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Southern Illinois University Carbondale Library

Katherine M. Dunham Papers, Special Collections Research Center

Collection Profile

In February 1965, the culmination of Katherine Dunham's 11-week period as an Artist-in-Residence at Southern Illinois University Carbondale was a stage performance of Gounod's opera Faust. Dunham staged and choreographed the production herself and gave it a unique twist by setting it in World War I Germany. Over the next few years, Dunham would continue to teach as an Artist-in-Residence at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. By September 1965, she would honor Morris Library's Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) by donating her personal and faculty papers highlighting her career through the period of her association with Southern Illinois University Carbondale ending in the late 1960s.

The Katherine Dunham Papers consists of correspondence, writings, scripts, notes on dance techniques, and musical scores that illuminate the extraordinary journey of a woman who changed the face of American modern dance. Her collection documents all aspects of her varied experience as an African-American anthropologist, dancer, choreographer, and educator. Her personal correspondence makes up the bulk of this collection. Among others, notable correspondents include Josephine Baker, Harry Belafonte, Doris Duke, W. C. Handy, Langston Hughes, Eartha Kitt, Butterfly McQueen, Anthony Quinn, and Paul Robeson.

This collection also highlights Dunham's early explorations as an anthropologist in the 1930s when she studied a multitude of movement types and dance forms. However, it is Dunham's focus on the movements and dances of the African diaspora that so influenced her development as a performer, choreographer, and teacher. Her papers also contain examples of music from her field research from Haiti, recorded by Dunham and others. Additionally, the collection consists of photographs documenting Dunham's remarkable career as a performer and choreographer for her company, which introduced African and Caribbean dance movement to the American public, as well as her manuscripts related to her published works The Dances of Haiti (1938), Journey to Accompong (1946), Island Possessed (1969), and The Negro Dance.

Dunham's papers provide direct support for teaching and research at SIUC while also serving a larger research community around the world. These papers are recognized as a leading source of biographical information about the artist herself, in addition to supporting research by national and international scholars of dance. Also, Dunham's papers serve the Southern Illinois University Carbondale community as a foundation for research and exhibitions, as it contains extensive material, including early sound recordings of Haitian music, for historians and students of African-American dance and dance anthropology. More information about Dunham's collection is available on SCRC's Web site. Other institutions that have some holdings related to Dunham and her work include the Library of Congress and the Missouri Historical Society.

Collection Profile and Overview: Pam Hackbart-Dean
Illustrations: Greg Wendt

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