Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Evolution of a Rare Book Collection: Designing an Exhibition for You (and You Too!)

As Special Collections Librarian for the Connelly Library one of my missions is to facilitate curricular engagement with our material. The Department of Special Collections houses over a dozen special research collections. Each collection presents countless opportunities to analyze complex topics. Our vision has been to develop versatile collections that support historical and cultural inquiry, and to support and contribute to interdisciplinary research for the various scholarly communities associated with Philadelphia’s academic institutions and the La Salle University community.  Faculty and students who are seeking visual representations of war and trauma in popular culture need look no further than Contemporary Collections our  for the largest collection of creative works on the Vietnam War in the world. We also preserve a number of archival collections that provide primary sources on our local history.

Over the years we’ve mounted many library exhibitions to highlight and analyze our unique collections. Sometimes we start with a theme that we feel will be of local interest, such as Philadelphia in the Civil War; or we started with a question such as, “How does inspiration come to an artist? The common directive of our exhibitions is to inspire our community to learn more; the challenge is appealing to a wide range of disciplines.

First edition Coverdale Bible,
 Connelly Library 
One of the largest and most spectacular collections in the Department is the Susan Dunleavy Collection of Biblical Literature.  Colloquially referred to as “the rare bible collection,” this bibliographically stunning and visually captivating collection was established in 1978. Curatorial stewardship and development for the Collection was transferred to the Library’s Department of Special Collections in 2006.  I joined the Library staff in 2010 from a theological library, and I had a strong interest in understanding the intention of the Dunleavy Collection. In addition to hundreds of illustrated Bible selections and prayer books, the Collection is crowned by a significant number of rare Catholic and Protestant Bibles, including 150 early English versions. Our 2011 library exhibition, Adornment & Alliance, showcased a number of early English versions of the Bible and many other beautiful and historic specimens. Conceptually, the idea was to highlight the fact that our collection at La Salle readily supports the study the history of the translation of the Bible into English. Mounted in the 400th anniversary year of the King James Version of the Holy Bible, this exhibition represented a participation-of-sorts in the celebrations of the printing history of the bible that were underway that year.

Two years later I still find myself pondering the intention of our rare bible collection. I can see that it holds potential for teaching the history of the book, visual culture, the relation of fine arts to textual analysis, teaching the visual history of illustration itself – countless concepts beyond simply teaching the narrative of the history of the Holy Bible.   I’ve come to realize that there is an evolving intention in rare book collections. Here, we have a collection that is both bibliographically and visually rich. It may be seen that it has intrinsic value because of the sacred nature of the text, or because of the rarity of certain editions. Over time, what will draw scholars to these resources?

La Sainte Bible, Paris, 1703

Our newest library exhibition aims a kaleidoscopic lens at the rare bible collection. Devotion: An Iconography of the Life of Jesus is now on view on the first floor of the Connelly Library. This exhibition will present, in two parts, a study of illustrations from the Library's collection of rare Bibles and prayer books. The focus is on eight scenes from the life of Jesus Christ, taken from works from the fifteenth through the twentieth centuries. Using iconographic analysis as a vehicle, the intention of the exhibition is to showcase the broad research potential of the Dunleavy Collection.

What do you think that this exhibition explores? Christianity? History? Symbolism? Illustration? Beauty?  What is devotion? Whatever you take away from it, we hope that you will find it inspiring!

Part One of the exhibition examines four scenes: the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary, the Christmas Gospel, the Baptism of Jesus Christ, and the Miracles of Jesus Christ. It will remain on view throughout the fall semester. Part Two will open on January 20, 2014 and remain on view throughout the spring semester. Please visit our concurrent web exhibition at:

Monday, April 8, 2013

Remembrance and Representation

This week the United States observes the Days of Remembrance of the Victims of the Holocaust. Congress passed the resolution to observe an annual period of remembrance and reflection under President Jimmy Carter in September of 1978. In their Frequently Asked Questions feature, the United States Holocaust  Memorial Museum website offers guidelines and suggestions for commemoration:

[Question:] When planning a commemoration, what are appropriate and inappropriate approaches/activities?

