2016 Award for Teaching

“Memory Bandits: Preserving and Interpreting Knowledges of the Past”

Patrick Stawski, Duke University, Human Rights Archivist, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University
Nominated by: Kristina Troost, Department of International & Area Studies, Duke University Libraries

Literature from the collections of the Southern Poverty Law Center Intelligence Project. Courtesy of David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Patrick Stawski, Duke University Archivist for Human Rights, is the 2016 recipient of the CRL Primary Source Award for Teaching for his project “Memory Bandits.” A special recognition goes to Robin Kirk, Director of the Duke Human Rights Center, who co-taught the course and whose efforts helped to see this project come to fruition. “Memory Bandits” is an interdisciplinary research seminar for undergraduate students in Anthropology, History and International Comparative studies, originally planned in 2014, team-taught in spring 2015, and slated to be offered in an evolved version in the fall 2016 semester. The central goal of the course is to challenge the students’ perception and use of primary sources, with a focus on human rights themes. The instructors aim for students to “think critically about knowledge of the past and how that knowledge is constructed,” while learning how different disciplines approach primary sources.

The term “Memory Bandit” was coined by Verne Harris, Archivist for Nelson Mandela’s papers. Robin Kirk of Duke University conducted an interview with Harris where he compared himself to a “memory bandit,” a Robin Hood of the archiving world who “redistributes the rich seam of memory in the service of the oppressed.”

During the initial offering of the course modern technology entered the classroom, allowing Kirk and Stawski to use Skype and Google Hangouts to enable class discussions with faculty and archivists from the Central European University (CEU) in Budapest, Hungary. CEU houses the Open Society Archives, one of the largest human rights collections in Europe. The CEU resource provided students access to documentation on the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe from the 1920s and 1930s up through the later twentieth century. For the second seminar the instructors will collaborate with the Pauli Murray Project, bringing the history of slavery and segregation in Durham, North Carolina, the home of Duke University, to the forefront. The course will encourage an in-depth review of related archives to openly evoke hidden histories, and to “assist the University in a deep examination and public acknowledgement of its complex history.” 

Other resources suggested by the instructors for developing focused student research projects include the Densho Japanese American Legacy Project, Duke University’s Human Rights Archive at the Rubenstein Library, and the Digital Archive of the Guatemalan National Police.

Award reviewers noted:“This project is timely and could easily be replicated;” “Students were encouraged to understand that primary source materials are open to different interpretations;” and “The inclusion of Skype lectures by scholars from the Central European University enhanced the classroom experience, giving students the opportunity to learn that using foreign archives can be a much different experience than working in a local archive.”