Exhibiting El Salvador

Last year, colleagues from the Kelley School of Business reached out to the Director of the University Archives, Dina Kellams, with a request. They were interested in collaborating with the University Archives on that year’s Kelley Common Read book, Trever Noah’s Born a Crime, about South Africa and its system of apartheid. Did the Archives have any documents or other items from IU’s history that touched on these subjects and that could bring the topic closer to students, make it more immediate for them?

Cover of the book The Far Away Brothers: Two Young Migrants and the Making of an American Life, by Lauren Markham
Cover of the book The Far Away Brothers: Two Young Migrants and the Making of an American Life, by Lauren Markham

This year, the book chosen for the Kelley Common Read is Lauren Markham’s The Far Away Brothers: Two Young Migrants and the Making of an American Life. Markham is a journalist who has written about unaccompanied minors immigrating to the United States from Central America, and the recent increase in the numbers of these young migrants entering the U.S. beginning in about 2012. Her book The Far Away Brothers follows the experiences of twin teenagers from El Salvador, Ernesto and Raúl Flores, and their decision to leave their home and family to journey to the United States. It is an intimate and poignant story that explores the brothers’ decision to leave El Salvador, the dangerous journey each undertakes, and how they fashion new lives for themselves once they reach California. Our colleagues from the Kelley School reached out again, this time with the request, did the Archives have anything about El Salvador?

Dina forwarded the request on to me and a colleague of mine, since we are both archivists working with the Modern Political Papers Collection. Maybe we had something that would be of use to students participating in the Kelley Common Read?

Boy, did I have something – a whole lot of stuff, as a matter of fact! I’m responsible for several collections of congressional papers in the Modern Political Papers Collection, including the Richard G. Lugar Senatorial Papers. Senator Lugar served in the U.S. Senate from 1976 to 2012, which makes him the longest-serving senator from Indiana in the state’s history. For 34 of the 36 years he served in the Senate, he was a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and he was Chair of the committee twice, the first time from 1985 to 1987 and the second time from 2003 to 2007. His collection is huge – approximately the equivalent of 1,500 bankers boxes. Coincidentally enough, when I received the message from our Kelley colleagues, I had recently processed several folders in Senator Lugar’s papers related to El Salvador and I had found several memorabilia items, folders, and binders, related to 1988 elections in El Salvador and the 1989 El Salvador presidential inauguration. I had a feeling that there would be a lot of other good stuff in the collection too. I rolled up my sleeves and started digging through spreadsheets and boxes to see what all we had – the best part of an archivist’s job!

Photograph of Senator Claiborne Pell, President of El Salvador Jose Napoleon Duarte, and Senator Richard Lugar.
U.S. Senate photograph of Senator Claiborne Pell (D-RI), President of El Salvador Jose Napoleon Duarte, and Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), May 6, 1984. They are at the U.S. Senate, likely in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Room. Senators Pell and Lugar were members of the Foreign Relations Committee.

So You Say You Want to Put Together an Exhibition? – First Steps

I thought that one good way to support Markham’s book and to bring the subject closer to the students of Kelley might be to mount an exhibition on El Salvador using materials taken from Senator Lugar’s papers. Many of us who work with archives and special collections believe that being able to see, touch, or otherwise interact with “the stuff” (as we often call it) can make far away events, people, and time periods feel closer and more immediate. It’s one thing to read something about Abraham Lincoln and the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation; it’s another thing entirely to see the pen he used to sign it and the original version of the document. Or to read letters that he wrote in which he discusses his thoughts about the state of the nation. For this sense of immediacy to work, though, we need the help of our audience. As an archivist and curator, I try to choose the most visually appealing but also informative items that I can, but I also rely on my viewer to be open to the sense of wonder that these items contain. An exhibition is a two-way, collaborative project between curator and viewer.

Handwritten note by Andrew Semmel, Senator Lugar’s Legislative Assistant for Foreign Policy, on the March 1988 El Salvador election results.

As an archivist who works with political papers, one of my main goals is to increase transparency about how the U.S. government works and how decisions are made by the people who make our laws. The best way that I can do that is by making the materials available to as many people as possible; exhibiting them is one way to do that. After all, it’s not often that people get to see Department of Defense publications, handwritten notes taken by congressional staff members, informational memos to Senators on legislative issues, and unclassified State Department telegrams. Since IU had this wealth of materials related to El Salvador, my colleagues and I agreed that a good use of them would be to display them in the exhibition spaces at the IU Archives for the Kelley students and the broader public.

I also had another dilemma when it came to figuring out how to support Markham’s book, namely that bothersome issue of time period. Federal regulations require that congressional committee records remain closed for 20 years. Since most of the items about El Salvador in Senator Lugar’s papers could be considered records of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I could not display anything dated past the year 2000 (committee records from the 107th Congress, which spans the years 2001-2002, will be open for researcher access on January 1, 2023). But the events that Markham writes about occurred during a much later period, from approximately 2014 to 2017. Richard Lugar left office at the end of 2012. I therefore wouldn’t be able to provide anything directly related to the time period that Markham writes about – even if I did have materials from that time, a lot of them would still have to be closed.