[Answer:] Because Days of Remembrance is meant to memorialize the millions of victims of persecution and mass murder, it is important to organize commemoration activities that show respect for the victims and survivors, and recognize the scope and scale of the Holocaust. Such activities may include remembrance ceremonies, names readings of the victims of the Holocaust, creating displays, inviting a Holocaust survivor to speak, or even organizing film series or book clubs focused on some aspect of Holocaust history. Simulations (e.g. asking participants to wear a yellow star to create a sense of solidarity with Jewish victims, etc.) are not appropriate. Even when great care is taken to make such activities seem solemn, they can often be perceived by survivors and others as a trivialization of the history.  

The final sentence of this paragraph draws attention to the delicate nature of memorialization.  The line between honoring and offending is very thin. Even following the criteria that the Museum advises, it is quite easy to fall into controversial territory. “Simulation”— or to reference the example—pretending to be a victim, is taboo. (A quick Google News search for “Holocaust remembrance” this morning returned a one example of how this kind of activity can be perceived by many as offensive.) But what about the suggestion to “organize a film series?”  Aren’t films simulations? They may be produced to depict reality, but do they aim to portray all of the horrors of the Holocaust? Are documentaries more culturally sensitive than feature films? What about other Holocaust dramas? Television and theater? What about literature and artwork?

What is lost in representing the Holocaust? How many representations do we encounter in popular culture that might “trivialize the history?” How do we teach the Holocaust?  How do we honor the memory of millions?

Special Collections supports research that delves deeply into these questions through the Imaginative Representations of the Holocaust Collection. We present this material to scholars in order to confront and investigate the ways in which the Holocaust has been mythologized, distorted, or banalized.

Submitted in somber remembrance.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Philadelphia in the Civil War-- In the Library and Online!

This week is Heritage Week at La Salle University. In celebration, the Connelly Library and the Department of Special Collections are pleased to announce our new exhibition, Philadelphia in the Civil War. This exhibition was curated by Dr. James A. Butler, Professor of English and Director of University Undergraduate Research at La Salle University. It features historic images of Philadelphia in the Civil War period, with a focus on the residents of La Salle's property 150 years ago. In March of 1863, the Christian Brothers founded La Salle College, which would later become La Salle University. Only three months later that June, General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia invaded Pennsylvania. On July 1, 1863 the Battle of Gettysburg began. This exhibition illuminates the history of some of the people and places of that turbulent  era, which survives in archival records, books, photographs, and ephemera.
Holy Bible, 1825. Containing a record of the
Wister Family, 1826-1881

For the first time, we are also simultaneously launching a digital version of the physical exhibition. The digital archive of Philadelphia in the Civil War is presented through the University’s Institutional Repository “Digital Commons.” All of the images from the exhibition can be viewed and downloaded through this feature!

On campus this week, Doris Kearns Goodwin, world-renowned historian and author of the 2005 biography Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, will present "The Civil War in Philadelphia." This sold out event will be streamed live on Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 7:30 pm (Eastern).

This exhibition features material from the Owen Wister and Family Collection, and highlights articles on local history written by La Salle University students. For more information on the Wister Collection, or any of the other special research collections maintained by the Department of Special Collections, contact our librarians

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Creating a Digital Archive of the Jane Irish Exhibit

"I intend that my work makes beautiful the alternative heroisms of the antiwar veteran in the 
Vietnam period."

~ Jane Irish, 2012

Last winter Special Collections undertook an interesting challenge. The La Salle Art Museum was planning to feature Philadelphia-based artist Jane Irish in their gallery spaces. As is mentioned in our blog post of last year, Jane Irish's relationship with La Salle University has spanned over a decade. She credits the Connelly Library's Imaginative Representations of the Vietnam War Collection as a source of inspiration for her artwork, and has spent years working with John Baky, Curator of Special Collections and Director of Libraries, who built the Vietnam Collection from his own unique vision. It was therefore appropriate for the Library to co-sponsor the exhibition and its programming. What culminated was ultimately a collaborative exhibition that was mounted in two locations on campus; one featuring the artist's work, and one exploring the artist's inspiration. Because of the artist's close ties to the Department of Special Collections, this exhibition was especially important to document. The challenge for us was how to do so...

