University of Iowa Asian American Oral History Archive

The following is written by Asian Alumni and Student Oral History Project Intern Jin Chang

Asian Alumni and Student Oral History Project Intern Jin Chang

Since the start of the pandemic, prominent leaders have stood in front of crowds of American people calling COVID-19 the “China Virus” and “Kung Flu.” As a result, Chinatown businesses closed as tourists continued to avoid Chinatowns across America and racially charged attacks increased against Asian elders, including a mass shooting in Atlanta specifically targeting Asian Women in the massage industry. Unfortunately, all these moments had precedents in the past. The Chinese Exclusion Acts of 1882, which barred the Chinese from immigrating to America, was one of many policies motivated by Yellow Peril, a racist characterization for the fear of Asian people. This racist belief that East Asia and their people pose an existential threat to America influences the belief that Chinatowns are a uniquely dangerous spot of disease. Before COVID-19, Chinatown and Chinese people were blamed by many Americans for smallpox and cholera in the late 1800’s, the bubonic plague in the early 1900’s, and the SARS epidemic as recently as 2003. For the direct violence against Asians in America many of the wars in Twentieth Century American history have been against Asian countries, teaching Americans to view Asians as the enemy.

This longstanding history of Sinophobia, anti-Chinese sentiment, and the belief in Yellow Peril reveals the racism following COVID-19 is not some bizarre aberration. It is America’s history. While many of these notable early instances of racism against Asian people came from areas with heavy Asian populations such as California, Asian and Asian Americans have long lived in Iowa, and the population continues to grow in the present. As a Korean-American myself, I believe our experiences with navigating race and racism here in Iowa follows national trends, but I also believe there are many unique elements that come from reconciling race and racism as an Asian or Asian American in Iowa that is missing from the national discourses of today.

Directory from the Korean Student Association folder in Organizations & Clubs vertical files of University Archives

For the University of Iowa specifically, we are lucky to have the Asian Pacific American Cultural Center (APACC) as a space of community, healing, and empowerment for Asian Americans in the University. However, APACC began in 2003, and Asian and Asian Americans have long been forming communities in the University of Iowa. One group established in 1999, the Asian-American Coalition, served as a consolidated voice for many Asian Americans, and as one of the leading voices in the founding of APACC. Another group, the Asian American Women’s Group sought to address the specific needs of Asian American Women and predates the Asian American Coalition as it was established in 1993. Prior to the 1990s, many Asian international student groups existed on campus such as the Korean Student Association, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and PERMIAS an Indonesian Student Association.

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A brochure found in University Archives for Asian-American Law Students Association, a current student organization

Many of these student groups are underrepresented in the University Archives. The lifecycle of student organizations also means that new iterations exist on our campus to serve Asian and Asian American students today, making it a challenge to capture organizations that have come and gone. While collecting materials from Asian and Asian American groups’ is a priority for the University Archives, the Special Collections & Archives team has also recognized the importance of collecting the stories of communities through oral history. Thus, over the course of the next year, the University Archives will be collecting oral histories of Asian and Asian American students and alumni from the University of Iowa. By capturing our stories and narratives through oral history, we have an opportunity to have our histories recognized and to create a genealogy for future Asian and Asian American students here at the University of Iowa.

If you wish to have your story included in the oral history archive, please contact Jin Chang at jin-chang@uiowa.edu.

Djuna Barnes’ Ladies Almanack: An almanac like no other

The following is written by Curator of Books and Maps Eric Ensley

March is women’s history month, and it feels appropriate to turn towards the work of a great writer from the early twentieth century, Djuna Barnes.

Barnes is well known to students of gender and sexuality, particularly for her literary work that broached the topic of homosexuality in ways that ran afoul of censorship laws in the United States in the early half of the 20th century. Born in New York in 1892, she spent most of the 1920s in Paris, where she befriended author James Joyce and enjoyed some success as an author herself, though her now-celebrated novel Nightwood did poorly at the time.

