware of that sensitivity when I first started at the museum about 3 and 1/2 years ago up we brought in some consultants to help us reassess how we were doing our interpretation with our tour guides and they used this paradigm green was the come visitors are very comfortable they're easy they're breezy they're having a good time yellow is they're slightly uncomfortable but they're gonna hang around but something's just not right and red is getting me out of here after going through our museum these consultants said to us by the way most of your visitors are probably between you'll see here yellow green and red orange now that's not a bad thing it just means that the experience here at the museum the moment you step out of the car in the parking lot you are automatically keyed up you know what you are going to experience people anticipate when they see the marquee that they they're going to see the place where dr. King was killed and that brings an anxiety that brings a nervousness that brings an anger and frustration and other emotions to the forefront anecdotally yesterday writer Panama Jackson for the route calm and very smart brothers wrote about his experience on visiting the right Lorraine Motel in an article saying visiting the Lorraine Motel in Memphis was the most emotional museum experience I ever had and in it he says as I walked up on the museum and it's physical presence and location it almost felt surreal for starters it's so much smaller than it lives in my mind because of its significance you almost forget that it was an actual motel I got caught up in the history and the sadness and more or less paced back and forth up the length of the museum for about 10 minutes working myself up to go inside I couldn't stop staring at the balcony there's a wreath that hangs on the railing where dr. King was felt his experience his response getting ready getting himself geared up to go into our space is not unusual so you can see here a lot of people think that they're going to see the King room but there's so much more we have 24 galleries and exhibitions and it we tell the stories of the movement from Rosa Parks to the sit-ins and ultimately room 306 where dr. King spent his last few hours now last year we were more directly confronted with the challenges of telling this story when planning our MLK 50 exhibition it was incredibly important to us that as an assassination site to collect information related to that story so we know that there is this historical significant and their significance and there are still these documents and photographs out there but there are also still people who witnessed what happened who remember where they were who remember the experiences of the Sanitation strike whose parents participated in the strike who remember being on curfew and were affected by that and we acknowledge that we had to be sensitive to that we also as an institution hold the evidence collection from the Shelby County District Attorney that they had for James Earl Ray and we but we wanted to round that out we just didn't want to be about the evidence that was collected by Shelby County and the FBI and so we went about looking at the stories that we wanted to see what video footage was out there what photographs were out there what about the people who were there people who came who saw who experienced this moment how are they affected and we kept put together some really great stories by the way that exhibition is available for any of your institutions see me afterwards not kidding but one of the things that we found out through happenstance was a photographer art shay-shay was based in Chicago and he was a freelance photographer who flew into Memphis on the evening of April 4th when arriving in Memphis along with other media as the custom was of the day because believe it or not there was a time when folks didn't have cell phones so he was flying next to a gentleman named Gary wills who was writing for Esquire magazine Gary says hey you checking out this King thing he said absolutely he said well you want to share a rental car great and back in those days you could roll up to the police department say you were with the press and asked if you could follow them around and take pictures of what they were doing they did and from the evening of April 4th until dr. King's body was put back on the plane to go home to Atlanta art Shea took photographs of what was happening in Memphis and so that was part of this is some of the exhibition but his photography was known to be gritty urban confrontational and for the 1960s polite society Life magazine who had hired him actually did not use a lot of his photographs so when his archivist called us and said we have these photographs I can send you some of them to take a look at would you be interested I said absolutely turns out they were from 68 and they were in color have never seen photographs from any of the King events of the aftermath in color and we had to look through them because he took pictures of everything from the evening of April 4th we see young men being arrested by cop and held by the cops by cop cars very strong allusions to what we see happening today to our s Lewis and Sons Funeral Home the question before us as an exhibition team was which photographs do we show we respect the story of dr. King we respect his family the reality is that while we as a country in a world lost a leader of non-violence and love someone else lost the father someone else's father never saw them graduate from high school someone else's father never saw her speaking for the United Nations that's dr. Bernice King someone else never got written never got to meet her grandfather that's young Yolanda King so we had to weigh what what do we do and we don't want to sensationalize it we don't want this to become the graphic thing that it gets circulated on social media and things like that so we made some very tough choices about what we wanted to highlight so we tried to give some reverence to what we displayed in the exhibition as you can see here in the remembrance area but instead of showing repeated images of the coffin we chose to emphasize the mourners the people who came because incidentally most of the folks who came to our s Lewis and Sons and waited for hours to pay their respects for dr. King to dr. King were also there at Mason temple the evening of April 3rd so we collect these