The majority of the materials Senator Lugar had about El Salvador are from the civil war period of the 1980s and early 1990s. However, when I was reading Markham’s book, it was fairly obvious to me that these earlier materials would still work really well as background information. Even though Markham focuses on events that happened in the 2010s, the civil war still looms large in The Far Away Brothers. For instance, the description on the back of the book frames the narrative of the Flores brothers in this context: “Growing up in rural El Salvador in the wake of the civil war, identical twins Ernesto and Raúl Flores always had a fascination with the United States, a distant land of fantasy and opportunity…” Markham herself notes the persistence of the civil war at the beginning of the book, in her Author’s Note: “But something in their [the Flores twins] story illustrates, roundly and heartbreakingly, the wounds of war, the spirit of a new generation of immigrants, and the impact of migration on the United States as well as on the tiny, time-battered country of El Salvador.”

It was the “wounds of war” that Markham mentions that really made an impression on me: the effect of the civil war on the people of El Salvador, even on young people born in its shadow. There were other statements that Markham made that stayed with me, particularly some points she made in her Afterword about U.S. involvement and responsibility. Writing about the Trump administration’s demands for a border wall and the rhetoric calling for keeping immigrants out of the U.S., Markham states,

“But exclusionist policy ignores the legacy of U.S. responsibility for the Central American catastrophe. A war is raging to our south, though we seem to refuse to call it one, and American policy fueled the wars that preceded it. We supplied guns to and trained mercenaries and death squads who ended up perpetrating scorched-earth massacres like the one in El Mozote [of December 1981], where bodies, as I chronicle in this book, are still being exhumed and identified today, over two decades later.”

Another statement of hers resonated with me and stayed with me: “We have played a major part in creating the problem of what has become of Central America, and we must play a major part in solving it.”

So, the first themes that guided the selection of materials for the exhibition were the historical background of the civil war period, and a discussion of U.S. foreign policy and involvement in that civil war. The issue of U.S. immigration policy is also at the forefront of the book, so that theme was an obvious choice. The last theme that would play an important part in the exhibition was suggested by both the materials themselves and colleagues from the Kelley School: the importance of elections and the democratic process.

Civil War and U.S. Involvement

Lauren Markham begins The Far Away Brothers by examining the intersection of the public and the private and the ways that individuals try to maintain their normal course of life even in the midst of the turmoil of major historical events. In Chapter 1, she narrates the chronology of the Flores family against the background of El Salvador’s civil war: “They [Wilber and Esperanza, the twins’ parents] got married in the midst of the country’s civil war, in 1985, and when Esperanza gave birth to her first baby, Ricardo, two years later, the war still raged.” Their second son, Wilber Jr., who would later be the first of the family to make the journey to immigrate to the U.S., was born in 1988, “as the violence heated toward its final boil.” Esperanza became pregnant a third time when the negotiations for peace began, and again the year the peace accords were signed (1992). Both of those babies, however, died. The twins’ older sister, Maricela, who figures prominently in the book, was born in 1994, the year that “El Salvador held its first free and fair peacetime elections. The conservative ARENA party won, but the war was over. After so many years of conflict, it was a time of rebuilding.” In that year of rebuilding, Maricela survived. The history of the Flores family, its marriages, births, and deaths, played out against a backdrop of national events but also against a backdrop of conflict and terror.

Newsletter from the human rights organization El Rescate, January 1989. It gives a summary of the some of the losses during the first nine years of the civil war in El Salvador. The war ended three years later, in January 1992.

It was when I started looking through the materials in the Lugar collection that I really began to understand the conflict and fear that underlay this period for the Flores family. At an open house for the exhibition held on September 15, 2022, I had a conversation with someone who asked me a very thoughtful and intelligent question, “When you were preparing this exhibition, did you ever have to stop and take a step back from it?” Without hesitating, I answered, “Yes, yes, I did. Quite often, actually.” In her book, Markham mentions “the mutilated bodies” that appeared in the city and countryside during the civil war. When I was preparing for the exhibition, I often came across contemporary newspaper clippings with explicit, detailed descriptions of these activities and these mutilated bodies. I read accounts of some of the human rights abuses carried out by the rightwing death squads and their arrests, torture, and murder of anyone they thought might possibly be a leftwing insurgent sympathizer. In preparing an exhibition case devoted to the civil war, I had wanted to include a copy of the newsletter of a human rights organization. However, the cover story featured a report on the torture of political prisoners by state security forces with a graphic account of the ways they were tortured, and so I decided to replace it with a different copy. But even the copy that I chose still conveys the violence and instability of the period. The civil war in El Salvador started on October 15, 1979. By January 1989, about 1,000,000 Salvadorans had become refugees and 600,000 had been displaced from their homes. The United Nations estimated that by the time the civil war ended in 1992, over 75,000 people had been killed and approximately 8,000 had been “disappeared.”

While I was preparing this exhibition, I did often have to take a step back from my research because the content was sometimes violent, graphic, and disturbing. But it was also good, because as I looked through the items, I often thought of them in relation to Wilber, Esperanza, Ernesto, and Raúl Flores and their fears. As Markham points out, few people really want to leave their homes. They do so because it’s necessary for survival. Ernesto and Raúl did so in the 2010s in order to escape gang violence, and over 1,000,000 Salvadorans did so in the 1980s to escape another kind of violence and war.

