Students investigate untold stories of Duke's history through summer research program
After spending the summer combing through the University Archives, a group of students shed light on lesser known stories of Duke’s history.
Students presented eight research projects Monday as part of the inaugural celebration of the Duke History Revisited program, led by University Archivist Valerie Gillispie. Projects varied from the proposed Richard Nixon presidential library—which never actually came to fruition—to the first-generation college experience. The presentations also spanned different media forms, including online exhibits, research papers and podcasts.
“The whole purpose of the program was to reveal stories that were untold,” senior Jesse Remedios, who studied the La Unidad Latina fraternity, told The Chronicle. “At a school where we have a lot of scandals and tension, it’s good to find out about the stories of these different communities.”
The event, “Looking Forward: Duke History Revisited,” began with introductions by the program's planners Gillespie and Joshua Sosin, associate professor of classical studies and history.
“Research is a journey with many hidden turns but also, if you do it right, a fair number of unexpected and beautiful vistas,” Sosin said. “Very often along the way, it’s the little things, the small stories, that turn out to be quite big and big enough to draw our attention and energy.”
The hour-long event, attended by approximately 40 people, marked the conclusion of the first year of Duke History Revisited. The initiative was funded by the Humanities Writ Large Initiative and the Office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences. Students each received $3,000 stipends for their work.
The eight students spent 25 hours per week for six weeks from May to June conducting research on “people and stories traditionally underrepresented in the Duke University Archives." They also gathered twice a week for meetings with faculty and experts.
“Many of the experiences of students, staff, faculty and community members are indeed represented in the University Archives, but many more are not,” Gillispie said.
Students were attracted to the summer program for a variety of reasons. Remedios said he wanted a flexible but intensive research experience that was relevant to his interests. He created a podcast as his research project and explained that he hopes to work in media after graduating.
“I want to go to grad school, so I particularly wanted some experience in taking research and turning it into a long paper,” senior Elizabeth George told The Chronicle. George wrote a nine-page research paper entitled “Success of the Second Sex: Duke University’s Demonstrated Efforts to Empower Women.”
Some students selected their research topics for personal reasons. Senior Paul Popa, who looked into the University’s history of accommodating first-generation undergraduates, is a first-generation student and son of Romanian immigrants.
Sophomore Alan Ko presented his findings on the history of the Asian-American experience at Duke, which included an interview with an alum who felt pressured to “hide her Asian-ness” during her time at the University.
Senior Lara Haft—who created a zine about student-worker solidarity at Duke—was a member of the Duke Students and Workers in Solidarity protesters last Spring. Her aunt was also a member of the Allen Building sit-in in 1969, and Haft explained that parts of the narrative of the 1969 events had been lost over time.
Other researchers were sophomore Nina Chen, who created an online exhibit about the failed attempt by former Duke President Terry Sanford to established a presidential library on campus for Richard Nixon. Junior Victoria Prince studied class disparity and the Duke-Durham relationship during the construction of the Durham Freeway, also known as North Carolina Highway 147.
Senior Hayley Farless researched the now-defunct Duke Abortion Loan Fund but could not attend the event. Gillispie presented on her behalf.
One overarching theme of the experience was that historical research can help to challenge commonly-held assumptions.
“We can’t think of things in black and white,” Remedios said. “Things are complex—there’s an infinite number of different, diverse experiences that people have here at Duke, in North Carolina, in America and throughout history. We really need to acknowledge all those experiences, and not just acknowledge that they exist, but acknowledge that they have inherent value.”
For George, her experience with Duke History Revisited was rewarding and allowed her to connect on another level with Duke.
“We do research here all the time,” she said. “But how often is it about the place where you live, the place where you grow, the place that is shaping you for these four years?”