items because we know that this story matters we know that these photographs have value and art Shea sent me an artist statement before he passed away saying that he wanted to take these photographs he took photographs of these moments so people would not forget what happened he wanted this to be preserved so we're working with the estate now we have a collection of just under 100 photographs in our Holdings right now but we also know that now may not be the right time to display all of that but they have value and they have significance when we look at the stories we tell at the National Civil Rights Museum and how we tell the stories and who we represent we identify with the actors we represent the oppressed we represent the historically underrepresented communities and we want all of them to be respected as human beings that is a rare thing to have happened it's a very new phenomenon within the last 30 or 40 years to ensure that they are represented as full human beings occupying the full spectrum of human emotions and capacities and so we we make sure that we do not allow people to gamify or role play into the experiences we treat it with sensitivity but it's a fine line it's a line that we continue to walk and try to do as successfully as possible thank you [Applause] to lead discussion for a few minutes before we open up for a more general conversation and I'd like to I guess begin with you're talking about self-care and before our a panel began we're also talking about self-care each of you works and institutions were in with materials that are very difficult and it can be difficult for different people in different ways and I know that these might be conversations that you have with in the communities that you work with but they're typically not I think public conversations I'd like to hear a little bit about the sort of things that that you all do in my recommend for other people working with difficult materials over the years I can start so I think that as we think about working with one of these collections that are coming up with the plans for it it's helpful to build some of this into the processing plan or into the maybe the event planning or other things and so making sure to build in enough time so that if someone needs to be working on that material for a while and off for a while they can we had someone who was doing detailed descriptive work of some some radio transmissions about the political situation in Haiti which could could be very distressing and so she would work on those for a while and then work on something else for a while and that meant it was going to take longer to do the work and so we made sure to build that in so that she wouldn't be stressed out about that having folks to talk with knowing who you can go and talk with in your organization or within your department who has some understanding of the context in which you're working can be very helpful and having some pieces of the project that are affirming whether it's working on materials or with a part of the of a program that is getting at folks who are resisting and fighting back or whether that's working on some scholarly work or an entirely other aspect of the collection and having some sort of public outlet like a blog post or something can be some helpful thing so those are some of the things that we have talked about there are so many directions I could go to answer this and we have actually have a brief conversation but and I'm not sure if what I'm going to start off with is something you can do but I know it's you mentioned it and that is for myself and my staff is to speak to the survivors they in many ways are our inspiration and I have never met a group of people so full of life and hope and humor and so that I know helps helps us I've brought survivor donors in to the lab to talk about their items and they're almost every single time we end up laughing about something and they talk about some sort of humorous thing there's one person Louise who donated a small wicker chair that was her and her older brothers chair when they were in hiding it was also their only toy and so she told stories about the two of them fighting over the chair throwing it at each other and you know here we are we're trying to preserve and conserve it and yet we have this image of these two little kids just literally beating each other a point this so that's that's that's something I would say but and also to keep one sense of humor even that I showed you a photo of Kula Chaffetz if you read his songs in translation there's a lot of humor in them it may be a very dark humor but there the humor is there there's just something when I was studying theater it's you know the idea that we laugh so as not to cry and I that still seems to hold true I think for for us one of the things that we've done is not to just look at it from the curatorial or collections aspect of it or your management in your admin staff really looking at what's happening on the front lines I think that as a field we tend to neglect what's happening on the front lines and our frontline staff is really getting the brunt of the action and with the climate of the country changing and shifting what it means I'm not going to get political in that way but what it does mean is that your staff are getting encounters with comments and while they may still deliver excellent customer service people are more free to express judgment and pejoratives to your staff and they swallow it people are afraid to tell what it's doing particularly if you are predominantly well I'm just gonna speak plain I mean I get invited back but I'll speak playing I think if you're predominantly white institution aims one or two people of color right the person of color may not feel like they can can appropriately talk about what's happened to them it's really hard to take that on day after day and then when you add on of that a social incident like Eric garner or Michael Brown or something that happens locally that person is experiencing trauma right and we don't acknowledge that we don't acknowledge that that's trauma that that that is happening to them and so yes building and work breaks is great but how are you allowing these dialogues to facilitate how are you how are you creating a justing the system and culture within your organizations to make sure that people feel empowered and that there's a language of