Emory students collaborate on exhibits examining race, sex

By Holly Crenshaw and Gabrielle Phan | Emory Libraries | April 28, 2013

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The title panel for "A Time of Great Possibility: African American Identity Politics, Community Building, and Racial Destiny, 1900-1940," the exhibit that resulted from the course "Looking at the Familiar: History, Memory, Race and Visual Culture."

Two exhibits inspired by Emory University undergraduate courses and co-curated by students are on display on Level 2 of the Robert W. Woodruff Library, with a group presentation and reception slated for April 30.

The exhibits, which examine racial and sexual identity, draw on original photographs, newspaper clippings, broadsides, yearbooks and other archival material housed in Emory's Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL). Both courses focused on helping students develop research skills using primary evidence found in MARBL, then applying those skills toward public scholarship.

An opening reception with presentations and remarks by the student curators and their faculty collaborators is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 30 in the Research Commons, located on Level 3 of the Woodruff Library. The event is free and open to the public. The exhibits will remain on view throughout the summer.

African Americans in early 20th century

The first exhibit, "A Time of Great Possibility: African American Identity Politics, Community Building, and Racial Destiny, 1900-1940," is the result of collaboration between David John Williams, a junior at Emory, and Pellom McDaniels III, faculty curator of African American Collections and assistant professor of African American Studies, for the spring 2013 class "Looking at the Familiar: History, Memory, Race and Visual Culture."

Drawing on several collections of primary sources housed in MARBL—including the Robert Langmuir African American photograph collection, the Frank and Helen Chisholm papers, and the African American photograph collection—the exhibit addresses the role of education, family, politics, religion and sports on the development of African American identity in the first half of the 20th century.

"We saw this as a time when African American citizens were beginning to gain ground for themselves in American society, slowly making something out of the opportunities set by those in the previous decades," Williams says. "At the same time we are reminding our audience of the very real hardships black citizens faced on a daily basis, but trying to emphasize a view of strength, not animosity . . . To try and discount the realities of past would be a disservice to all."

The collaborative course-based exhibits served as a learning opportunity for both the students and faculty involved, says McDaniels. "It's not just about being exposed to the primary materials housed in MARBL" he says. "Unlike a conventional final paper, this project allows for information to spread beyond student to professor. All can share in the success of projects such as these."

Sexual identity examined

The second exhibit, "Let's Talk About Sex: Sexual Identity, Sexual Health, and Sexual Violence at Emory," grew out of a course entitled "From Archives to iPads: Investigating the Discourse on Sexuality at Emory," taught in fall 2012 by Donna Troka, adjunct assistant professor in the Graduate Institute of the Liberal Arts.

Half of the class time was spent in MARBL, where 15 students pored through copies of The Emory Wheel, Emory Report, and Emory yearbooks from 1836-2013. Student curators Sumir Desai, Meredith Doherty, Kala Hurst, Tiken Savang and Tanya Zamora then juxtaposed the articles and images the class had discovered—from bawdy poems in the 1920s to coverage of Take Back the Night marches in the 2000s—to create a complex historical portrait of sexual discourse at Emory.

"We see this exhibit as a conversation starter, as a dialogue about how we think and talk about sexual identity, sexual health, and sexual violence at Emory," Troka says. "We also see it as an exciting example of how faculty and students can collaborate inside and outside the classroom to create public scholarship."