Friday, June 21, 2019

Experiencing Black Theater in America

Experiencing Black Theater in America exhibit poster
This past spring, Associate Professor of Theater Monica Ndounou taught a class made possible through an experiential learning seed grant from the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning. Titled “The Making of 21st Century Exhibits: Curating a National Black Theater Museum/Institution,” the course was cross-listed with the Theater Department and African and African-American Studies Program. This class provided seventeen students an opportunity to learn about black theater history, scholarship and practice in the U.S. and abroad. In the process, students helped develop ideas and curated exhibits that represented a range of formats and platforms. As social media and academe become interdependent in the 21st-century digital era, the course enabled participants to imagine and implement exhibits for the museum as a digital and onsite space where national and international contributions to developing black theater can be shared with the larger public.

The current student-curated exhibit in Special Collections, “Experiencing Black Theater in America,” is one facet of the experiential learning component of the class. Another component was a visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., that helped students conceptualize the possibilities for translating the material covered in class into exhibit form. The class also used the opportunity to consider which gaps in the D.C. collection should be filled during the constantly evolving curation process at the National Black Theatre Museum in Memphis, TN, a project conceived and developed by Ekundayo Bandele, CEO and Founder of Hattiloo Theatre, who also participated in the course. Other experiential learning opportunities included activities with the local community’s regional black theatre, JAG Productions, and a chance to attend events featuring choreographer Camille A. Brown during her spring 2019 Dartmouth residency.

The majority of the documents in this exhibit come from the papers of Theater Professor Errol Hill, the first African-American educator to receive tenure at Dartmouth College. A Trinidadian native, Hill joined the faculty of Dartmouth’s Drama Department in 1968 and worked tirelessly here for twenty-one years before retiring in 1989. Hill was a wellspring of productivity, whether as a scholar, a playwright, or a director: over the span of his career, he wrote eleven plays, authored or edited fifteen major books and periodicals, and wrote twenty-five major articles on drama and theater history. While at Dartmouth, he taught a portfolio of thirteen different courses on acting, directing, playwriting, and theater history, directed thirty-three full-length productions, and wrote numerous influential works including Shakespeare in Sable: A History of Black Shakespearean Actors (1986) and, with Professor James Hatch, A History of African American Theatre (2003). Professor Hill passed away in 2003 but his legacy endures.

The exhibit will be on display in Rauner Library's Class of 1965 Galleries in Webster Hall until September 6th. You can download a list of materials and read the exhibit text at the following website:

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Abraham Lincoln and His Generals

letter by James R. Doolittle with added approval by Lincoln
A while back we posted about a sheet of Abraham Lincoln's signatures on a piece of White House stationery that were authenticated by his personal secretary John Hay. Although it's hard to top that exciting find, we have another Lincoln-related item from the Codex collection that we think is also pretty amazing. In a book that has been beautifully bound in blue morocco leather with gold tooling, we have another treasure trove of autographs from the Civil War, including not only Lincoln's signature but numerous other important figures from the Union Army during that time.

The cover of the book reads, "Abraham Lincoln and His Generals | A Collection of Autographs | 1861-1865," and the contents do not disappoint. All told, there are twenty-seven pieces of correspondence or
Engraving of William T. Sherman
other paper that bear the signed names of many of the sixteenth president's generals during the war, along with engraved portraits of most of them. Most of the letters are fairly pedestrian and deal with day-to-day business or social courtesies; moreover, a lot of them were written decades after the conclusion of the war. Still, it's thrilling to see so many different hands by so many different Civil War military leaders in one place. My personal favorites are the letter signed by Lincoln, saying only "I so advise" in response to a subordinate's request for his approval (bringing our total number of Lincoln signatures up to twenty!); the pardon issued by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872 for Jacob C. Clark, who apparently was arrested for selling liquor without a permit but didn't realize he was breaking the law, and the intimidating engraving of General William T. Sherman, who would go on to serve as the Commanding General of the Army (and briefly the Secretary of War) under President Grant.

To have a look through this Union gallery, come to Special Collections and ask for Codex 002120.