inclusiveness inclusiveness and diversity is not just something that we write as an administrative policy it is an action and it is an ongoing deliberate engagement we had an incident several months ago where visitors said something inappropriate to one of our staff members and used a pejorative and they came to me because I kind of let it be known to them you know if you've got any questions or you have a difficult situation I can give you some interpretive language and they told me what happened so we myself and some other the senior directors got together I said okay let's do a Lunch and Learn feedback session talk about what happened and let's talk about other instances and give them the language and procedures and protocols so they've now feel empowered in that session we found out that there were more comments happening than we ever thought now this is a place where dr. King died I didn't think people would be this free with their language and I'm not going to say what was said because of the confidentiality of the country station I respect those relationships but it troubled me that the country has changed and if someone feels that comfortable at the place where dr. King died I can only imagine what's happening in other places it means that if we are really serious and looking about being culturally sensitive and aware and developing a strong code of ethics and our cultural Stuart stewardship we have to deal with the cultural stewards and the cultural Stuart's our human infrastructure we got to start caring about our people I sort of related but not exactly the same by any means we used to have comment not cards but notebooks because with the number of visitors we get to have cards we would have been completely inundated and the notebooks were or were filled by the end of the day so often in reading through and we would not it wasn't my job but there were people who would read through and look at the comments and there were so many of them were if the Jews had only accepted Jesus if the Jews only hadn't committed the sins this only happened to them because of sins what what did it make us realize we needed to do better to in our exhibitions to educate the visitor what this was all about and yes the Jews my relatives my family were top of the list but at the same time the Roma and the Sinti were not even considered good enough for labor they were killed immediately there was no mention of the Roma and Sinti in those Commons very little mention of Jehovah's Witnesses who were considered enemies of the state and were often rounded up because they believed in equality for all what they called missioning because of soldiers bringing going to North African bringing their their wives and a mixed-race children back the disabled so somehow we weren't doing well enough and so it caused us to really really eight and go into some critical thinking about how do we educate the people just walking in the door so that by the time they leave they're really thinking about and I'm using a tagline that we had for a while which was think about what you saw that's what they want we wanted them to do so we took the opportunity to turn this around and and do some real hard reflection per second and your comments now make any sort of change how I was gonna ask it initially I was interested in what we might call trigger warnings so this museum has difficult material please be prepared for it faculty sometimes put such language on course syllabi sometimes they do sometimes they don't I was curious what your institutions do whether it's an archive or a museum that to prepare people for these difficult materials but now I'm wondering if it's not a bit more complicated than that that maybe it's not just trigger warnings but materials that are necessary to help people understand the seriousness of it in ways that again I'm just I'm surprised and terribly disheartened your story and yours also so the things that your institutions do to help prepare visitors the huge variety that you see come to your doors I think what's really important is that both of our institutions respect the autonomy of the visitor right so our visitor experience we we work very hard to be very clear in the interpretation be empowering to it and what we speak about is really a small percentage of a largely very supportive audience that both of our institutions have is just a few bad apples if you will but you know we have to deal with those realities in the sequences that that can reverberate from them you don't want to over prescribe for the visitor what they're going to encounter but we do give some advice about what they're going to see so when people say how long is it gonna take it could take you two hours it could take you four hours it could take you eight hours it just depends on how intentional you want to be about going through the experience now you go through museums is this will this museum make me cry well depends if you cry a lot like if you cry over a puppy on a computer screen this may wreck you I mean you know I it may it may get to you um but I don't know and I was talking to a colleague who worked at a museum internationally and he was dealing with a civil rights story he said we were very concerned about people crying in the galleries and I said well why is crying in a gallery a bad thing why is it a problem if someone is so moved by something we're talking about that it brings up an emotion that they were unaware that they had it means that there's something about our interpretation something about the way that we presented the material that's causing them to think the other thing that I tell our tour guides is to realize that the impact of someone's visit is not necessarily relevant in the moment that they walk out of the museum so someone could tell you you know in that moment oh I love this and then someone could walk out stone-faced but in the days weeks months or years to come what they saw at the museum will stick with them and will change them and we've had donors people who sent money back small amounts of money for years just because of one visit to the museum so I think we have to be very careful about how we try to structure someone's visit we don't want to over prescribe what they're going to experience we want to respect their autonomy but we have to realize we don't know what's going on with them when they come but the fact that they showed