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The new "Collecting Memories: Treasures from the Library of Congress" exhibit opens in the new David M. Rubenstein Treasures Gallery for a press preview, June 10, 2024. Photo by Shawn Miller/Library of Congress. Note: Privacy and publicity rights for individuals depicted may apply.

AFC and VHP Collections Featured in the New Exhibition, “Collecting Memories: Treasures from the Library of Congress” in the New David M. Rubenstein Treasures Gallery

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This post is co-authored by AFC Folklife Specialist Steve Winick, VHP Reference Librarian Megan Harris, and AFC Folklife Specialist Douglas D. Peach. The text of this post also uses language from Library of Congress press and publicity materials related to the new exhibition and gallery space. 

On June 13th, a new exhibition titled, “Collecting Memories: Treasures from the Library of Congress,” opened to the public in the new David M. Rubenstein Treasures Gallery in the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building. The exhibition explores how cultures preserve memory, including the role of the Library of Congress in preserving collective memories representing entire societies, important moments in history, and individual lives. The exhibition draws from the Library’s rich holdings of Americana and international collections, bringing together a mix of voice recordings, moving images, diaries, manuscripts, photographs, art, maps, books and more. “Collecting Memories” also features audio stations, where visitors can listen to stories, songs, and oral history excerpts.

Collection items from the American Folklife Center and the Veterans History are featured throughout “Collecting Memories.” We’ve assembled an annotated list of these items below to celebrate the new exhibition and the new gallery space, and to help you can learn more about the rich collections to which these items belong.

Veterans History Project

Among the nearly 120,000 individual veterans’ collections preserved within the Veterans History Project are numerous personal diaries. These diaries are unique primary sources, capturing first-hand, intimate details of veterans’ service experiences. VHP selected three original diaries for exhibition, relating to veterans Leon F. Jenkins, George W. Pearcy, and Robert F. Augur, all of whom served in the Pacific Theater during World War II.

George W. Pearcy and Robert F. Augur Diaries

Stationed in the Philippines prior to Pearl Harbor and then captured by the Japanese in spring 1942, both George Pearcy and Robert Augur used personal diaries to record their experiences while prisoners of war (POWs). In fall 1944, the two friends parted ways: Pearcy boarded the Japanese prison ship bound for mainland Japan, while Augur stayed behind at Bilibid Prison. Before departing, Pearcy gave his diaries to Augur with the request that they be delivered to his family should he not survive. Pearcy died when his ship was torpedoed by an American submarine. Following the liberation of the Philippines, Augur kept his promise and sent his friend’s diary to Pearcy’s family in March 1945.

Following the 2015 donation of the Pearcy diary, VHP published a blog post about the collection, which led to contact with Augur’s family, who donated his diary to VHP in 2016. Read more about the connections between the Pearcy and Augur diaries in this two-part blog post series: Part I and Part II.

A loose-leaf, unbound diary written on the back of a tin can labels.
One of George Pearcy’s unbound diaries, featured in “Collecting Memories.” George Washington Pearcy Collection, Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, AFC2001/001/101245.

Leon F. Jenkins Diary

After enlisting as a Marine in 1940, Leon Jenkins survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, and went on to fight in other infamous Pacific Theater battles such as the Battle of Midway. He made near-daily diary entries during the summer of 1942, even while under combat conditions during the Battle of Guadalcanal. His entry for September 2, 1942, records the exact moment in which his position was hit by an enemy bomb; the last sentence ends in a pencil scrawl off the page. The diary picks up twelve days later, when he is recovering in the hospital, the shaky handwritten entries testify to his injuries. Jenkins’s time in combat would affect him for years to come. In 1943, he was discharged with a diagnosis of psychoneurosis, and according to his family, he dealt with post traumatic stress for the rest of his life.

American Folklife Center

AIDS Memorial Quilt Materials

The AIDS Memorial Quilt, regarded as the largest folk art project ever created, is composed of more than 50,000 panels, every one memorializing a life or lives lost to the disease. In 2019, the American Folklife Center acquired the administrative records from the AIDS Memorial Quilt, which hold photographs, letters, memorials, and other two-dimensional materials related to the people memorialized in the panels. “Collecting Memories” features materials from Block 1333 of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, which honors eight men who died from AIDS. More specifically, the exhibit features materials related to the life of David Keisacker, which were donated by his partner, Steve Horwitz, in 1989. Visitors to “Collecting Memories” will see photos of Keisacker, Keisacker’s memorial service program, and Horwitz’s memorial of Keisacker’s life. Keisacker’s materials represent just one of the thousands of lives memorialized in the AIDS Memorial Quilt Records.