But the young man who asked the question had another one in mind as well, which he asked next, “Did you ever have to step back because you disagreed with the opinions you saw expressed in the documents?” Again, yes. Yes, I did. I had to take a step back when I came across a typescript dated May 8, 1984, entitled “Statement of Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina: The Election Results in El Salvador.” In this statement, Senator Helms (R-NC) is responding to the 1984 election of President José Napoleón Duarte, who is viewed by many as the first democratically elected president of El Salvador in over 50 years. Duarte was a member of the Christian Democrat Party (the Partido Demócrata Cristiano, or PDC), which many describe as being center-left, or even centrist. Helms, however, describes him as “the socialist nominee” and claims that “the State Department and the CIA bought the election for Duarte.” At the same time, Helms dismisses all claims of wrongdoing that had been attributed to Duarte’s opponent, Roberto D’Aubuisson, the founder of the rightwing ARENA Party. D’Aubuisson had been in military intelligence in El Salvador and had often been linked to the extremist death squads. Helms denies any connection between D’Aubuisson and the death squads, based on little to no evidence. His opinions of both Duarte and D’Aubuisson contradicted everything else I have read in Senator Lugar’s papers, in books, and in articles. I had to take a step back in frustration, but at the same time, it did remind me of the variety of perspectives and interpretations possible.

I also had to take a step back with regard to President Reagan’s Cold War policy of eradicating Communism at any cost – literally. According to reports by the U.S. Department of Defense and the Department of State, from 1983 to 1985, the U.S. sent $3.14 billion in aid to Central America, 74% of which was economic aid, 26% of which was military aid. But 26% of $3.14 billion is still $816.4 million. More precise amounts per year are available, but if we consider the period of 1983 to 1985 as a three-year period (which is generous), we’re looking at a total of more than $272.13 million per year in military aid. Military aid that went to the Salvadoran government to fight leftwing guerrilla insurgents on the argument that they embraced Marxist-Leninist ideology, but it seems like it was often used by the government security forces and the army against rural farmers if they were ever suspected of, or even accused of, being sympathizers.

However, regardless of what I thought about the issue, I wanted the exhibition to present both sides: both for and against. I didn’t want to tell my story, I wanted to tell the fullest story of the civil war in El Salvador that I could. So I included both correspondence from the Salvadoran Ambassador to the U.S. and the President of El Salvador thanking Senator Lugar for supporting military aid; I included a speech by Senator Lugar emphasizing the need for continued military aid; and I also included correspondence from humanitarian aid organizations asking members of Congress to stop sending military aid, which was just prolonging the conflict. I also put on display some things that I considered to be a real archival treasure: a letter from the Central American Refugee Center dated March 26, 1990, asking Congress to end military aid to El Salvador, with three preprinted cards from Senator Lugar’s constituents, one from Elkhart, Indiana, and the other two from Bloomington. The card from Elkhart states that, rather than Congress sending a total worth $1.4 million each day to the Salvadoran government, they would rather see this money spent on “Affordable housing in U.S., better public education, rebuilding Nat[ional] infrastructure, research on environmentally sound energy sources and public transportation, & disbanding of Contras & helping war-torn Nicaragua to recover from years of economic devastation.”

Immigration Policy

If I thought that there were a variety of opinions and perspectives on U.S. military aid to El Salvador in the civil war period, it was nothing compared to the congressional debates on immigration policy! In 1996, the U.S. Congress engaged in extended debate over immigration reform, and the amount of materials in Senator Lugar’s legislative file is bewildering. However, sorting through the memos and newsletters, the legislative notices, the “Dear Colleague” letters, the clippings, the reports, and the recommendations from legislative assistants on how to vote on a particular amendment made me really appreciate the complexity of major legislation and of immigration policy in particular. It also made me realize how circular some of our discussions about the issue have been over the years. Much of the discussion in 1996 seemed to revolve around two different bills, one dedicated to reforming “illegal” immigration and the other to reforming “legal” immigration policy. A U.S. Senate Republican Policy Committee Legislative Notice dated April 11, 1996, for the bill S. 1664: Immigration Control and Financial Responsibility Act of 1996 (the bill about “illegal” immigration, as it was referred to in the documents), alerts Republican Senators that, “Numerous controversial amendments are expected.” Over 200 amendments were proposed to the bill. Amendments addressed provisions in the bill such as the requirement that the Attorney General construct a three-tier fence at the border in San Diego – that sounds familiar! An amendment to modify the language and leave the issue up to the discretion of local agencies, rather than the responsibility of the Attorney General, which would put it at the federal level, was accepted. Other amendments tried to propose that English be instituted as the official language of the United States, and that federal benefits, such as welfare, Medicaid, school lunch programs, and access to Food Banks and Soup Kitchens be denied to undocumented children. Perhaps the most controversial amendment was called the “Gallegly amendment,” after its sponsor, Representative Elton Gallegly (R-CA), which would have allowed states to deny public school education to children of undocumented immigrants. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) wrote a letter to the Senate Majority Leader and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, in which she stated, “The Gallegly Amendment, denying public education to children of illegal immigrants, is exactly the kind of poison pill that will doom this legislation.”

Much of the discussion around S. 1665 – The Legal Immigration Act of 1996 centered on the receipt of federal benefits being tied to a sponsor’s income level and also on “chain migration,” whereby immigrants to the U.S. are allowed to sponsor their close family members and apply for immigrant visas for them. If it had been passed, S. 1665 would have dropped the yearly number of available visas for close relatives from 480,000 to 425,000. Senators Mike DeWine (R-OH) and Spencer Abraham (R-MI) issued a series of “Dear Colleague” letters entitled “The Facts on Immigration” to try and demonstrate to their Senate colleagues that the issue of chain migration was actually a non-issue.


I had mentioned before that both the materials themselves and my discussion with my colleagues from Kelley suggested that one theme for the exhibition should be elections. I had just found several exciting folders related to Senator Lugar’s participation as one of the co-chairs of the official U.S. observer delegation to the 1988 El Salvador legislative and municipal elections. The folders contained election posters, memorabilia, booklets from the U.S. State Department with guides to the El Salvador elections, photographs of Senator Lugar as an election observer, notebooks, and a wealth of other items! At the same time, my colleague from Kelley said that one of her plans for a parallel programming event was a voting registration drive to coincide with our midterm elections coming up this November.

