Story+ Project

Caring for and with Patient Archives

(2020)

Story+ 2020 | Caring For and With Patient Archives

From 1917 to 1926, the attending physician of a state-run hospital for black North Carolinians in the segregated south photographed asylum life, keeping handwritten notebooks describing each image. These powerful portraits present a rare opportunity to unearth hidden histories and explore memory, trauma, and resilience. This Story+ project pursues the stories of the photographed nurses, staff, farm employees and their families who lived on site, not simply for learning about the asylum’s past but how that past speaks prophetically to our present. 

Students will use the portraits as starting points for researching mental health careworkers and caretakers, past and present, and will bring to light the voices long silenced. More broadly, we will use this documentary archive as an opportunity to think together about how researchers demonstrate care for and with an archive of sensitive material. How can this type of work can be done thoughtfully, with intention, and in a moment of health-crisis? How should one go about documenting, responding to, learning from, and taking care of such a sensitive archive? Our job will be to honor these people, and the past, and to develop a research methodology so that these images can become available for further study and, one day, find their way to family members.

Project Sponsor(s): 

Tift Merritt

Graduate Mentor(s): 

Anita Bateman, PhD Art, Art History, and Visual Studies

Undergraduates: 

Jolie Mason, Miranda Gershoni, Ridge Ren, Peter Liu, Tayzhaun Glover (PhD candidate, History)

Outcome: 

Hungry River Project Mission Statement

From 1918 to 1926, Dr Frank Whelpley took thousands of photographs at State Hospital, Goldsboro, North Carolina’s segregated insane asylum. The negatives and corresponding ledgers detailing each frame were discovered in his son’s New York City apartment and given to the present hospital by the photographer’s family in 1997, for the good of the patients.

The Hungry River Project is a collective working to reunite the people in pictures with their families. While these images are a rare reconnection to lost stories, they are also a powerful indictment of the systems which produced them and repeatedly failed the people within them. We believe that that good of the patient can only be determined in the hands of their descendant families. We work to honor the suffering we cannot relieve and get these souls home.

Dix Hospital patient care, 1946-1947. From Barden Collection, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, NC.

Topic(s)

  • Art
  • Documentary
  • Archives
  • History
  • African American Studies