up there's some part of them that's curious do you have a response to that gene I agree with everything she said your archive how do you prepare you did talk about this and this is when the things that I did know you you do talk to students but can you give us a bit more detail about how you prepare them well I again we're not trying to over prepare them for this we're just trying to get them to be in a space where they are able to be self reflective in the moment I think one of the things that that we have thought about with exhibitions is giving people some choices about seeing things so when they're coming into our library they don't necessarily know that they're coming into an exhibition they may think they're just coming into a library we have a gallery that's just in the entryway that you have to walk through to get into the building and so we think about what's in that space versus a space where they can choose to go in and see something that might be a little bit more challenging so and we also we've got all different kinds of people coming in and out of the building and try to think about that as well thank you are there things that I'll ask one more question then we'll open it up for general conversation other things that in each of your institutions you think should not be shown sometimes it's not up to us there's it's part of the deed of gift and if a donor rights restrictions on it we have to honor those there's a photo I love and I wish we could show it because we have we have in our collections a model of the woods ghetto and it's sort of in what I call a violin case but it's not shaped like a violin case it's actually shaped so that when you open it up it takes on the shape of the ghetto and there with all the major streets the bridges between the two sections because there was a main road for woods that ran through the middle that the Jews were not allowed to step foot on so bridges were built various buildings the little buildings are marked and there's a photo and unfortunately not remain if I were a better curator slash historian instead of a conservator focusing on the condition of this model I would remember the name of the man who put it together there's a photo of him with his first wife and they're holding up the model and it's not finished yet so you can see it as a work in progress and how he outlined it what that sir that the steps he took to to build this model she unfortunately perished he married after after the war after immigrating to the US also to just insert when the ghetto was being liquidated he buried the model and told to people other people where it was and the deal they made whoever survived would go back and retrieve it well luckily he survived and then was went to DP camp came to the States met his second wife and he his daughter his adult daughter donated the model and some various papers of of his which included this photograph of the first wife and so she stipulated we are never ever to show that photograph because she doesn't want to remind her mother that he was married before because she thought this would be hurtful to her mother now as much as I don't quite understand that my husband was married before and I know that and I've seen photos and big whoop but you know I got him and I got him now and I've had him for much longer than his first wife did but we still have to honor that and it's in the legal papers so in in in our case it's often due to donor restrictions any other restriction may be due in our main exhibition we have privacy panels and we say not suitable for children under the age of 11 and that was in consultation with child psychologists so there's and I've seen parents lift their kids up to be able to see it so it's parental choice it's up to them so in a sense we don't exactly censor but we do give an alert I think for us our biggest issues is I think what a lot of institutions have you just don't have enough people to do the work right and so we have we're growing our collection right now we're getting we're getting interesting things every day but there are still some pieces and you know the you know we think of how dr. King lived particularly his last year of his life and still finding more and more fascinating documents and I wish I could fast-forward another 30 years when we could see see you know there's a longer arc we can see what happens when we find more materials and see what that story is so I feel like we're kind of mid arc even though it's been 50 years since that moment because we're still collecting a lot of stories we're still kind of pulling that together and trying to put together you know what people were experiencing from February first when the two sanitation workers were killed through April when the Sanitation strike was settled we're still trying to help fill in that story and and understand all of those dynamics and the senate's Commission actually put restrictions on the records for both the Kennedy assassination and the King assassination so those don't even come available until 2029 I will probably be second in line one of my staff members would be first in line as soon as they come available we're taking a look but so there's a story that feels incomplete right because there's just things we don't have and I wish you know the one thing that's great about this feel is that time allows us to see more and appreciate history in its fullest we're just kind of stuck in a mid timeframe and I wish we could speed it up to see more of what this what 68 was truly about but I enjoy the process of being part of people who get to help pull that story together I think we are collecting materials to make them accessible right so we do have some materials that have some time-based restrictions on them that are usually about personal safety rather than about the content itself in terms of being extremists for example we will make choices about how we make that content available so there's a lot of our collection that we're probably not going to digitize and just put up on the web because that feels more like amplifying than than like providing access to it so actually I do have one more question you led to its sorry the digital world how is that impacting your work it so it makes everything so much more findable doesn't it and so it's a thing that is great about that is that people know that we hold these collections but it does mean that