Title page with crossed out printer’s name

UI Libraries Special Collections & Archives has recently acquired a first edition copy of Barnes 1928 roman à clef, Ladies Almanack. The first edition had a run of 1,050 copies, which it appears the author and her friends handed out on the streets of Paris. They even smuggled it into the United States, where the book’s overt description of lesbian relationships defied decency laws. Even the book’s printer, Edward Titus, blocked out his name on the novel’s title page, either to protect himself from the possibility of legal reprisal for the previous reason, or in fear of legal reprisal by members of the elite lesbian circle surrounding Natalie Clifford Barney that the book obliquely describes.

The novel is told through the genre of an almanac, with careful attention to time and seasons and their relationship to the female body. The illustrations, all created by Barnes herself, are meant to resemble the woodblock prints of early almanacs. Likewise, the illustrations often depict the labors of the month, tying them to a long tradition of guidance books showing the appropriate actions at a given moment—such a use of illustrations goes back to books of hours and their miniatures of the labors of the month.  Author Lindsay Starck, in the summer 2019 issue of Modern Fiction Studies, argued that this attention to the rhythms of the year serves to highlight early twentieth-century sexologists arguing that homosexuals were out of step with the appropriate rhythms of nature.

Illustration by Barnes

Barnes and her work did not enjoy widespread success during her lifetime or enter the mainstream of literary conversation —this is in large part due to the repression of her work and bigotry against her due to her homosexuality. The first edition of Ladies Almanack has an important story to tell in its reminding us that book history often takes center stage in the history of censorship and repression. I hope as you look at this book you’ll imagine Barnes surreptitiously and illegally carrying this little volume with its covered printing statement, full of “dangerous” ideas, across the border into the United States.

Ida Bogue’s Handmade Adventure

The following was written by Curator of Books and Maps Eric Ensley

Hand drawn map from The Loiterers

As the snow begins to melt away in Iowa City, happily we begin to think of nature and adventures along the hills and riverbanks of the countryside. This desire for spring is felt all the more as we live through times of loss and global catastrophe. I suggest that it is this same yearning for bucolic settings that drove English author and artist Ida Bogue to make our newest edition to the collection, The Loiterers, at the height of World War II.

19th century service card from Hong Kong found in the pages of the book

I should first say that no words I can write can quite do this manuscript justice—it is a stunning work of art, from its over 800 handwritten pages, 30 handmade watercolors, and the decorative binding made by Bogue herself. The book tells the story of two young boys who go on adventures through the English countryside and meet a cast of characters, many of whom are illustrated in the watercolors. Also included are a number of objects pertinent to the story tucked into the binding, including a leaf and several nineteenth-century washing service cards from Hong Kong and Shanghai.

Bogue may have intended the book as a gift for her young nephews, no doubt suffering through the war. It’s difficult to say, however, as Bogue was a reclusive figure, having never reached authorial fame, having no children of her own, or any sustained relationships as far as can be see. In her lifetime she apparently wrote six different manuscripts stories like this. One, a fairy story called Child-Hazel, is still owned by the family and appeared on an episode of Antiques Roadshow in the early 2000s. It is likely that Bogue’s family also has another one of these manuscripts stories as well. A third story was sent by Bogue as a gift for the young princesses Margaret and Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace. The other three were assumed lost—though our manuscript is believed to be one of these three.

“Remember Me” written at the beginning of the story

Bogue’s life is difficult to research, and she no doubt did not achieve the acclaim she deserved in her lifetime. One of the pages of her book is inscribed with a haunting command: “Remember Me.”

Though it comes too late, we invite you to witness Bogue’s masterful art and remember her among the numerous women whose art has gone unwitnessed and undiscussed.

We hope to have this work digitized so that all may enjoy Bogue’s craft and will notify our readers when we do. If you have any information that might aid in reaching the family of Ida Bogue, please contact the curator of rare books, Eric Ensley: eric-ensley@uiowa.edu

The Large Glass finds a home in the International Dada Archive

The following is written by International Dada Curator Timothy Shipe. 

