Building Duke: The Architectural History of Duke Campus from 1924 to the Present (2018-2019)


Building Duke is a new three-year initiative that will be implemented in three phases: data collection and organizing (first year); data analysis and interpretation (second year); data output (third year). It will explore the conception, design and construction of the Duke University campus as well as its changes and expansions. Principal aims are to offer an historical narrative of the physical environment that the Duke community inhabits and to explore the desires and visions that have materialized in the making of the campus. This project is especially relevant at a cultural and political moment when physical space and its historical connotations are at the center of a heated public debate.

The three-year initiative will culminate in a relational database of textual and visual archival material on the architectural history of Duke campus; an interactive digital 3D model of campus developments since the 1920s; a series of multimedia thematic narratives on history of the campus; and a series of augmented reality tours.

Project Description

This Bass Connections project will combine historical research with digital technologies through two main components: 1) a chronological timeline of Duke’s buildings, landscape and infrastructure, which will explore the phases of development from conception to land acquisition, design and construction; and 2) a series of historical narratives along thematic axes such as patronage and financing, architectural and landscape design, techniques, materials and labor as well as around issues of identity, gender, class and race.

The 2018-19 team will focus on the identification, collection, organization and digitization of textual and visual material from the University Archives. This data will populate a relational database that will serve as the core of the project and support the following two years of data analysis and output.

Building Duke will intersect with Digital Durham, a public history resource that employs annotated maps, multimedia-illustrated essays and augmented reality tours to offer explorations of the city’s history through a variety of lenses. The project will adopt the model of some of the digital tools developed by Digital Durham.

Statues Speak, a collaboration between Duke and Coastal Carolina University, combines historical research with mobile and web technologies to explore the history of the monuments on Duke’s campus. It includes an app containing autobiographical narratives told by the statues themselves, a digital timeline and historical content on their design and modes of production. The Building Duke project will expand Statues Speak to incorporate a broader range of sculpted works across campus.

Anticipated Outcomes

Relational database of selected archival data [outcome of 2018-19 team]

Student Opportunities

Students, faculty and staff will work together in the University Archives, in the library and in the classroom on research questions, datasets and materials. The team will meet weekly.

Four graduate students and six undergraduates will be chosen from a variety of fields in the humanities, social sciences and information sciences as well as engineering and environmental sciences. All graduate students will have mentorship roles. All students will gain experience in conducting research on primary sources, contributing to publications and developing writing and digital skills (including relational database design, website design, content development and 3D modeling).

One graduate student will be appointed as project manager, two will serve as graduate assistants and another will provide instructional support.

Research will be conducted by team members in collaborative environments that include a 500-level research course (Building Duke Research Seminar 504SL), Research Independent Studies at all levels and laboratory time (University Archives, Perkins Library, Wired Lab for Digital Art History and Visual Culture).

Duke undergraduates and graduate students can apply for this project team beginning on January 24. The priority deadline is February 16 at 5:00 p.m.


Fall 2018 – Spring 2019  

  • Fall 2018: Begin to identify, collect and organize archival and other primary-source data
  • Spring 2019: Plan to design and populate a relational database with the selected archival data; make bulk of primary-source material available in online database accessible to team members


Independent study credit available for fall and spring semesters

Image credit: “Duke University Commencement, 1931,” University Archives Photograph Collection, Box 50, Duke University Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University

Faculty/Staff Team Members

John H Edinger, Arts & Sciences-Art, Art History, and Visual Studies
Sara Galletti, Arts & Sciences-Art, Art History, and Visual Studies*
Valerie Gillispie, Duke Libraries*
Hannah Jacobs, Arts & Sciences-Art, Art History, and Visual Studies
Mark Olson, Arts & Sciences-Art, Art History, and Visual Studies*
Victoria Szabo, Arts & Sciences-Art, Art History, and Visual Studies*
John Taormina, Arts & Sciences-Art, Art History, and Visual Studies
Ed Triplett, Arts & Sciences-Art, Art History, and Visual Studies*

Community Team Members

Elizabeth Baltes, Coastal Carolina University

* denotes team leader


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