Rose Library brings hands-on research to undergraduate classes

By April Hunt | Emory Report | April 6, 2016

There was little doubt that the renovated glass halls of Emory's archival library would lure professional researchers and academics.

But now in its second semester as the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library, the space atop the Woodruff Library has proven to be a unique space for undergraduates to sharpen their intellect by tapping into history.

Each year, more than 300 Emory College students spend time researching information and discovering stories in the library's collections.

Only visiting scholars, about 500 per year, outnumber the undergraduates who work from the 10th floor, where expansive views of the Atlanta skyline are rivaled by the richness that lies within.

"The Rose Library is another way for Emory to emphasize how important it is for undergraduates to do primary-source research here," says library director Rosemary Magee. "It's long been a guiding principle that our materials are open and accessible to everyone."

Renewed focus in a renovated space

Faculty from Emory College of Arts and Sciences took that culture to heart when the renovated space opened in late 2015. The major renovation expanded the Rose Library to nearly 14,000 square feet for more research, classroom study and the updated technology to combine the two.

A growing number of professors have embraced the enhanced space by crafting coursework using more of the rare books, archives and manuscripts that span more than 800 years of history.

The classes provide students with the opportunity to draw upon those primary materials in five key areas — literary collections, modern poetry, African-American history and culture, Southern historical and political materials and the Emory University archives — to develop more sophisticated information literacy and research.

The collections, nearly 1,350 in all, often overlap and serve as the interdisciplinary foundation that shapes conversations about social change, art and culture, depending on how faculty members incorporate materials.

First-year seminar built around holdings

Dozens of courses incorporate the holdings for research work and scholarship. True to the College's liberal arts commitment, creative writing professor Hank Klibanoff planned his freshman seminar, "The Race Beat: Then and Now," around the collections.

The course focuses on writing about race and civil rights. It calls for students to research and examine the papers of renowned Southern journalists to see how language changed on racially sensitive stories, and who had access to various events and constituencies in the civil rights era.

Students can see the evolution of a story by reading reporters' handwritten notes, their multiple typed drafts and their final published works. They then can compare that to today's coverage of racial tensions across the nation.

"You would be looking at only published accounts, and not see the education of a given reporter on the issue, were it not for the archives," says Klibanoff, James M. Cox Jr. Professor of Journalism, who won the Pulitzer Prize in history for his book about news coverage and the civil rights movement.

Sania Chandrani, an international studies and business major in Klibanoff's class, had never experienced archival research before the seminar.

Already she was interested in social movements and was reading "At the Dark End of the Street," a book by Danielle McGuire, which surfaced long-hidden stories about sexual abuse of black women by white men.

At the Rose Library, Chandrani discovered a teaching seminar designed to serve as an "Archive 101" session on how to locate and handle the materials.

Chandrani then supplemented her outside reading by finding the notes and original newspaper clippings from activist Martha Wren Gaines, journalist and author Alice Allison Dunnigan, and reading other historical coverage, in both the mainstream and black press, of black women being attacked by white men.

"It's chilling to see and touch the actual paper that first describes how these women were demonized and belittled," Chandrani says. "Being there with the actual paper makes the research a lot more personal and makes it even more important to piece things together to tell these stories."

Helping students excel in interdisciplinary inquiries

Students were also able to draw upon the holdings from the civil rights era for Donna Troka's "Resisting Racism: From Black is Beautiful to Black Lives Matter" course this spring. They will then add to the outreach of Rose Library collections by creating exhibits to showcase their work.

"We've got these amazing holdings and this amazing space, so it's very rewarding to do this work," says Troka, an adjunct assistant professor in the Institute of Liberal Arts and associate director of the Center for Faculty Development and Excellence.

"Developing an exhibit, that's very different than writing a paper," she explains. "This calls for creating panels and materials meant to share. We are constantly co-creating together, sharing discoveries."

The hidden treasures create different narratives, depending on the researcher and the way the information is unearthed, says Gabrielle Dudley, the instruction archivist at the Rose Library.

It is a testament to the collection, and the scholarship expected, that holdings include disparate papers from the same times and places, such as papers from both Freedom Fighters and members of the Ku Klux Klan.

In 2014, the Rose Library also acquired a substantial archive of famed author Flannery O'Connor from her Milledgeville, Georgia, home.

Combined with previous holdings that include O'Connor's letters to close correspondent Betty Hester and the papers of Sally Fitzgerald, writer and editor of several volumes of O'Connor's letters and works, the archive makes the Rose Library a leader in research and scholarship for the Georgia author with an international following.

"I got a true sense of who she was, and I feel like I got to know her in a way that really connected to me, from opening her letters and seeing her notes," says Sarah Freeman, a 2015 Emory College graduate whose choreography for her honors thesis was based on O'Connor's short story, "The Displaced Person."

Freeman has since used her English and dance degree working in fundraising for the Moving In The Spirit dance organization in Atlanta. But she also still dances and choreographs.

Her latest piece, on the life of the Morganna Roberts or "the Kissing Bandit" who rushed the field to kiss baseball players in the 1970s and 1980s, debuts April 8 at the Eye Drum Gallery in Atlanta.

Her dances came only after Freeman did a deep research dive, including finding an old taped interview in which the entertainer describes herself as a comic whose wit was overshadowed by her top-heavy tiny frame.

In that research, Freeman found both O'Connor, disabled by lupus, and Roberts were acutely aware of how their bodies and movement affected their lives.

"It's the same line of research, to learn as much as you can about a subject through their own words," Freeman says. "You can see how people describe their own reactions to their bodies and understand them in a whole new way."

Magee says such pursuits show the value of the archives and how they can inform students' thinking for years to come. The appreciation for understanding the history extends well beyond Emory, even as the Rose Library emphasizes its archival, digital and hands-on learning for more students.

"People never ask me why on Earth this is important," Magee says. "They understand it intuitively. Our students at Emory are serious enough to be receptive to that value."