we need to be careful about how we describe them and so you know I mentioned that some of our human rights collections someone's name is associated with something that could be dangerous to them and so we need to be careful in talking with our donors because it just and we find this with all of our collections right that people are searching for themselves and the collections and it makes things a lot more findable and it also makes it a lot easier to comb through a lot of data and pull things together in new ways in some ways we want to be able to do that on the scholarly side and we worry about what that might look like on the public side sometimes you know you're looking at me I'm looking at you interesting you should ask about digitization we are committed to making all of our archival collections archival of manuscript collections available as long as there aren't restrictions there's a big push as a conservator I push back a little bit and say wait a minute we need to slow down because the our digitization team is focus and our archivists are focused on the informational content and from my point of view in dealing with the materiality don't we want to put our best foot forward and so shouldn't these collections go through conservation first in some cases we're in agreement because they're in a condition where there may be folds or creases or tightly rolled and the information can't be read and then I'm I have never ever ever believed that digitization is a fully preservation methodology it cuts down on handling by researchers but again it means it's findable and we have many more loan requests now for the original documents we actually could use another loan register because of it I could use more staffing conservation because of that so from where I sit digitization leads to more use of the real stuff you know I look at digital digitization digital assets as both a blessing and a curse like it depends on how you use it it's really just another tool right it's it's like when digital cameras came out or I was working in the National Archives when they were looking at putting documents this is a while ago so as an intern when they were putting documents on CDE and now remember that first conversation that was an intense meeting that was my first like staff meeting I've never seen archivists go at it when they were talking about early digitization days and what we were doing and then all the files and I was like whoo this is intense so I think it has value yes it cuts down on some things but what we have to look at it and what bothers me about some of the things that are happening with digitization is that not enough of us who are trained in how to use these things and trained in the scholarship are being consulted with this it's just not happening you know you get these folks who by all means they're they they're well-intentioned but they're tech folks they're their business people they develop these models but no one's consulted with any of us at least not no one's ever asked me and and they they go into these these they go in and they're not considering some of the things that we all have been trained to consider from a pedagogy from a methodology there's just certain things that we wouldn't do right and then all of a sudden they're saying well you could do this this and this and you're thinking well back in when I took this class on archives 101 that was not a good idea sir you know and so I have a problem with that I think there needs to be more collaboration with that I know that we get very protective about our resources as we should but I would like to see a little bit more consultation with us because we have a lot to bear and this I think this can be really great but I wish they would just consider us as resources rather than clients or commodities that's a big problem for me um the other big problem for me is this idea of I think it's great in terms of what the digital world can do and help people understand an era and understand people and virtual reality and augmented reality and all the various realities in between but I think we have to be very careful with how we GameA Phi historical experiences just because we can recreate a labor camp in Europe during World War two and you can walk the grounds does not mean that you now understand what it was like to be a Holocaust survivor you do not you can empathize you have a better understanding of the context but while we can use photographs and and through her work we can put together you know the the a avatar with the appropriate costume you have no idea and it is disrespectful to those individuals to do that it's the same thing with slavery it's the same thing with indigenous people you do not get to occupy those historical actors place in history by taking on a digital role and I have a big problem with that I think it's a great learning tool but we got to be careful I think as a field we've got to step up and say not know that that's the line we don't need Krauss I'm sorry that's my soapbox I definitely agree with that and and sort of backing up a little bit from Virtual Reality just a few years ago there was that popular game Pokemon go where people would you know run around well all of a sudden we start seeing people in the museum running and it took us in not very long but because just ask him what the heck are you doing and it turned out that the company had placed these virtual little Pokemon thingies whatever they're called in the museum in the Holocaust Museum so our legal department of course had to come and say you know you got to stop this is not only is this inappropriate that no just stop and we saw your case I think that we read about it in The Washington Post and so I had my interns I said okay interns I need y'all to play pokemon go in the galleries and tell me if there any Pokemon and the King room no I'm serious because I was like once we heard that that was happening if this is happening at the Holocaust Museum it could be happening at us so we need to make sure that it's not happening there I mean that's the benefit of the social media and things that we can be more aware in real time of what's happening this is a reason why you have interns because they know how to do this stuff so much better just let them let them go wild and say is this inappropriate stuff happening in the digital world I don't know but here's my phone go figure it