The Construction of Memory at Duke and in Durham: Using Memory Studies (2016-2017)

Most universities have yet to engage in a deep examination and public acknowledgement of their complex histories. Duke could be among the leaders in this area, fostering a deep and broad rethinking of the past and a positive plan for establishing a fuller physical and interpretive account of its history. What stories are missing from campus and should be told?

This Bass Connections project team examined the societal, cultural and neurological challenge of memory, social justice and memorialization at Duke. Team members mined memory studies to ask how, why and where people use the past for contemporary meaning and how lasting memories are created in the brain. Using the Duke campus and the city of Durham, the team investigated how we can incorporate difficult stories of slavery, segregation and inequality into new memory sites and interpretive plans.

Team members researched Duke and Durham history, mapped current history sites and collected untold stories. Using archives, students created a story bank of little known stories, including protests, notable alumni of color and LGBTQ students, faculty and staff. The team worked with a map maker to create a digital representation of existing sites of memory at Duke, including statues and portraits. Team members integrated the digital map and story bank into a draft proposal on how to expand and create new sites of memory at Duke as well as a draft interpretive plan for inclusion of untold stories into classes, campus tours and orientations.

The team also contributed to an interpretive plan for Pauli Murray’s childhood home in Durham’s West End and hosted the Dangerous Memories speaker series addressing the challenges of dealing with difficult or hidden histories on American university campuses.


Fall 2016 – Spring 2017

Team Outcomes

Dangerous Memories: Conversations around the Past, Social Justice and Constructing University Memory:

Human Rights Research Slam, March 29, 2017

Constructing Memory at Duke: How Do We Create a More Inclusive Physical Campus That Reflects Both the Degradation and the Dignity of Our Duke Ancestors?

Constructing Memory at Duke: Duke’s First Labor Union

Family-oriented activities at Duke Institute for Brain Sciences (DIBS) Discovery Day (April 9, 2017)

Final report for Duke leadership and faculty on untold stories about Duke’s history and recommendations for public commemoration (scheduled for release in Spring 2018 to coincide with 50th anniversary of the Silent Vigil)

Mobile-phone based tour of virtual memorial sites for Duke’s untold stories and existing statues and plaques

This Team in the News

Finding Your Way: Cultivating Humanistic Versatility

Dangerous Memories: Facing the Past, Making the Future Series

Diana Dai and Matthew Sebastian Receive Human Rights Center Grants

Constructing Memory at Duke and in Durham

This project was selected by the Franklin Humanities Institute as a humanities-connected project.

Faculty/Staff Team Members

Alison Adcock, School of Medicine-Psychiatry
Robin Kirk, Arts & Sciences-Cultural Anthropology*
Barbara Lau, Franklin Humanities Institute
Amy McDonald, Duke Libraries
Irene Silverblatt, Arts & Sciences-Cultural Anthropology*
Patrick Stawski, Duke Libraries

Graduate Team Members

Matthew Sebastian, Cultural Anthropology-PHD

Undergraduate Team Members

Hadeel Abdelhy
Madeleine Cochrane
Natalia Espinosa
Catherine Farmer, Mechanical Engineering (BSE)
Mary Aline Fertin
Mumbi Kanyogo, Public Policy Studies (AB)
Christine Kinyua, Public Policy Studies (AB)
Jair Oballe
Elle Winfield
Helen Yu

Community Team Members

Pauli Murray Center for Social Justice
Tim Stallmann, Counter Cartographies/SAVAS

* denotes team leader


Completed, Archived