Photograph of four men, the third of them is Senator Richard Lugar. The man on the right is wearing an election observer vest with the label "Vigilante."
Senator Lugar visits a polling station during the March 20, 1988, legislative elections in El Salvador. In this photograph, the man standing second from the left is wearing a vest with the logo of the PDC, or the Christian Democrat Party, the party of then-President Duarte.

The Salvadoran government had invited international election observers to attend the 1988 legislative and municipal elections, and President Ronald Reagan had asked Senator Lugar and Representative John Murtha (D-PA) to be co-chairs of the official U.S. delegation. When Senator Lugar arrived in San Salvador the night before the March 20, 1988 elections, there were explosions in the streets, some areas of the city had no running water, and other areas had no electricity due to attempts by insurgents to sabotage the elections. The FMLN, the insurgent guerrilla group, had voiced its opposition to the elections, calling them a farce and nothing more than political theater. They had threatened to disrupt the election process, and indeed the election observer group was unable to travel to one area of El Salvador that was under the control of the insurgents. They did, however, visit the other thirteen areas (“departments”) and 30 cities, 45 polling places, and over 1,000 voting tables. The FMLN had also managed to disrupt the public transit service, so many people had to walk to the polls.

Photograph of an unknown man wearing a cowboy hat and sunglasses and Senator Richard Lugar. In the background, a long line of people waits to vote in the election.
Senator Lugar at a polling place in El Salvador. Lugar’s Legislative Assistant for Foreign Policy, Dr. Andrew Semmel, was also a member of the delegation, and he recorded in his election observer notebook that some polling places had up to 150 or 200 people waiting in line who sometimes waited as long as two hours to vote.

But walk to the polls they did. Senator Lugar’s Legislative Assistant for Foreign Policy, Dr. Andrew Semmel, kept a notebook in which he recorded his observations. In all, he took notes about the voting conditions in six or seven different polling places in different areas of the country. I noticed that the first page describes things as running smoothly, with very short wait times for voters, who felt that the process was smooth and satisfying. As the day wore on, however, Semmel’s notes become longer and somewhat more hectic. He starts to record longer and longer wait times to vote – voters waiting in line for first one hour, then one and half hours, then two hours. Sometimes the lines were as long as 150 or 200 people waiting to vote. He notes incredulously of the polling place in La Libertad that they “Let a voter carry a machete into [the] voting area!” At the end of the day, though, he felt assured that they had witnessed democracy in action, and he notes that what he observed was the “Frontlines in the defense of democracy. Take the side of demo[cracy], freedom, human rights, right to vote.”

In spite of the threats of violence, voter turnout for the election was approximately 70% of the voting public. In his statement after the elections, Senator Lugar commented, “The American people should emulate the Salvadoran people when it comes to participating in the democratic process. The high voter turnout, under extremely stressful circumstances, and at considerable personal risk to many, was very inspiring to witness.”

It also turned out to be a peaceful transfer of power – the Christian Democratic Party (PDC) of President Duarte lost its slim majority in the legislative assembly to the ARENA Party, the conservative party that had previously been associated with the death squads. The following year, in March 1989, Alberto Cristiani of the ARENA Party won the Presidential election. The transfer of power from a President of one party to a President of a different party was the first peaceful transfer of power from one democratically elected president to another that El Salvador had experienced in its history, as noted by Senator Lugar and others. To me, this transfer seemed to be exemplified by another archival discovery: two invitations, first, for a reception held at the presidential residence on May 31, 1989, hosted by outgoing President Duarte, and then for a reception held at the Hotel El Salvador, Sheraton on June 10, 1989, hosted by newly inaugurated President Cristiani. I exhibited reproductions of them in one of the hallway cases side by side, in an attempt to emphasize their unity.

Lately in the U.S. we have had a significant and sustained conversation about our democracy and its survival. We’ve also had extended news coverage about elections, election results, and election denial. I therefore couldn’t help but think of our own contemporary situation as I sorted through materials related to past elections in El Salvador. The peace treaty to end the civil war in El Salvador was signed on January 16, 1992, and the ceasefire went into place on February 1, 1992. The Salvadoran Ambassador to the U.S. Miguel A. Salaverría sent a letter to Senator Lugar dated December 28, 1992, about the signing of the peace accords. Several portions of his letter affected me when I read it, but one in particular stood out: “Having worked so hard, and struggled so long in the cause of peace, we can have no illusions about the future; the maintenance of peace and democracy require vigilance, humility, and hard work. Nonetheless, we take pride in what we have achieved and hope that the success of the peace process in El Salvador will inspire other nations to follow a similar path, turning their backs on civil strife, hate, and the indecency of […] conflict.”

The exhibition “Far Away, So Close: Indiana and El Salvador, Elections and Immigration Policy” will run through December 16, 2022. It is located both inside the office of the University Archives in Wells Library, Room E460, and inside all six exhibition cases in the hallway outside the Archives Office.

Heart and Seoul: Early Korean Students at Indiana University

As part of Korea Remixed, a campus-wide initiative to celebrate Korean culture, this spring the IU Archives is recognizing the earliest Korean students to become Hoosiers! Via a series of blog posts and an upcoming poster in the Wells Library Lobby, you will get a peek into the lives of four IU alumni from Korea while on the Bloomington campus and the ways they excelled afterwards.

