Story+ Project

Stained University: From Duke's Entanglement with the Tobacco Industry to a Smoke-Free Campus

(2019)

In July 2020, Duke will join the national trend of university campuses becoming ‘smoke-free.’ Given Duke’s history of entanglement with the tobacco industry—from its foundations in tobacco profits to professors conducting research for the industry—imagining this ‘smoke-free’ future could motivate the Duke community to reckon with its ‘smoke-filled’ past. To take on this challenge, our Story+ team will research Duke’s ‘tobacco-stained’ history along two lines of inquiry. First, we will examine how the campus was a market for tobacco products. From the 1890s to 1970s, tobacco advertisements appeared in student-run newspapers, literary journals, and yearbooks. Students were bombarded with ads that portrayed images of modernist individuals enjoying the ‘pleasures’ and ‘satisfactions’ of smoking. Despite critiques of the harmful health effects of smoking from the 1950s and on, cigarette advertisers continued to claim health benefits from smoking. Second, our team will research how Duke faculty were entwined with the tobacco industry. For decades, Duke professors conducted research with and for the tobacco industry, from research on improving tobacco crops and cigarette production to studies that distracted attention from the dangers of smoking. In some cases, there was a ‘revolving door’ between Duke and the industry. For exploring these lines of inquiry, our team will engage in archival research on questions including: When and why have campus policies on tobacco use changed over time? How have faculty been tied with the tobacco industry? How have representations of tobacco in campus media changed over the years? How have these representations shaped different framings of the ‘modern individual’? Through interpreting the results of this research, we will also analyze how different narratives about tobacco were told from different perspectives (e.g., students with different views on smoking, campus workers, faculty, administrators, tobacco advertisers, etc), and whose perspectives were relatively amplified or silenced. On the basis of our research, we will begin to make a website and a public history exhibit, which could be displayed at Duke’s libraries or at The Duke Homestead & Tobacco Museum.

Desired Skills:

Undergraduates will learn skills in archival research, textual analysis, and visual analysis. They do not need to have these skills prior to the beginning of the project.

For graduate students, required skills include project management and facilitation of cooperative work in teams. Preferred skills include archival methods, textual analysis, visual analysis, and public history.

    Project Sponsor(s): 

    Eli Meyerhoff, Program Coordinator, Social Movements Lab at Franklin Humanities Institute

    Graduate Mentor(s): 

    Jaime Gonzales, PhD Candidate

    Undergraduates: 

    Erick Aguilar, Caroline Petronis, Zhengtao Qu

    Outcome: 

    The team created a website, Stained University: From Entanglement with the Tobacco Industry to a Smoke-free Campus, to detail their work and research findings.

    Original packaging for Duke brand cigarettes. Duke Rubenstein Library.

    Topic(s)

    • Public Humanities
    • Archives
    • History