AIDS quilt items in museum display
AIDS Memorial Quilt collection items on display in “Collecting Memories” from the life of David Keisacker. Photo by AFC Folklife Specialist, Douglas D. Peach.

The Secret Place, a hooked rug made by Mary Sheppard Burton 

Mary Sheppard Burton (1922-2010) was a nationally recognized quilter from Maryland. Burton’s The Secret Place, a beautiful, hooked rug, is on display at “Collecting Memories.” The Secret Place captures the story of Burton’s mother, Alice Phipps, who loved to read and eat cherries. Phipps would often find solace in a cherry tree—her “secret place”—to read her favorite books. By simmering the wool skeins with onion skins, water, and vinegar, Burton altered the colors of commercially-dyed wool to achieve what she called “a rainbow that is absolutely gorgeous.” The American Folklife Center acquired Burton’s collection in 2006. Learn more about Burton’s collection at this link.

Mary Sheppard Burton’s, The Secret Place, on display in the “Collecting Memories” exhibition. Photo by AFC Folklife Specialist, Douglas D. Peach.

Oral History Interviews from the Civil Rights Movement

At one of the exhibit’s audio stations, visitors can listen to oral history interviews from the the Civil Rights History Project, a Congressionally mandated initiative to survey existing oral history collections with relevance to the Civil Rights movement, conduct new interviews, and make these oral histories accessible to the public. Housed at the American Folklife Center, the people interviewed for this collection belong to a wide range of occupations, including lawyers, judges, doctors, farmers, journalists, professors, and musicians. To see these interviews online, visit the Civil Rights History Project website.

An audio station in the “Collecting Memories” exhibition, where visitors can listen to Ruby Sales’ experiences with the Civil Rights Movement. Photo by AFC Folklife Specialist, Douglas D. Peach.

Medical Workers’ Audio Diaries from the COVID-19 Pandemic

At another audio station, visitors can listen to “audio dairies” recorded by frontline health-care workers about their experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic. The American Folklife Center recently acquired a collection of 700 audio diaries donated by The Nocturnists, a San Francisco-based independent medical storytelling community. These diaries document the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on more than 200 frontline health-care workers from across the country. Doctors, nurses, medical students, hospital chaplains and medical supply delivery drivers created their own unfiltered recordings during breaks, between shifts, or at home to cope with the uncertainty of the unfolding pandemic beginning in March 2020. The Nocturnists’ audio diaries are an important contribution to the AFC’s COVID-19 American History Project collection.

Recited Poetry for Living Nations, Living Words: A Collection of First People’s Poetry

Visitors can also listen to contemporary Native American poets, such as Sherwin Bitsui, Kimberly Blaeser, and Heather Cahoon, at one of the exhibitions’ audio stations. The recordings are part of Living Nations, Living Words: A Collection of First People’s Poetry, a collection of 47 contemporary Native American poets reading and discussing an original poem. The collection, part of Poet Laureate Joy Harjo’s “Living Nations, Living Words” signature project, is housed at the American Folklife Center. Learn more about this initiative here.

A display of four framed photos housing the VHP oral histories sits on a tabletop, with visitors in the background.
VHP Oral History excerpts on display in “Collecting Memories.” Photo by AFC Folklife Specialist, Douglas D. Peach.

Excerpts from Veterans History Project Oral Histories

Included in the audio station are excerpts from VHP oral histories with four veterans: Gene Takahashi, Elia Ortega, Raffi Bahadarian, and Kimberly Mitchell. Takahashi, a Japanese American veteran who was formerly incarcerated with his family in Arizona during World War II, describes a chance encounter with another Nisei soldier after he had been wounded in action during the Korean War. Elia Ortega, a nurse who served with the Army Nurse Corps in Vietnam, discusses the complexities of her wartime memories. A 17-year veteran of the Navy, Kimberly Mitchell relates the impact of her service on her life, while Raffi Bahadarian talks about keeping in touch with his family, especially his future wife, during his deployment to Iraq in 2003.

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American Folklife Center board member Natalie Merchant has also been busy with performances to celebrate the new exhibition and gallery space. On Thursday, June 13th, Merchant performed as part of the Live at the Library and, on Saturday, June 15th, Merchant performed as part of the Library’s Family Day festivities. Learn more about Merchant and her service on the board of the American Folklife Center at this link.

We encourage you to see these wonderful items for yourself! If you would like to visit the “Collecting Memories: Treasures from the Library of Congress” exhibition, please review the information and follow the instructions listed here to plan your visit.

Comments (2)

  1. High Quality….Great Interest..
    Thank you.

    • Thanks for reading, Richard. We’re glad the post was of interest.

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