Special Exhibition Gallery, March 2012
For the Jane Irish: War Is Not What You Think exhibition, the La Salle University Art Museum's Special Exhibition Gallery was wrapped with Irish's two large scroll-like compositions: The Conversation (2010) and La Conversation (2011). Most prominent in these ink wash on paper paintings is the presence of text, which floats like scattered pages in varied fonts across the 30 foot span of each work. The scrolls, composed in frames, show images of the Vietnamese landscape alongside images of American Veterans of the Vietnam War.  The raw elements of these paintings exist in the form of 18th century Vietnamese poetry, poems by Vietnam veterans, images from documentary film and photographs, and the artist's own first-hand impression of the Vietnamese landscape from her travels. Carmen Vendelin, Curator of Art for the University Art Museum, explains these "Points of Reference" in her piece for the exhibition's brochure. To enhance the experience of Irish's art, three media players played music and clips from selected works from the Library's Vietnam Collection. The opening reception for the exhibition was held on January 18, 2012, from 5 to 7 p.m in the Art Museum. Poets W.D. Ehrhart and John Balaban, whose works heavily influenced Irish's artwork, read poetry at the opening.

Vet Center Vase, by Jane Irish
The 20th Century Gallery in the Art Museum featured a series of landscape paintings that Jane Irish painted on site during two trips to Vietnam. Irish brought evocative poems with her on her travels and used each as part of her creative process, allowing the poems to inspire her work. Those poems were reproduced in the gallery space next to each painting. The Art Museum also featured two ceramic works by Jane Irish, each of which featured poetry by Vietnam War Veterans.

Main banner in the Library Exhibition

The exhibition in the Library came together through Jane Irish and John Baky's close partnership. The two pulled hundreds of videos from the Vietnam Collection-- seeking out specific examples of stereotypes and mythology that can be found in the artwork of the covers. They rooted out comic books, objects, posters, books of photography, dissertations, board games and journals. The exhibition came into form; a set of collages of material, images pulled from the Collection's shelves and arranged into leitmotifs and silk-screened onto panels to be hung in the exhibit space. Each of the five cases in the Library exhibit space were carefully arranged in such a way to attempt to capture and illustrate the artist's inspiration. In effect, the exhibition went beyond capturing the inspiration of the artist, and served as a vehicle to explore the research vision for the Vietnam Collection-- which aims to offer a myriad of interpretations of the experience of the Vietnam War. With its bright yellow and red banner at the front of the exhibit space, the exhibition seemed to immediately confront viewers with the question, "What do you think war is?" It teased you by showing you pictures of Rambo (is he how you picture a Vietnam War veteran?) and confronted those pictures with artwork drawn by actual veterans with severe post-traumatic stress disorder. The exhibition was "narrated" in a sense, by John Baky, who provided textual description for each of the cases that conveyed his in-depth knowledge of the artist's work and her sources of inspiration.

As it was, the dual exhibition served two purposes; first, to show the work of a nationally renowned artist; second, to show the genesis and evolution of her inspiration to create that work. The physical exhibitions were designed to immerse the viewer in a scene, often visually and aurally. The Library exhibit was intentionally abstract. There was no doubt that the Library would want to create a digital component, an online exhibit or webpage that would record and preserve the exhibition. However, this exhibition presented some challenges.   First, were some issues with capturing scale. The works in the Art Museum's Special Exhibition Gallery were each 30 or more feet long. We wanted to capture the feeling of being in the space. There were multiple galleries used in the exhibition, and there were also a few special events with the artist that we wanted to record. In the Library there were other concerns related to scale and content. Each case was a collage of items, and it was important to capture those collages as a whole, but we also wanted to highlight each item. We had hundreds of items from the Imaginative Representations of the Vietnam War Collection on view!

