Author Archives: Kimberly Springer

About Kimberly Springer

Curator of Oral History Center for Oral History Archives Rare Book & Manuscript Library Columbia University

Now available | Photo album collections ready for researchers

The University Archives is working hard to bring more and more of its collections out of hiding and make them available to researchers. As part of that effort we recently published finding aids for three Columbia photograph album collections: two featuring scenes of the Morningside campus from the 1930s and 1940s and one from President Nicholas Murray Butler.

The Walter L. Bogert Photograph album, 1932-1943, captures views of Columbia campus and of Morningside Heights taken by alumnus W.L. Bogert (AB 1888, AM 1889, LLB 1934). He lived at 25 Claremont Avenue and produced a photographic record of his alma mater and neighborhood. Some of his campus building photographs were included in the 1940 Columbia University calendar. This album serves as a comprehensive source for campus views of this period and includes scenes of Student Army Training Corps (SATC) reviews.

Butler Library, 1939

Butler Library, 1939

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Collection Update | The Ben Duncan and Dick Chapman Papers Come Out

In 1990, Ben Duncan and Dick Chapman donated a collection of papers to the Rare Book and Manuscript Library. It was small—just a few boxes of correspondence, literary manuscripts, and publications. Duncan and Chapman nevertheless asked that it be closed to researchers until both of their deaths. What great secret was contained therein?

Ben Duncan typed finding aid summary

RBML’s collection summary for the Ben Duncan Papers, circa 1997, concealed nearly as much about the collection as it revealed.

Not many more years passed before Duncan and Chapman spilled the beans themselves. They were a couple, and had been for decades. The story of Ben Duncan, Dick Chapman, and their papers illustrates the ways that gay men living on both sides of the Atlantic formed communities, found love, and told their stories as they navigated the dramatic social and political changes of the second half of the twentieth century.

Dick Chapman typed letter description of San Remo Cafe in Greenwich Village

Dick Chapman visited the famous Greenwich Village Bohemian hangout San Remo Café in January 1957, which he called “95%” a gay bar. (This letter was written more than twelve years before the Stonewall riots.)

Ben Duncan and Dick Chapman met at Oxford University on New Year’s Eve, 1951. A mutual friend had set them up on a blind date. Several months later, overlooking Christ Church meadow at sunset, Ben proposed that they spend the rest of their lives together.

Ben Duncan was an orphan who had spent most of his childhood in group foster homes in Alabama. Dick was Ben’s only family, as they both understood. Ben Duncan to Dick Chapman, February 7, 1957.

In the 2005 edition of his memoir, The Same Language, Ben wrote, “We made the decision in the way we would continue to make so many of them in the future. I dream up some outlandishly unlikely plan, in the teeth of reality. Dick explains that it is quite impossible. Then, somehow, we do it.” Ben was an American who had just completed his degree at Oxford, had no job, and thus had no legally compelling reason to remain in England. Dick still had a year left at Oxford. The immigration benefits associated with marriage were as inaccessible to the two of them as the moon.

Ben Duncan typed letter to Dick Chapman during geographical separation

While Dick Chapman worked in New York City, Ben Duncan stayed in the London flat he and Dick had shared. He wrote eloquently to Dick about how it felt to stay behind, in this excerpt from February 10, 1957.

Nevertheless, the longest separation Ben and Dick would ever endure was from October 1956 to October 1957, when Dick’s advertising career took him to New York for a year. The letters they wrote to each other, almost daily, form the heart of the Ben Duncan and Dick Chapman Papers.

typed letter from Dick Chapman to Ben Duncan

Four months into his year in the States, Dick Chapman found himself “spell[ing] American.” Dick Chapman to Ben Duncan, February 10, 1957.

Duncan and Chapman kept their letters in a sealed box until 1989. That year, they met Kenneth A. Lohf, who was then Librarian for Rare Books and Manuscripts at Columbia University. A mutual friend, the book collector and Columbia alumnus Dallas Pratt, arranged the meeting in London. In addition to sharing Duncan and Chapman’s love of English literature, Lohf had also lived with his long-term partner, Paul Palmer, for nearly forty years. Perhaps this was why Duncan and Chapman felt comfortable offering their letters to Columbia University. Lohf suggested that they include Duncan’s literary manuscripts as well.