Whether you’re a fan of K-pop, Kimchi, or their extensive skincare routines, there is a lot to love and appreciate about Korean culture. Respecting your elders and authority, caring deeply for family, and working together to advance their nation are all core values in Korea. Even up to recent years, it was not uncommon that younger generations had to leave their family behind in Korea to pursue better educational opportunities in order to create a better life for their family. While many later return to their homeland, some go on to become citizens of the United States and remain here for the rest of their lives. Acknowledging the hardships and perseverance each of the following early IU students from Korean went through in the pursuit of higher education brings a new perspective on the many different paths to excellence.

Eung Tyun Cho (Pyeng Yang, Korea) (PhD in Physics, 1928)

Before coming to the United States, Eung Tyun Cho, born circa 1897, attended a Korean Presbyterian Mission School followed by a Presbyterian Boys’ Academy for his secondary education. As a young adult, he attended Union Christian College where he received his bachelor’s degree. Upon graduation, Cho returned to Mission High School as a math teacher to teach young students much like his younger self, eventually working his way up to become superintendent of the high school. Despite his accomplishments, Cho felt the need to gain more education to better serve his home country, so he chose to leave his family at his father’s home so that he could travel to the United States – and Indiana – in 1922. Once in the Hoosier state, Cho enrolled in Tri-State College in Angola, where he earned a BS in civil engineering before continuing on to Purdue University to earn his MS in physics. (Indianapolis Star, 1928).

Eung Tyun Cho entered Indiana University in 1925 in pursuit of his PhD and a few years later was made a member of Sigma Xi, an honorary science organization (Indianapolis Star, 1928). To support himself financially during his student years, he did housework, mowed lawns, janitorial work, and other odd jobs he could find (1930 Census for Bloomington, Indiana). Cho specialized in research about radio and TV, completing his dissertation on the topic “A study of three-electrode vacuum tube oscillator: conditions for maximum current ”. In addition to his technological research, he published works on language learning, one being Spoken English, a manual for Korean teachers of spoken English and for students who were learning the English language (Indianapolis Star, 1928).

1927 black and white photo of the cosmopolitan club members, which were largely international students.

The 1927 Cosmopolitan Club which was largely comprised of international students such as Cho, IU Archives P0109572

After completing his studies at IU, Cho wished to return to Korea in order to be a scientific educator to young students like himself. At the time Cho was one of only 12 men in Korea to have a PhD! Even with his impressive credentials, some Korean authorities frowned upon his work, calling it a “waste of time”, which kept him from his dream of teaching. His research and science experiments lacked funding, so he had to give them up. He remarked, “I am a man without a country” (The Bedford Sunday Star, 1936).

Taking a break from his educational and scientific interests, Cho served three years as chief of police communications during the US Military Government period after Korea was liberated from the Japanese in 1945. He then served eight years in the Korean Army, four as chief signal officer. He later was appointed as vice minister of the Korean Ministry of Communications (The Daily Record, 1954). Before, during, and after his career, Cho participated in church communities as well as the YMCA in America and Korea.

And, finally for a satisfying conclusion. In 1964, Eung Tyun Cho became the new president of Tongkuk Engineering College in Seoul, Korea. After decades of perseverance, he became an educator, while at the same time reuniting permanently with his wife and children (The Indianapolis News, 1964).

**This blog post is the first in a two-part series. The next installment will features three more alumni from Korea. Pongsoon Lee, Chonghan Kim, and Thomas Kunhyuk Kim.

Into the Unknown: Theodore Bowie and “The Arts of Thailand”

Theodore R. Bowie, an art historian known for his work in what was at the time an underrepresented field – the history of Asian art- wore many hats during his time at Indiana University. A newly acquired and now-processed collection of Bowie’s papers containing a large number of photographs, letters, lecture notes, publications, and preparatory documents for perhaps the largest undertaking of his career, i.e. a 1960 exhibition named “The Arts of Thailand,” has allowed me a peek into the life of this prolific academic. Partially complete drafts of his memoir paint an inspiring picture of the man whose unflinching eagerness for professional involvement, passion for learning and travel, and unwavering confidence managed to bring the art of Thailand to the United States for the first time in history.

Cover of the softcover catalog for the 1960 opening of “The Arts of Thailand”

Originally educated and trained in the study of French literature, Bowie first displayed the nimbleness with which he moved through his career, throughout a multitude of academic positions and areas of expertise, when he moved into the discipline of art history. Bowie joined the Art Department as an associate professor at Indiana University in 1950. His relative lack of background in the field made him an uncertain candidate for tenure. Noticing his supervisor’s hesitancy in granting tenure, Bowie suggested his own installation as a librarian and guardian of the department’s new Fine Arts Library, a position which provided the ambitious and optimistic professor the opportunity to become involved in curating.

After mounting five shows dealing with the arts of Japan and China, in 1955 Bowie was approached by Henry Radford Hope on behalf of then-president Herman B Wells asking for a show demonstrating the art of Thailand. This request for a Thai art show came at a time when IU was one of multiple state schools participating in an exchange program with the Southeast Asian country. American universities sent faculty in a variety of disciplines and their families to Thailand for eighteen to twenty-four months and, in turn, Thailand sent undergraduate and graduate students to study at its partner universities. Bowie agreed to take on the immense task, despite having no knowledge of Thai art. After inquiring with the National Gallery in DC as a location to inaugurate the show, he was met with a polite but firm “no.” Although “The Arts of Thailand” would go on to travel to a number of large internationally recognized museums across the US, Western Europe, and Japan, contributing institutions agreed that the show would open, for the first time, in Bloomington, Indiana in 1960.