Curator Tim Shipe opens up The Large Glass and Related Works for the first time

The latest major acquisition for the International Dada Archive is The Large Glass and Related Works (1967-1968), an impressive collaboration between artist Marcel Duchamp and the Egyptian-born Italian writer and gallery owner Arturo Schwarz. The magnificent set of two large portfolios contains a monograph by Schwarz on Duchamp’s unfinished masterpiece, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (known as the “Large Glass”), housed in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It is accompanied by an extensive set of facsimiles of Duchamp’s preparatory notes for the “Large Glass,” one of several similar sets of notes the artist published during his lifetime (including the famous “Green Box,” the most precious treasure of the Dada Archive).

But what makes The Large Glass and Related Works most special is the two sets of nine original etchings by Duchamp designed especially for this edition. These are among the last art works by Duchamp, who died in 1968. The first set, titled simply “The Large Glass,” consists mainly of depictions of individual elements taken from that complex work, along with a diagram of what the Glass would have looked like had it been completed.

Facsimiles of Duchamp’s notes

The second set of etchings, titled “The Lovers,” is a set of erotic drawings largely based on classic works of art. According to Schwarz, these were intended as a sort of sequel to the “Large Glass,” depicting the consummation of the frustrated love affair between the “bachelors” and the “bride.” One of these, based on Lucas Cranach’s famous depiction of Adam and Eve, is, in a sense, a self-portrait of Duchamp, since it replicates a well-known Man Ray photograph of a 1924 stage performance in which a nude Duchamp and Brogna Perlmutter imitate the scene in Cranach’s painting.

The Large Glass and Related Works was formerly part of the Ruth and Marvin Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry but was deaccessioned before that collection came to Iowa. We were fortunate to have the opportunity to purchase this important work for the Dada Archive, where it will complement the other major Duchamp items that are frequently used in classes in Art History and other fields.

*Photos taken by Lindsay Moen

Alchemy of Breathing

In the shadow of Covid-19, The Sackner Collection shines a light on “The Beauty in Breathing”

The following blog comes from Olson Graduate Assistant Rich Dana who interviewed Marvin Sackner on his exhibit “The Beauty in Breathing.”

An exhibition of works from the newly acquired Ruth and Marvin Sackner Collection of Visual and Concrete Poetry at the Main Library Gallery is one of the countless art events that have been postponed due to the current global health crisis. In some respects, however, the Sackner Collection is more relevant now than ever.

Alchemy of Breathing
Paul Laffoley, The Alchemy of Breathing,1992

Dr. Marvin Sackner is not only one of the world’s foremost collectors of artwork that combines visual elements and text, but he is also an internationally respected pulmonologist. The inventor of several medical devices designed to aid oxygen flow in patients, the 88-year-old former Head of Medicine at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Miami Beach is keeping a close eye on the epidemic and is currently completing a paper on potential alternative treatment strategies to address the ravaging effects of COVID-19 on the human respiratory system.

Ruth Laxson, Ride the Dance Down,1991

Visual poetry is, at its most basic level, the depiction of the sounds made by the air moving from our lungs and across our vocal cords. It’s not surprising then that breath is one of the common themes found in the Sackner’s vast collection of artists’ books, framed images, and 3D objects. In 1992, Dr. Sackner created a unique exhibition of work by an international selection of artists entitled “The Beauty in Breathing” as a special event at the annual meeting of The American Lung Association & American Thoracic Society. Some of the works were already part of the Sackner’s collection, but many were commissioned especially for the 3-day event.

It was a scientific meeting,” recalls Sackner. “And in the middle of it, here is this exhibition. A lot of people got exposed to “art and poetry” for the first time. It was really great fun to observe them. A lot of doctors aren’t necessarily art-inclined, but here, over a thousand people got to see this exhibit over a three-day period.”

Tom Phillips, Pneuma,1984

As we come to grips with the devastating effects of COVID-19 on individual lives and on society, Dr. Sackner’s life’s work illustrates the importance of scientific progress and the discovery of new, life-saving treatments. His passion for art reminds us that despite hardship, we must continue to value creative expression, which is such a large part of how we process both the beautiful and terrible in the world around us.

The works included in “The Beauty in Breathing” show, along with copies of the exhibit catalog, original photographs from the event, and Dr. Sackner’s curatorial records are all part of his donation to the University of Iowa’s Special Collections. Until visitors are once again able to visit our reading room, we will do everything we can to share these materials with the public.