out or use your phone figure it out it was it was a great asset we were able to make sure that there weren't any but it is a big concern for us thank you very much I would like to open it up for conversation from the audience yes hi this questions for Naomi um did you come into a culture of wanting to teach with those materials or did you have to build a culture around that because I know we have a lot of stuff where I work that we don't talk about and don't use in classes and it's just sort of there so I'd be interested to hear your perspective on that sure so I would say both of the institutions I worked with that there was a culture that wanted to teach with the materials and was committed to putting them in context and to teaching them in a broader context and also yeah and to really digging into them so I think there's a there was a sense of both feeling comfortable with having knowledge about the the organization's the materials and other things and also with talking about charged subjects hi this is a comment for dr. Trent and I would like to thank you for getting real there for a minute with us and bringing the conversation back to the human dimension of the work that we do as we all know we don't leave our identities and our experiences and our traumas at the door when we come into work and I just really appreciated what you said and and also all of the panelists concern about self-care for the people that are doing the work I mean it's not something that you think about and it's and I though I don't deal with collections that are identified as having culturally insensitive material or trauma you do find it in almost all collection and it's not more than once that I've pulled open a folder and gasped at what was inside and not expecting it at all and I I just thank you for focusing again on the people there's a question towards the back this isn't really a fully formulated question yet but I'm just curious about desensitization you know knowing that there's a sort of fine line or a spectrum I suppose between access social media awareness and then at some level desensitization to trauma and I'm just wondering about whether or not you've experienced any changes over time especially you know how being institutions that have been around for a while in regards to younger generations and their ability to engage authentically with the experience of a place versus maybe experiencing something online in a way that's accumulated over time shockingly we have not I think that speaks to the power of place because this is where something happened I have seen children as young as six you know who come into the museum like this I'm like does the child have eyes up here because they're just kind of really focused on their phone and they get to the king room and their parent they've gone through the experience and they pause we have a recreation of the Edmund Pettus Bridge and we show some clips of Bloody Sunday so one thing if you've seen Selma and you could even play certain video games it's another thing to see John Lewis and intellectually you know what's about to happen but it's completely different to be in a space that we create something feel the asphalt hear the noise around you surrounding you've just taken in everything that's happened leading up to Blount Bloody Sunday and experiencing it it's part of the power of what we do I have seen some folks seemingly disinterested but come out very reflective I think this desensitization is something I'm more concerned about happening to staff because we compartmentalize in order to cope and how does that manifest in other areas of your life I think it's more important I mean visitors is one thing but people not losing context of what this place means and sometimes we do it because we just normalize it right we normalize moving around in the space we did a photo shoot as part of a an exhibit on I am a child which was a protest thing that we did back in September and I brought the photographer up when we're on 3:06 and we're staging the kids and I just I'm just talking to her about how she needs to get the best shot and where the light is and where she can stand and I literally forgot she's standing in front of room 306 in this is this woman's first time on the balcony and she just looks at me she's like no well I need a minute and I was like oh my bad let me stop because I've normalized this too much I've got to give you your respect and give you your moment to encounter this she in a few minutes and then she was okay but that's more of where my issue is with desensitization the power of the place is where we work at can bring has brought people around I would say we hear from faculty over and over again that when they bring students in to work with the real thing that it that it's an entirely different experience and it really brings a history to life in an entirely different way then and these are kids who have been using things online who have you know who have been using est-ce or something else so it's we consistently find that that's the case with the power of the artifact and the power of the place that really speaks resonance with us was very question towards the front yeah yes take one more question hi like many of our peer institutions Columbia has wrestled with its own history and slavery and done so I think in a generally thoughtful way but it occurs to me that that this panel might be especially well equipped not to advise me but to advise any of us whose institutions may in fact have also been the perpetrators of trauma and I wonder what lessons you've learned in your work that you might offer any of us thank you I'll start most likely perpetrator institution up here so I will I will say that our institution is a work in progress on that front I am proud of our library's work to to put in the work of trying to engage with the various traumas that have happened on campus over time and how they've impacted people I think we have found that it is really important to be very open and upfront with students about what's happened and to let them explore the history and to give them ways of doing that we had one student who talked about how important it was for her for herself to discover the Dukes history and to fun and to really discover what that was from her own perspective we work closely with faculty to try to shape some of the ways in which we're doing those