Promotional material for “The Arts of Thailand” at Indiana University.

For Bowie, the formation of his selection committee was critical in facing the large task that now confronted him. He brought on Kojiro Tomita, a specialist in Japanese art from the Museum of Fine Arts Boston; Alexander Griswold, an archaeologist and paleologist specializing in South Asian art; and Prince Subhadradis Diskul, the curator in chief of the national museum in Bangkok, to assist him in the project and teach him the ins and outs of Thai art. One of the few rules Bowie had in organizing the show was that none of the works were to be on loan from dealers, but rather from personal collections. A large number of the pieces featured, therefore, ended up coming from the collections of the Thai royal family. Bowie writes in his memoirs of the collectors hesitancy to let their best pieces travel, a cautiousness which was remedied by both Griswold’s personal connections and Bowie’s assertion that if Thailand wanted the global exhibition of its art to be on par with those of its East Asian neighbors, he would only accept the best.

Once the loans of the nearly three hundred and fifty works of art, many of which were large sculptural pieces, were secured, Bowie employed a Thai photographer to document them for the catalog. One of Bowie’s biggest challenges with the exhibition was transportation of the loaned pieces. As the show traveled around the world, Bowie was effectively responsible for each piece’s safety for the entire two years for which it toured. The pieces were stored in crates made from native Thai teakwood. During the entire duration of the shows global lifespan, the items were packed or unpacked over twenty times. Transported by large naval ships, the crates had to be stored on the top decks and protected from the elements, as opposed to in the more enclosed holds. This unique accommodation was necessitated by the sacred nature of a number of the items and the belief that to stand or walk above or on an image of the Buddha was sacrilegious. The Thai curators who accompanied the works abroad had never had the experience of traveling works of art across continents, and these logistical considerations provided additional job training and experience for them.

Pieces for the exhibition being transported using ships belonging to the US Navy.

On a local level, Bowie was confronted with the complication that what would become the IU Art Museum was still under construction (part of the present day Fine Arts Building)– a problem which he solved by creating a dynamic show spread across three locations: IU’s Auditorium, The Lilly Library, and the Art Center Gallery (what is now the Grunwald Gallery). The unconventional settings, although facilitating greater access and public engagement, presented security concerns, as the various locations were not equipped with surveillance or guards. The safety of the Thai art work was ensured, however, by a detachment of university ROTC officers who provided twenty-four hour security. The Auditorium held sculptures from a variety of periods, with many of the larger pieces having to be displayed on the floor because of their weight. The Art Center Gallery displayed paintings from the collection of the King of Thailand and theatrical masks, while the Lilly featured displays of Thai books, manuscripts, and richly decorated lacquer cabinets. A number of the visitors to these exhibition areas would have, on their way to other events on campus, stumbled across lobbies for the three exhibition areas decorated in vibrant silks and been enticed to stay and linger with the treasured pieces on display. Well-received by students, faculty, and administrators at IU “The Arts of Thailand” would prove to be a huge success with audiences throughout its two year run, and inspired both a film of the same name and a follow-up exhibition, “The Sculpture of Thailand,” in the 1970s. Recently digitized, the film is part of the IU Libraries Moving Image Archive and can be accessed here through Media Collections Online.

“Thai Arts Exhibition,” 1960 in the Art Center Gallery (now the Grunwald)

“The Arts of Thailand” was a massive undertaking for its time, fraught with a number of obstacles which Bowie seemed to blithely address in stride. Describing his mindset in undertaking the show, Bowie wrote:

 “I had hoped to talk about it to Henry [Radford Hope] and Herman B Wells, but alas Henry is gone and I will never know whether the thought had occurred to him that here was a non-existent museum, represented by a little known member of his Art Department who was not an authority on anything and had published nothing, who was generally (and loosely ) familiar with Far Eastern Art  but totally ignorant of Thai art, proceeding as an equal with some of the most important museums in the country to bring to this country and circulate a large collection of works of art of all kinds, easily deserving because of the scale and quantity of objects of the term “blockbuster,” …The odd thing is that at [the] time in question, about 1959, I was not in the least fazed by those duties that I had not applied for. I was, however, certain that I could carry it out as expected and never lose any sleep over the matter”

As an aspiring curator and a student pursuing my master’s in art history, the discovery of the life of Ted Bowie has been timely. Coming to the field of art history with, as a former studio major, what felt like less background than my cohort, was daunting. As I am again veering off in a different direction, away from academia and, hopefully, into the field of curating, I often find myself riddled with uncertainty. Starting the grueling process of applying for jobs, I find myself doubting my qualifications. Coming across Bowie’s words, and researching his life, one which progressed not in a straight and proscribed line, but in a joyous meander driven by his passions and ambitions, I am reminded that, perhaps, it is good to wear a few hats throughout one’s lifetime. Bowie’s brazen self-confidence has come as a perfect rallying cry, a reminder to question not whether we are capable, but rather what things we might be capable of.