Lohf’s firsthand understanding of the ways that romantic relationships between men could be hidden in plain sight doubtless influenced the way in which the Ben Duncan Papers were originally processed in 1990-1991. Calling the collection the Ben Duncan and Dick Chapman Papers might have been too obvious, but the addition of Duncan’s manuscripts allowed it to be presented as Duncan’s papers alone. Thus the collection’s original name: the Ben Duncan Papers. The collection’s original summary likewise hinted at the importance of the letters without giving anything away. The archivist wrote, “The correspondence consists chiefly of letters between Duncan and Richard Chapman, during 1956 and 1957, when Duncan, an American, was working in advertising in England, and Chapman, an Englishman, was working in advertising in New York. These letters provide a perspective on daily life during the mid-1950s, including such topics as books, plays, current events, and customs of that period.”

typed letter from Ben Duncan to Dick Chapman about spotting closeted men in public

In commenting on a mutual friend’s romantic woes, Ben Duncan also provides a glimpse into the ways gay men carefully identified each other in mixed settings, as well as the necessity of conforming to masculine gender norms in order to avoid being “obvious.” Ben Duncan to Dick Chapman, February 7, 1957.

The idea of closing the collection to researchers during both donors’ lifetimes was also Lohf’s.

Lohf retired in 1993. By the time of his death, in 2002, the pace of change had picked up. Duncan began working to revise his 1962 memoir to include details of his life and relationship with Dick that would have been unprintable at the time—five years before homosexuality was decriminalized in England. He and his editor, John Howard, revisited the 1956-1957 letters as they prepared the manuscript.

Blue, gold and maroon Cover for revised Ben Duncan memoir

Cover for revised Ben Duncan memoir

Duncan gave another handful of manuscripts, including an as-yet unpublished sequel to The Same Language, titled Late Starter, to the Rare Book and Manuscript Library in 2003. He did not, however, alter the restrictions on the collection.

Duncan and Chapman were not ashamed of their relationship, and, as Duncan wrote to Lohf in 1989, “there is nothing in any way scandalous or sensational” in the letters. In his revision of The Same Language, Duncan identified himself explicitly as a gay man, and described frankly the way that aspect of his identity shaped his experiences. I think he and Chapman simply preferred to live quietly, as they had done for fifty years.

Ben Duncan and Dick Chapman became the first couple in Cambridgeshire to form a civil partnership, when the Civil Partnerships Act came into effect in 2005. By that time, they had become icons in Cambridge’s gay community. Duncan was keenly aware how important their example was to younger generations of LGBTQ youth. “They wanted to hear, for a change, a story with a happy ending for people like them and us,” he wrote.

They finished their life together as a married couple when Chapman died in 2012. Duncan died four years later, in 2016. Now that the terms of the donor agreement have been fulfilled, their papers are open to researchers in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Much as Duncan and Chapman revised the way they presented themselves to the world, I have also revised the collection’s description. Recognizing the donors’ original understanding of the collection’s historical significance (and the name they continued to use for it in correspondence with the Rare Book and Manuscript Library) I renamed the collection the Ben Duncan and Dick Chapman Papers. I updated the biographical note to include information about both of its donors, and to make their relationship to one another clear. I also updated the scope and content information to highlight the letters’ value to scholars interested in LBGTQ history. In short, the collection came out of the closet. (Though it is, like all archival collections at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, still stored in closed stacks.)

When the revised edition of The Same Language was published, Ben told a reporter for The Guardian, “It was an absolute joy to write. I can’t tell you the sense of release. I wanted our lives put on record. I didn’t want the moment to pass and be forgotten. I didn’t want the bad things that happened to us to happen to anyone else.” I hope he would feel similarly about the opening of the Ben Duncan and Dick Chapman Papers. — Celeste Brewer, Processing Archivist Ben Duncan signature

Dick Chapman signature



Now open for business: The Federated Department Stores oral history collection

neon open for business sign

Photo: @opensourceway, Flickr

One of the Columbia Center for Oral History Archives’ specializations is business history. Notably, in 1965, the oral history research office conducted a number of interviews related to the history, business practices and the evolution of consumer tastes of the Federated Department Stores from its founding in 1929.

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Not Lord Stanley’s Cup, but … meet Columbia’s Goodwood Cups

ticket with cherub and horn

Goodwood Ticket, 1875

In 1864, the Columbia College graduating class decided to give an award to its most popular member. Other awards were presented to the class members by the alumni association and by the faculty; but this one would be given by the members of the class themselves. And thus, the Goodwood Cups, a not-long-term tradition, was born. Thanks to the efforts of T. Arthur Booth, CC 1878, there are now 12 of the 15 Goodwood Cups in the University Archives holdings.

The Cups’ name comes from its most likely model, those awarded at the popular races at Goodwood Park in England. The first recipient of the Goodwood Cup was Joseph Bayley Lawrence, Class of 1864, followed by Seymour Van Nostrand, Class of 1865. In 1866, the Cup was presented at the end of the junior year and so it became a tradition for the junior class. The Cups were specially designed each year (for example, S.A. Reed 1874 designed the 1873 Cup) and they were made from different woods (oak and butterwood) and in different shapes (goblets and steins). The presentation of the Cup was normally held in June and it involved a speech by the winner, followed by a dance, and then a stag drinking party for the members of the class.

blue and white dance cards from 1800s

The Goodwood Cups, however, proved to be a short-lived tradition. The last Cup was given in 1877 to James W. Pryor 1878. Class politics had become an issue and the manner for securing votes and campaigning led to much resentment and hard feelings, all extensively covered in the student newspaper, the Spectator. The following year, the Class of 1879 refused to award the prize and so too the next two class years. Classes would eventually find other ways to recognize their own – such as the Senior Poll included in the yearbook.