Compounding the issue of capturing a large and complex exhibition was a shift in our Library's collective thinking about digital exhibits. Special Collections was already in the midst of a major website redesign, and the goal of that project was to use a simple platform that didn't require back-end coding. The Library's digital collections were being migrated out of an outdated platform to ContentDM. The Connelly Library had successfully mounted sophisticated web exhibits in the past, but there was a feeling that the process of building digital exhibits from scratch wasn't sustainable with our small staff. In short, we were looking for a simpler way to deliver all of our digital content, but we had complex content to deliver. Our new Special Collections website would use the open source web publishing platform Omeka, which is has a plug-in designed for creating online exhibits. Our plan was to create the new website and to use the digital content of the Jane Irish exhibition to create an online exhibit in Omeka. We started working with Omeka for the website at the end of 2011, and the exhibition was mounted from January through March of 2012.

Exhibit Case 1 on display in the Connelly Library
After extensive customization, Omeka turned out to work well for the purpose of creating a website that would be easy to frequently edit and add fresh content to. But that process took much longer than was desired, and the "out of the box" design of the exhibit feature was clunky-- structured for a more traditional exhibit, such as one with a small set of pictures and associated text. We were looking at having to do more customization, and that's when it started to feel like we were drifting back to the model of hand coding our online exhibits. The other frustration involved the actual digital content of the exhibition that we had collected.  We had taken a number of digital photos of the exhibit spaces, both in the Art Museum and the Library. The cases in the Library were extremely difficult to photograph. They had been thoughtfully arranged under glass in rectangular cases, often relying on the structure of the case itself to support the design. Many of the materials on display had plastic reflective surfaces, and so photographing through glass cases under florescent library lighting made for some pretty terrible pictures (see above).

What followed was a somewhat prolonged period of reflection on the design of online library exhibits... are they all really boring in design? If they aren't, were they made by a professional web designer? Does anyone read the text? Are the content of exhibits buried in a larger library websites being found online? Are these exhibits teaching anyone anything? Was the purpose to draw attention to the physical exhibit, or to somehow preserve it? We wanted to create a scholarly resource-- well organized, good metadata, useful for research. How could we create something of good quality without a dedicated web designer on staff? And even if we had one, how would that person reinterpret the physical exhibition? How would the original design change?

Existential crisis aside, the physical exhibition had to be dismantled at the end of March. At this point we had a lot of pictures of the spaces and the individual works of art that had been on display in the Art Museum. In May we had a visit from the Director of Outreach and Scholarly Communications and an Outreach Associate from Bepress. The Library had recently begun formal development of an institutional repository for La Salle using the Digital Commons software managed by Bepress. Their staff was enthusiastic about our Special Collections, and shared a lot of ideas about how we could display our material in Digital Commons. Their original focus was on a journal run that we have digitized, which was in line with what one thinks of in regard to scholarly publishing. But as the crisis of how to handle the digital exhibition loomed, we reached out to their staff for advice...

On Mon, Jun 4, 2012 at 9:21 AM, Seraphin, Sarah <seraphin@lasalle.edu> wrote:

Hi Peter,
I wonder if I might be able to run something by you… I’m presently in a position where we've deconstructed a physical exhibit and we want to somehow deliver/archive a virtual version of it. What we had was a basic five exhibit case layout with all kinds of material from Special Collections collaged together—along with a few descriptive exhibit tags and some very descriptive case signage. I have digital pictures of the cases and text from the exhibit. The pictures are (frankly) very boring —just shots of the glass cases. The actual collages inside, and their parts are really the interesting thing.

 I've considered rebuilding the contents from the cases against a black background and then photographing each item. What I’d imagined was a kind of pop-up of an image of the item with a caption. It’s important to capture both the collage and the individual item, and I've really been struggling with how to do so. Since we are looking to use Digital Commons, I started looking around at library sites that might have built something similar. I found this from Columbia College: http://www.lib.colum.edu/archives/exhibits/caam_board01.php

 I’m curious to know how this exhibit is displayed in the repository. If we built something like this, how would it work in our IR? Maybe this is too technical of a question, but since I’m in the position where I am hoping to get started on something, I’m hoping to somehow develop it with Digital Commons in mind. Any advice? This was a collaborative exhibit with the University Art Museum, so we also have to consider ways to incorporate images of the gallery space over there, and a video of a related special event. I’m completely flexible at this point in how to deliver all of this. It was a very important event for us, and I’m really concerned about bringing it all together online.