explorations and there are a number of ongoing projects Duke is very late and in looking at the issue of slavery and its impact on our campus we are just starting to engage in that work now and they're benefiting from others who have gone before us we are trying to regularly do programming around some of the difficult topics on campus for various different communities on our cam us and to have something sort of a regular basis of exploring that history whether it's through an exhibition or through programming or through we've done a number of programs called Duke history revisited where students come in and choose a topic that they want to research for six weeks and they're paid for that and then they come up with some sort of deliverable whether it's a blog post or a series of oral histories or someone was a traditional research paper one was the zine so they've done a number of different things and then they present on that and then we have that information to go forward with and we're working with the larger campus on various issues of memorialization and with monuments as we talked about earlier and other kinds of things about how we tell our story so I would say we're very much a work in progress but I am very proud of my staff for the way in which they are engaging this work in a very authentic way very open to the fact that we have tons of blind spots and could benefit from learning from others and really willing to engage with students and faculty and alums we have a lot of lumps who are very very angry and rightfully so and it's been really important to us to to do what we can to connect with them over time well I think my University I can speak for it just for myself as a faculty member here it's also a work in progress when I arrived here 20 years ago there were statues to jefferson davis robert e lee and four other Confederate soldiers and i never thought they would leave it seems so they seemed so permanent and it was is a good teaching moment in my introduction american studies class to talk about talk about memory and for us here I think it's it's in some ways more difficult even than the history of slavery the history the aftermath of reconstruction and white supremacy is such a difficult moment in American history that is we are really challenging it now and I'm proud also of my University's effort to remove the statues which took place in two to two summers and now the question is what to do now and what to do now what the we're talk about this before the empty plinths that remains so for those of you who are visitors to your walk at the South Mall and you'll see these plants that are just remaining there with the names inscribed on them of what at one time was celebrated I was just looking at my phone right now because I want to give you all the correct URL to a brand new sort of virtual reality tour of the racial geography of this campus this is not something I put together my colleague in african-american studies Ted Gordon did Ted Gordon has been leading tours on campus for something like 15 years and now this is still in beta but it's almost ready to go but it's it's ready to go enough that you can look at it online it's simply racial geography tour org and you'll hear Ted Gordon talk about the history of this campus as a as a place that emerged in as part of white supremacy as part of its founding as part of its funding and there are elements of this talk about power place in the landscape itself so do take a look at that it's really it's a powerful way to engage with an incredibly difficult past and like you I'm proud of the work that my university is done but it's still very much a work in progress I would also say I think it's great the work that both institutions have done but when we're looking at the legacy of slavery with these universities in these institutions you know what some of the departments and some of the areas you guys represent is one place in a larger institution so it's a larger systemic issue right so I'm not saying go down and take down the system because y'all want to keep your jobs right but the thing to really think about is that this is also an issue of equity right and so in looking at how to address it the education programs are great building greater campus awareness bringing a culture of inclusion and diversity but there's also some issues equity in our own field that there are not people of color there are not people who are descendants of these enslaved people engaging in the preservation of these stories and similar to efforts that have been made to make sure that the indigenous communities have the opportunity to be formally trained in the methodology behind the preservation that may be an entryway into that because some of these students have not gone into this field because they're just not exposed to the opportunities I think this is a great field I think it's awesome frankly I'm a little jealous of our collections manager because sometimes she gets to hang out with documents for hours at a time and I've got to go deal with policy but it's great and there are students I think who would want to learn about this think about what opportunities there are to expose students who maybe would not have even considered the work that we do as a viable option for a career it's worth us re-examining what we reading and who we're talking to about those options and it's part of a larger systemic conversation and as the universities have these conversations of addressing equity I know Georgetown did a lot of some financial things I don't know how I don't read books collection got a little money to do some you know extra preservation work if not they should but maybe as those conversations are happening from a financial perspective you could slide and okay if you're going to be giving out extra funds to deal with this issue and create equity those of us over here in the collections area we would like some extra money and this is what we can do with it and this is how we can better address this this is how we can help you so that they don't come to you once the incident has happened you're already part of the conversation and they're already invested in what you're doing excellent well this gives me the opportunity to thank our three panelists and thank Steve Ennis and Daniel Sigler for putting this all together today [Applause]

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