In 1919, Robert C. Cornell’s 1874 Goodwood Cup was returned to Columbia. Soon after, T. Arthur Booth (CC 1878, P&S 1882) started an effort to track down all of the Cups and have them become part of the Columbiana Collection. By 1925 only one of the original recipients was still alive. Through an extensive letter writing campaign, Booth was able to bring the total number of Cups at Columbia to 12. Of the remaining 3 cups: one could not be found but the silver engraving was secured (Cup of 1864); one was willed from father to son and was on loan once at the University (Cup of 1868); and only one was completely lost and unaccounted for (Cup of 1871).

Goodwood beer stein and cups

Material about the Goodwood Cups is available in the Historical Subject Files. There you can find invitations, tickets, programs and dance cards; the typescript and original photographs from T. Arthur Booth’s article on the search for the Goodwood Cups; and a scrapbook compiled by Robert Arrowsmith, Columbiana curator. — Columbia University Archivists

Event | HEAR & NOW: An Interactive Oral History Exhibit

Thursday, April 12, 2018, 5:00 – 8:00 pm, The Social Hall, Union Theological Seminary, 3041 Broadway at 121st Street

exhibition details with recorder and microphones

On Thursday, April 12, 2018, an interactive exhibit will be curated by the students and faculty of Columbia’s Oral History Master of Arts program. Please RSVP on OHMA’s Eventbrite page.

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Concerned Black Students demands for campus MLK Memorial

When Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated 50 years ago, Columbia University responded as most other institutions did – with shock and grieving. Flags were set to fly at half-mast until after Dr. King’s funeral and President Kirk sent a telegram on April 5, 1968 to Dr. King’s widow expressing condolences on behalf of the university community.Kirk condolence letter to coretta scott king

A decision was also made to hold a campus memorial service in St. Paul’s Chapel at 3pm on April 9 – the day of the King funeral. Initially it was stated that the University would close starting at 3pm so all could attend the service. Then the administration received a letter dated April 6, 1968 from a group calling themselves “Concerned Black Students”. They argued that the University should close for the entire day on April 9 out of respect to Dr. King and what he stood for.letter from Columbia Concerned black students to kirk

Among their points: “We realize that closing a university is a drastic action. But we feel that the crisis in America is an imperative for such action. We are aware of your telegram to Mrs. King and of the memorial service planned by Columbia. However, we would consider anything less than a complete shutdown of the University as an obvious affront to the memory of Dr. King and the principles that he stood for.”

The letter was hand-delivered to Columbia Security Desk in Low Library at 9:30pm on Saturday April 6 after they tried to give it to President Grayson Kirk at his residence. Their message was clearly received by administration the next morning.

By Monday April 8 notices were posted that “In respect for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. the University will be closed on Tuesday, 9 April 1968.”

To see how this and the campus memorial service all played out, follow @1968CU on Twitter.



Events | 1918-2018: Sergei Prokofiev in New York City

RBML Researcher Profile | Wouter Capitain, Fulbright Scholar

We see them every day, handing them a key as they walk in each morning, and receiving it back toward the end of the day. Most often they are hunkered down over a particular archive, getting to understand a portion of one of our archives better than anybody here. We await the longer scholarly projects that they are developing from this research but in the nearer term thought it would be interesting to give a preview of their work.

In this brief interview, Curator for Literature Karla Nielsen, asked Wouter Capitain about his research in the Edward Said Papers. He’s visiting Columbia’s Music Department as a Fulbright Scholar from the University of Amsterdam.

photo of cassette tapes

Select interviews, lectures and music from the Edward Said Papers.

Wouter Capitain first showed up in the Columbia RBML this past January. He is here for three months as a Fulbright scholar to do research on the Edward Said Papers. He is working on his doctoral dissertation at the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (University of Amsterdam). Edward Said was internationally recognized as a literary critic and postcolonial theorist but less well known is his work related to music. Wouter Capitain’s research foregrounds Said’s interest in music, both as a performer and critic, and offers a re-reading of Said’s significance from that perspective. He proposes a contrapuntal theory of reading an archive that should have resonance beyond this particular project.

What is your research project?