The response from the Outreach Associate and their Client Services contact was very positive, and they immediately sent us ideas for possible structures. The beauty of using Digital Commons was that they created a very easy to use interface for users to upload content, but all of the design happens on their end. The purpose of La Salle's Institutional Repository is "capturing and archiving the creative and scholarly work of the La Salle Community," and that was what we really wanted to do!

Feeling confident that the product of the remaining work would be well displayed in Digital Commons, next came the fun part. Since we had a record of the arrangement of the original cases, it was possible to reconstruct their contents in an environment more conducive to creating good quality images.

Rebuilding Exhibit Case 1 
Showing Jane Irish's reproduction of the miniature
Vietnam Veteran's Memorial  that was printed in
Steve Klein's The Living Wall 

Each item was also photographed, and the descriptive information about each was managed in a spread sheet. The result was a new set of images, representing everything that had been displayed and recording the "original" arrangement. Upon entering the office of the Special Collections Librarian, where the cases had been painstakingly rebuilt for photographing, John Baky remarked that the whole thing was very "meta." Here we were, rebuilding an exhibit that was intended to rebuild the experience of the inspiration of an artist who is interested in challenging historical memory.

Case 1, rebuilt and photographed for the web
We worked closely with Bepress to select the best structure for the various collection of images. Most are displayed in "image galleries", which have a built in slideshow feature that creates a shadow box around the image. The two main parts of the exhibition were divided into two "communities," which have the different parts of the exhibition divided into a hierarchy of "subcommunities." That way we were able to have a gallery of the images of the exhibit spaces, and of the features inside of them. The staff was always available to answer any questions that arose as we uploaded content.

It's our hope that researchers will enjoy exploring the digital archive of the Jane Irish exhibition at La Salle University. This project raised some interesting questions for our Department, which in its mission intends to preserve and explicate our Special Collections. We're glad that the product of our work will be archived along with other work of the University, and by using this software we're able to track downloads and determine whether any of this material is being found by researchers. The project of creating a quality research tool out of the product of someone's artwork that was created out of her use of our collections for research was very meta indeed.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

La Salle... Our Story... 150 Years!

In celebration of La Salle's 150th anniversary, the Connelly Library is featuring a selection of original documents and objects from the University Archives.

We hope that you enjoy the material that has been preserved from the 1913, 1938, and 1963 anniversaries. These pieces provide insight into the spirit of celebration on campus during those years, and give us a picture of the people and places of our institution’s long history.

The Library also used this exhibition as an opportunity to highlight a project that was concluded in the spring of 2012,  whereby over 500 of La Salle’s campus publications from the University Archives were digitized, and are now available to view online! Our participation in the Lyrasis Mass Digitization Collaborative began in 2010, when the Library's Department of Media and Digital Services first partnered with the University Archives to scan the entire collection of La Salle's yearbook, "The Explorer." The entire collection of yearbooks is now available to read and download via Digital Commons.

From November 2011 to March of 2012, the Library and the Archives continued the project of selecting publications for digitization. As a result, hundreds of archival copies of course catalogs, student handbooks, commencement programs, and basketball guides can be read online. Browse the full selection via Digital Commons, the Library's newest digital platform!

The benefits of having participated in the Lyrasis Collaborative are many. First and foremost, many of these publications are being viewed by the public for the first time. Secondly, having digital copies of all of these publications contributes to the preservation of the original copies that are stored in the Archives, since researchers can be provided with high-quality facsimiles made from the digital versions.

We are grateful to Brother Joseph Grabenstein, University Archivist for his hard work in bringing these items out of the Archives for digitization,  into the library for the wonderful new exhibition, and for providing entertaining and in-depth descriptions for all.

