Student Faculty Research Collaboration Dives into Rollins History

November 23, 2011







Associate Professor of Art History Susan Libby and Cory Baden (Class of 2012) with Kinjiro Statue
Professor of Art History Susan Libby and Cory Baden stand beside a replicated version of the original Kinjiro statue. (Photo by Laura J. Cole)

 

In 1946, a bronze statue of the Japanese historical figure Ninomiya Kinjiro came to Rollins as a gift from alumnus Clinton Nichols (Class of 1934). A year later, President Hamilton Holt had it placed in a niche in the newly built Warren Building where it remained until an Okinawan historical society requested its return nearly fifty years later. It was a piece of Rollins history just itching to be investigated and with her passion for studying cultural property disputes in her art history classes, Professor of Art History Susan Libby was up for the challenge.

“As I was putting together cultural property dispute assignments for my class, I remembered hearing about a series of events here at Rollins,” Libby recalled. “When speaking to Jonathan Miller at the Olin Library about the assignment, he suggested it would be a great student-faculty collaborative project.”

In the summer of 2009, Libby and Cory Baden (Class of 2012) began peeling back the layers of the Kinjiro controversy as part of the Student-Faculty Collaborative Scholarship Program. “Our goal was to investigate the issue and examine the case against larger scale, international disputes issues,” Libby explained. “But we also wanted to investigate additional angles that there just wasn’t time to pursue back in 1995 when President Rita Bornstein repatriated the statue back to Japan.”

Unlike a lot of other collaborative research projects, which often take teams to the science lab, this project required a lot of time digging through Rollins Archives. “I had never done anything like this before,” said Baden, an anthropology major. “It was really cool digging into all of these primary documents in the archives and getting to read these original documents from Hamilton Holt.”

The team went through boxes and boxes of letters and memos, Hamilton Holt’s old appointment books and correspondence between Holt and the Nichols that went as far back as the 1940s. “We followed the archival trail leading up the acquisition of the statue and the documents exchanged once Bornstein had to handle the repatriation issue,” said Libby, who also worked with Baden at analyzing the Hague conventions, legal precedents and Japanese culture. They also interviewed President Emerita Rita Bornstein and President Emeritus Thaddeus Seymour.

“In the end we concluded that Rita made a good decision by returning the property,” said Libby. “We could have continued to argue that Rollins had a legal right to this statue but the ethical and moral thing to do was to give it back.”

Since the collaborative research project was rooted in art, the natural next step was to work with the Cornell Fine Arts Museum (CFAM) to design an exhibition to showcase this piece of Rollins history. “The research lent itself well to an exhibition, so we collaborated with the museum staff and with archives to decide on which documents should be displayed,” said Libby. The display will be on exhibit at CFAM through January 2012.

The team also thought there should be some sort of public discussion about the issue. “We assembled a group of people who we thought could create a good dialogue about cultural property,” Baden said, who invited Bornstein, Professor of Philosophy Margaret McLaren, Assistant Professor of Classical Studies and Archeology Robert Vander Poppen, and Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Archaeology Jonathan R. Walz to the panel discussion, which took place on October 26.

“It’s been really unique being involved in something like this because it really shows the benefits of being part of a liberal arts education” Baden shared. “This is when you begin realizing the level of education you get here at Rollins. It’s really in a caliber of its own when it comes to allowing students to work closely with faculty.”

Libby couldn’t have been more pleased with the collaboration, her first such research project. “It was really interesting working with Cory,” said Libby, who plans to work with Baden on writing a journal article about the experience. “He is such an excellent student. It really felt like a true collaboration. His enthusiasm was really rewarding.”

For Baden, who will graduate in a few months, the project allowed him to leave his unique footprint on the College. “The archives hold everything in Rollins history,” said Baden. “It’s really cool to leave a piece of myself at Rollins that will stay here forever.”

 

By Kristen Manieri

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