I am writing my PhD dissertation about Edward Said’s work on music and its interactions with his theoretical and political engagements. I try to understand Said’s “work” or oeuvre as broadly as possible, not restricting it to his published output. The Edward Said Papers offer me the opportunity to study his unpublished work, such as teaching materials and personal correspondence. In this study I am influenced by Said’s “contrapuntal” perspective by paying attention to how different voices interact and overlap. Within the archive, I study the interactions between his various musical, theoretical, and political engagements, and his different professional activities as an author, teacher, and public intellectual.

How did you become interested in Edward Said?

I have a background in musicology, yet I am not necessarily interested in music as such but rather in how music interacts with other domains, and specifically with social and political issues. Many scholars have studied the ways in which society has an impact on music, but Said was also interested in how music has the potential to influence society. Through my former professor Rokus de Groot I became acquainted with Said’s writings about music and I wrote my master’s thesis about Said’s essay on Verdi’s Aida. I continued this research for my PhD dissertation on his work on music in general. Although many scholars have already written about Said, my dissertation will become the first book-length study of his work on music.

With a “contrapuntal” perspective on his work I try to demonstrate that Said had multiple voices which interact and overlap with each other, sometimes sounding harmonious but at other times dissonant. The archive enables me to study the interactions and tensions between his different professional activities.

What are you finding in the archive that is relevant to your project?

Much more than I can deal with in only three months. I am interested in the development of Said’s ideas about music and society, and the archive includes many documents that help me to trace these developments. These documents relate to his activities as a teacher, such as course descriptions and teaching notes, but also to his published writings themselves. For example, I have found many different drafts of his essays and books, as well as outlines and book proposals, which demonstrate the genesis and development of his ideas before they were published. In these three months I do not have the time to study all of these documents in detail, but I have already taken over fifty thousand words of notes and have photographed hundreds of documents which I will study more closely back home.

What is the most interesting thing that you have found in the archive? The most surprising?

I find Said’s handwritten drafts most interesting. Said always wrote with a pen; he didn’t use a typewriter or a computer. Obviously his published writings are typed out, but that was done by his assistant, who was Zaineb Istrabadi for most of Said’s later career. She would type out his handwritten draft, hand it back to him in print, and he would make handwritten corrections and additions, which she would incorporate in the typed version. This process would be repeated for perhaps three or four drafts before the text was finished, and most of these drafts are in the archive. It is thus relatively easy to trace how Said’s texts developed, although his handwriting is sometimes difficult to read. Interestingly, Said’s first handwritten drafts are often fairly close to the final published version of the text. (By the way, Said’s typed letters, faxes, and emails were also written by his assistant, based on his handwritten notes.)

These materials illustrate that exclusive attention to Said’s published output can be quite misleading.

What I find most surprising is that Said was in frequent contact with musicologists. In his published writings it seems as if he was criticizing musicology from a distance, because he was of the opinion that the discipline was not paying sufficient attention to the social and political aspects of music, but from his personal correspondence it becomes clear that he was actively intervening within musicology. These materials illustrate that exclusive attention to Said’s published output can be quite misleading. He supported young and progressive musicologists in early stages of their career, for example by helping them to get their research published and by writing letters of recommendation. Besides, he evaluated the Music Department of Columbia in the late-1980’s and was on a number of tenure committees related to musicology, although the access to some of these documents is restricted. Even though I have studied Said’s writings for several years, I was not aware of the extent to which he directly interacted and intervened in musicology.

How do you think your project will change the way that we think about Edward Said?

Said’s work is often read rather monophonically, where the wide scope of his professional activities is reduced to just one publication, Orientalism (1978), and where his complex identity is similarly reduced to a singularity, Palestinian. With a “contrapuntal” perspective on his work I try to demonstrate that Said had multiple voices which interact and overlap with each other, sometimes sounding harmonious but at other times dissonant. The archive enables me to study the interactions and tensions between his different professional activities. Although I focus specifically on his work on music, I believe that this contrapuntal approach is also relevant to his legacy in other domains.

Anything else that you want to say?

This archive is enormous, with over a hundred and eighty large boxes full of paperwork. For my research it is extremely helpful that the documents are organized and indexed in a very accessible and systematic way. Without this organization it would cost me much more time to find and research the relevant materials, and I very much appreciate the effort that is spent on the structuring and indexing of the documents.


Event | Push Play

Thursday, April 5, 2018, 6:00 PM  7:30 PM, Knox Hall Room 509

Two women in front of whiteboard.

Push Play is a collaboration between OHMA alums Liza Zapol and Nicki Pombier Berger.

Push Play explores the embodied experience of interviewing as a way of examining how we remember, how we ask narrators to engage in memory, and what is, or is not, included in the archive. We draw on creativity and sense of play as a way of pushing through limits in the practice of oral history. Read more about this participatory workshop.

This event is FREE and open to the public. Refreshments will be served. For more information, please email Amy Starecheski at