A Panorama of Items from the Archives will remain on view in the Connelly Library throughout the fall 2012 semester.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Jane Irish Exhibit- War: Not What You Think

The renowned Imaginative Representations of the Vietnam War Collection is the largest collection in the Department of Special Collections. As a research collection, its vision is unique: to collect and study the tens of thousands of creative works that present experiences and interpretations of the Vietnam War. The largest collection of its kind, the Vietnam Collection  has grown to include over 20,000 books of fiction, poetry, and other printed items together with 2,500 non-print and visual art items. It also features 2,500 songs and pieces of music and more than 1,700 films. Philadelphia artist Jane Irish discovered the Vietnam Collection more than ten years ago, having been initially interested in the poetry of Vietnam Veteran W.D. Ehrhardt. Today we can see how that initial visit became the seed for years of artistic inspiration.  The La Salle University Art Museum and the Connelly Library have prepared a collaborative exhibition to show and explore Jane Irish's work. Read the Art Museum's press release here. The two-part exhibit will run from January 17 through March 29, 2012 in both campus locations.

In the exhibit program Jane Irish describes how research in the Collection inspired her art:  "'Creative research' is a predominant theme in contemporary art. That visual representations of memory – dramatically reified under the kaleidoscopic lenses of human imagination – can form the basis for research about a purely historical event defines the ironic frame for this exhibit. I have been mining the Imaginative Representations of the Vietnam War collection for 10 years in pursuit of this evolving, if chimerical, even eccentric 'aesthetic.'” Jane Irish will be holding a public artist's talk on Tuesday, January 24, at 1pm in Olney  Hall, room 100.

John S. Baky, Director of Libraries and Curator of Special Collections, worked closely with Jane Irish to mount the library's exhibit. On the exhibition he writes: "Though relatively simple in conception and design, the two-part exhibition is a richly varied combination of expressions based on the visual media of painting, printing, graphics, and ceramic art counterpointed and explicated by fictive texts, poetry readings, film clips, music recordings, record album covers, and artifacts. Allowing one form of visual culture to comment upon another form by its counterpoint placement in the exhibition, a viewer may sense an individual piece sui generis, or choose to explore more deeply the dialogues created by a poem described by a poem, or a painting resonating with a musical passage, or a ceramic vase on whose surface a painting uses poetry to describe war experience. The underlying paintings, stylebook collages, and ceramic vases represent the artist’s notion that certain mythopoeic patterns are to be found in the images of war protest expression, and that these 'mythologies' themselves are based on patterns that can and ought to be doubted and examined."

This collaborative exhibition is presented to explore how inspiration comes to an artist. We hope that you will enjoy that journey through the various media which is presented in the Art Museum and the Library.

Read more about Jane Irish on her website.

Above: Panel constructed by the artist from art work in the Imaginative Representations of the Vietnam War, exploring the a "psychological motif".

For more information on this and other Special Collections, please contact our librarians.

Monday, October 31, 2011

A Ghoulish Collection

Why are there nearly 80 horror films in the Department of Special Collections? You may be aware that the  Imaginative Representations of the Vietnam War Collection has a large film collection--over 2000 titles; but you might be surprised to learn that only a fraction of those titles are documentary films and television series relating to the Vietnam War. It seems that this collection has more than a dozen zombie movies alone! But what do zombies have to do with the Vietnam War, and why would zombie movies be in a research collection?

Familiar scenes in zombie movies involve devastating viruses, vacant cities, bands of armed survivors, mangled corpses, biological warfare, violence, gore, and death. In his elaborate essay "An Introduction to the American Horror Movie," noted film theorist Robin Wood examines themes of the post-1960s horror genre. He analyzes  "recurrent motifs" in horror films, which represent a bubbling-over of repressed fear of "the Other" (199). He explains, "Horror films, it might be said, are progressive precisely to the degree that they refuse to be satisfied with [the simple designation between good and evil] to the degree that, whether implicitly, consciously or unconsciously, they modify, question, challenge, seek to invert it" (Wood 215). Through a complex analysis of recurring themes, Wood analyzes not only what the "monster" represents, but what our reaction to it represents. He notes that horror films are reflections upon, and products of social turmoil. Having examined many films of the early 1980s, he states, "Vietnam, Nixon and Watergate produced a crisis in ideological confidence" (Wood 220).