An undated portrait of Bowie found in his personal archive – The Theodore Bowie Papers

From Curation to Installation: The Thomas Sebeok and the Scientific Self Exhibit

What do gorillas, Finno-Ugric languages, the United States Army, and electromagnetic fields have in common? These seemingly disparate topics (among many others) were brought together in the voluminous intellectual grasp of Thomas A. Sebeok, 1920-2001. The prolific polymath enjoyed a long and distinguished career at Indiana University (IU) from 1943-1991. Sebeok started as Instructor and Linguist for the Army Specialized Training Program at IU, which provided intensive language training in Hungarian and Finnish for U.S. soldiers. After World War II ended, Sebeok stayed at IU as faculty. His expertise extended to areas of anthropology, folklore, and linguistics. He oversaw the formation of academic departments (Department of Uralic and Altaic Studies in 1965, now known as the Department of Central Eurasian Studies) and research centers (the Research Center for Language and Semiotic Studies) at IU from the 1960s through 1991. He simultaneously taught, gave lecture tours around the world, edited Semiotica for the International Association of Semiotic Studies, and wrote more than 600 articles and books over the years. Framing such a vast and deep scholar’s work for a modest archival exhibit proved to be a significant endeavor.

The legend himself: Thomas Sebeok, October 1976. IU Archives Photograph Collection, P0021757.

For this post, I want to provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the curatorial and installation processes for an archival exhibit. Before I came to IU, I worked at a regional art nonprofit. One of my main responsibilities was overseeing the organization’s three art galleries. I found that my experience with installing art exhibitions was helpful, but I also found that archival exhibits present unique challenges—and more exciting opportunities for storytelling. The wide varieties of archival materials and space for informative historical captions combine for a seemingly infinite array of possibilities. The first step I had to take, then, was casting a net that was wide enough to be visually appealing but tight enough to capture a cohesive single exhibit. This latter consideration was harder than I anticipated!

When Carrie and Mary approached me about this exhibit opportunity, I knew I wanted to focus on Sebeok. I’ve been processing his substantial (~100 boxes) collection since October 2017. He has become a major role model for me, especially his disregard for traditional disciplinary boundaries in academia. I wanted to highlight the web of intellectual roles he inhabited, from semiotician and linguist to zoologist and journal editor. I did not want the exhibit to look like a hodge-podge sampling of random bits from the Sebeok collection. This is where curatorial framing came into play. I asked myself: What is it about all these areas of Sebeok’s study that captivate me? Why is it important? I think it is because it illuminates the truly cross-disciplinary nature of “science.” I have always been fascinated and impressed by scientists, but that world has always felt closed-off from me. I never did very well in math and hard sciences, and firmly rooted myself in art and history. Sebeok has shown me that these things are not disparate, as they are all human activities and human attempts to understand the world. From this the exhibit title was born: Thomas Sebeok and the Scientific Self. To translate this to the exhibit space, I decided to dedicate each case I was using to a different role: Sebeok as a master of languages, Sebeok as an academic leader, Sebeok as a renowned semiotician, and Sebeok as a skeptic. Within these cases I selected different materials: visual resources to catch the eye (I love all the program brochures and letterhead in the collection), correspondence to tell stories, and signposts to guide the viewer (in the form of biographical materials like press releases and news clippings).

Planning all of this was a more physically involved process than I anticipated. Over the course of a few weeks I was constantly ordering, opening up, investigating, and returning boxes from the collection. For each item I wanted to exhibit, I photocopied the original, placed the photocopy in the original folder, and logged the item in a list indicating its original box and folder placement. This is all necessary to ensure I can return the items properly once the exhibit is over. Throughout this process, I had to cross-reference the dimensions of each case to plan the exhibit layout. Captions ended up being the biggest spatial challenge for me. I authored long captions because so much of the exhibit material is conceptually dense and needs contextual information to tell Sebeok’s story. I could have written pages more of caption text, but cut myself off so as not to overwhelm the viewer.

A roll of polyethylene book strapping, a piece of foam core, a utility knife, and a ruler on a table.
The basic tools of exhibit mounting: foam core, a utility knife, a ruler, and a roll of polyethylene book strapping.

Physically installing the exhibit was definitely the most challenging part of the exhibit process. I anticipated this from my time working in art galleries, but the difficulties were unique. I didn’t have to worry about mats or frames, but mounting unique archival paper materials was intimidating. To mount an 8 x 10 in. piece of correspondence, I would first cut a piece of foam core board exactly to those dimensions. Foam core can be irritating: it is difficult to cut through with a utility knife and it sheds constantly. Making sure none of the foam backing extends beyond the dimensions of the material takes a lot of careful trimming. After I cut the backing, I would mount the material using polyethylene book straps. This part required careful choreography to keep the original document flat against the backing while pulling book straps across each corner and taping them down on the backside of the foam core. There is no one perfect method for this: it takes a lot of patience, finger dexterity, and adjustments, much like matting and framing artwork. Clean hands and short nails are also a must-have!

An archival exhibit’s beast of burden: polyethylene book strapping.

Some of the exhibited items took some creative problem solving to display. In order to mount a large bound volume from the Smithsonian National Zoo to a particular page spread, Mary Mellon custom made a book cradle out of mat board and strategically applied tape—a technique she learned during a workshop when she was a graduate student. We then rested the publication in the cradle and strapped down the pages.

A bound publication is held open on an inclined mount.
The Smithsonian National Zoo publication on a book cradle made by archivist Mary Mellon.

To display both sides of a fold out conference brochure, I scanned one side of the brochure and printed it at the same dimensions as the original. I then folded the reproduction to resemble the original brochure and displayed it face-up so viewers could read it.

A reproduction of a brochure for a 1986 "Science and Pseudoscience" conference.
A reproduction of a brochure for a 1986 “Science and Pseudoscience” conference used to show both sides of the program.

The most awkward item to mount was also a highlight of the exhibit: a fundraising newsletter from Francine Patterson for the Gorilla Foundation featuring Koko the Gorilla’s actual signature. The newsletter was printed on one sheet of folded paper. I wanted to display two facing pages, one with Koko’s signature and the other with the bulk of the letter text and images of Koko with her kitten. To do this I had to mount the pages on two separate pieces of foam core. I could not use book straps to hold down the inner corners of the pages, since they were on the same sheet of paper with a fold in the center. This made the item tricky to move around once in the case. I ended up resting it on clear plastic displays for added stability.

A printed newsletter with pictures of Koko the Gorilla and the gorilla's actual signature in ink.
Mounted correspondence from Francine Patterson for the Gorilla Foundation. Koko the Gorilla’s signature is visible on the bottom near the middle (“Fine Animal Gorilla”).

I hope these examples show some of the overlooked skills needed in an archive. Working on an archival exhibit requires skills in paper conservation, object handling (similar to art handling in a gallery setting), matting, aesthetic sensibilities, writing, and curation. It also takes time, collaboration, and a hearty dose of creative problem solving. Above all, I like to think that Thomas Sebeok would appreciate the eclectic matrix of skills that went into this exhibit.

Thomas Sebeok and the Scientific Self is on display now through March 29, 2019 at the Indiana University Archives (Wells Library E460, East Tower).

Capturing Memories, Sharing Experiences: A Story of Two IU Generations by Hunter Staskevich

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Photograph of Herman B Wells with Peruvian students taken by William Oglesby. March 3, 1959. Indiana University Archives, P0063511.

“President Wells would often have groups to his house for a meeting, open house, etc., and wanted a photo of the group to document the event, for PR, or to send a copy of the group to each of the participants. We would regale the group on the steps of the staircase in the foyer of his home, making sure to capture every face, and have auxiliary flash to supplement an otherwise somewhat dark scene. Wells was always on the front row, usually in the center of the group. The trick was to get everyone smiling and looking at the camera, so Herman would say something like, ‘I think my profile would look much better, if these two ladies would stand a little closer.’ Everyone of course would laugh, and that was my cue to trip the shutter. We always managed to get an excellent group picture!” – William B. Oglesby

We all are told many stories throughout our lives by family. Memories of the past told with the hope that a lesson will be taught or that the shared experience will bring about a closer bond. This is a story of how two journeys crossed paths. In 1935, Indiana University decided to establish the Audio-Visual Center (it would be later called Photographic Services) in an attempt to document the University’s history through visual media. The institution did this mainly through photography, and graduate students often assisted in fulfilling photo orders for various groups in and around campus. In 2000, the photographic negatives that were created as a result of this work were transferred to the Indiana University Archives and added to the photograph collections. The thousands of images are presently being digitized and uploaded online in the Archives Photograph Collection.

The story begins with William B. Oglesby, a graduate student at Indiana University from 1958-1961, who worked for Photographic Services as a photographer. He took hundreds of photographs covering a wide variety of topics during his time there. He told me stories about his experiences, such as the quote with which this post opens. I suppose this is the part where I should mention he also happens to be my grandfather.

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William Oglesby at the Photolab Christmas Party. December 19, 1958. Indiana University Archives, P0063320.

My part in the story actually starts with these talks I had with my grandfather. It was early 2016, and I had just informed him that I would be heading to Indiana University to pursue my MLS. I knew vaguely that he had gone to IU for his Masters in Audio-Visual Studies, but I never inquired deeply about it and it had never come up in conversation. Later that fall when I told him I was working in the Indiana University Archives with the photograph collection, he casually mentioned he had shot some photographs for Indiana University (not mentioning in what capacity) and that if I had time I might see if the Archives had any. His expectations were low, but I looked into it.

Bill Oglesby employee card. Indiana University Archives.

As you can probably guess, I found them…a lot of them, over 1400 images in fact. It started with my supervisor showing me the employee cards of people who worked in Photographic Services and from there it was a matter of just going through the correct dates in the collection and finding all the image envelopes that had “Oglesby” written on it. I scanned all those images and by Fall 2017, all of the images were available for viewing online in the Archives Photograph Collection.

It was about this time it was suggested to me that I conduct an oral history with my grandfather as part of Indiana University Bicentennial Oral History Project. I accepted and interviewed him in January 2018, where I learned all about his time at IU and the stories behind the photographs I had just digitized. It was this interview that inspired me to tell his story, and I happened to be planning an exhibition at the time. I took the opportunity to curate an exhibition using my grandfather’s photographs and implementing quotes from his oral history for context.

I find that photographs have the unique ability to document moments in time and capture emotion, since they are both a historical object and a form of art. When paired with oral history, the tale behind each image provides new perspective and greater appreciation for that captured moment. “Through the Lens: Documenting Indiana University Bloomington Photographically,” is an exhibition that takes these concepts and puts them into practice.

The images cover a wide range of topics including:

-Construction of iconic buildings on campus such as Memorial Stadium and the Lilly Library

-Campus groups such as the Marching Hundred and Jacobs School of Music events

-Various group and individual portraits

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Photograph of the Marching Hundred by William Oglesby. October 15, 1960. Indiana University Archives, P0071516.

To discover what it was like to work for Photographic Services from a student perspective and what was going on at IU during this time, please visit  “Through the Lens: Documenting Indiana University Bloomington photographically,” in person before Monday, July 9th, 2018!

The exhibition is located at:

The Office of the Bicentennial

Franklin Hall 200

Hours: 8:00 am – 5:00 pm; weekdays

601 E. Kirkwood Avenue, Bloomington, IN 47405