The Imaginative Representations of The Vietnam War Collection exists to provide resources to examine the  many creative works influenced by the phenomenon of the Vietnam War. According to its curator John Baky, "the Collection is particularly committed to illuminating the process by which fictional narrative becomes mythopoeic. In using this Collection, it is possible to both question and document the sources of developing myths about the war experience."

It is remarkable to see these myths propagated in the horror films found in the Vietnam Collection. Looking closer, most of them portray Vietnam War veterans as the monster figure. Films such as Poor White Trash II (1975), To Kill a Clown (1972), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (1987),  and Street Trash (1987) are among the many post-Vietnam era films that portray the image of the insane and murderous "mad veteran" (Walker 85).

One of the most interesting and early examples of a creative interpretation of the Vietnam War might be George Romero's 1968 film, Night of the Living Dead. Having been released at the height of the Vietnam War, it is perhaps the most influential and heavily analyzed zombie film in existence. Film theorists have often dissected the film to find the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement as subtext.  The imagery of this film, in which the dead return to besiege and cannibalize the living, is thought to be wrought with counter-cultural symbolism-- though George Romero himself has said that he was "not aware of the politics of the film and that critics read too much into it" (Higashi 186).
(An interesting fact about Night of the Living Dead is that it is in the public domain because of an oversight made by the production company when the film was originally released. In fact, you can watch the entire film online.)

The "zombie genre" is particularly popular right now, with the return of AMC's Walking Dead series, and the movie version of Max Brooks' World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War in production. If you are interested in the history of zombies you should check out the new special produced by the History Channel that aired for the first time last week. Early in this program an interesting statement was made by best-selling zombie genre author Jonathan Maberry, who stated that "50 percent of all zombie movies were made after [the terrorist attacks of] 9/11." Whether or not that percentage is completely accurate, it is interesting to think about the popularity of zombies and horror movies against today's turbulent current events. Are they social commentary? Do they present a critique of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? In "Attack of the Livid Dead: Recalibrating Terror in the Post-September 11 Zombie Film," Nick Muntean and Matthew Thomas Payne note that "zombie films produced after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2011, serve as compelling points of entry through which the attacks' effects on American popular culture may be analyzed" (239).

Film theory is an interpretive field. It examines the cinema as an art form. All of the films and essays discussed in this blog post, as well as many more can be found in the Department of Special Collections. If you are interested in exploring more in the field of Vietnam War film criticism, be sure check out the comprehensive Annotated Bibliography compiled by retired librarian John K. McAskill.


"Shock Insurance Policy," leaflet in: Zombie Death House. Dir. John Saxon. Retromedia, 2004. DVD.

 DVD insert in: Dawn of the Dead. Dir George Romero. Anchorbay Entertainment, 1999. DVD.

 DVD insert in: The Crazies. Dir. George Romero. United States: Blue Underground, 2003. DVD.

 Movie still from Night of the Living Dead. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons:      http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:CemeteryZombie.jpg

DVD cover of: Neon Maniacs. Dir. Joseph Mangine. Troy, MI: Anchorbay Entertainment, [2003]. DVD.


Higashi, Sumiko. "A Horror Movie About the Vietnam War." From Hanoi to Hollywood: The Vietnam War in American Film. Ed. Linda Dittmar and Gene Michaud. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1990.

Muntean, Nick and Matthew Thomas Payne. "Attack of the Livid Dead: Recalibrating Terror in the Post-September 11 Zombie Film." The War on Terror and American Popular Culture: September 11 and Beyond. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2009. 

Walker, Mark. Vietnam Veteran Films. Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1991.

Wood, Robin. "An Introduction to the American Horror Movie." Movies and Methods: An Anthology. Ed. Bill Nichols. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976-1985.