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Award-Winning Historian Named Director of Center for Documentary Studies at Duke

Historian Wesley C. Hogan widely honored for documentary work on civil rights movement 

Wesley Hogan is a noted documentary historian of the civil rights movement. Photo by Shamus Hogan.
Wesley Hogan is a noted documentary historian of the civil rights movement. Photo by Shamus Hogan.

Wesley C. Hogan, a historian widely honored for her documentary work on the civil rights movement, has been named the new director of the Center for Documentary Studies (CDS) at Duke University.

She begins her appointment on July 1. Hogan will be only the third director of CDS, which was founded in 1989 as the first university-affiliated institution in the United States dedicated solely to the legacy and continuing practice of the documentary arts tradition.

"The arrival of Wesley Hogan signals the next phase in CDS's outstanding development," said Provost Peter Lange, Duke's chief academic officer. "She will bring the qualities of an outstanding documentary artist, experienced teacher and scholar and leader of documentary projects to the directorship, furthering CDS's contributions to the Durham, national and international communities and to the teaching and service mission of Duke and the passions of our students."

Laurie Patton, dean of arts and sciences at Duke, also praised Hogan's qualifications to lead CDS.

"Wesley Hogan brings all the skills needed for this position: a great scholarly record in the archive and in the field, a deep sense of public scholarship and a long-term commitment to Duke," Patton said. "We are delighted she will be joining us to bring her own intellectual vibrancy and creativity to leading the Center for Documentary Studies."

Hogan, who has a Ph.D. and master's degree in U.S. history from Duke, is currently a professor at Virginia State University, a historically black college where she has taught since 2003. Hogan was co-director of the Institute for the Study of Race Relations at VSU for three years and led the Petersburg Civil Rights History community project for more than five years, during which she "witnessed firsthand the crucial importance of documentary expression to the university curriculum."

"Not only did documentary fieldwork provide rich experiential education for the students, it also highlighted the value of non-traditional expertise," Hogan said. "Once we learned what ordinary people had done, it recast our understanding of who and what mattered in the civil rights movement. And when we published our findings, it gave people a new sense of what the Petersburg community was capable of. That takes higher education to a completely different level."

Hogan's documentary roots are grounded in 20 years of interviewing social activists in both her scholarly and her community work. In particular, developing deep relationships with veterans of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) "reshaped me," Hogan said.

"They taught me to create a relational environment in which we can hear everyone's story. Documentary work plays a central function in society at large. It determines who we can see, literally, and thus who we care about and cannot ignore," she said.

Her book from this work, "Many Minds, One Heart: SNCC's Dream for a New America," won the Lillian Smith Book Award, the Scott-Bills Memorial Prize in Peace Studies and the Library of Virginia Nonfiction Award.

"Wesley Hogan knows first-hand the value of talking to the people who have made our history," said William H. Chafe, chair of the CDS Board of Directors and a founder of the Center for Documentary Studies. "Her work with the individuals who created our civil rights revolution will carry over to her leadership of the many film, oral history and photography projects that the Center for Documentary Studies has pioneered, by bringing to life the courage of everyday people struggling to make a better existence for themselves, and for all of us."

"The documentary arts are vital to the university's approach to a forward-looking curriculum," Hogan said. "If 70-90 percent of the information the brain takes in is visual, we urgently need to cultivate visually literate students who are exemplars of intellectual curiosity and artistic innovation. CDS is in a prime position to be the leader in visual and multimedia literacy in the 21st century, not only for the nation's documentary and academic communities, but also for K-12 teachers, community groups and the public at large."

Hogan will succeed Tom Rankin, who has directed the CDS since 1998. Under his leadership, CDS has built its reputation as an internationally recognized documentary arts institution, with cross-media courses, gallery and traveling exhibitions, book publishing, national fieldwork projects, radio programs and public events, including the acclaimed Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. 

Rankin, a professor in the Department of Art, Art History & Visual Studies, will remain on the faculty at Duke, where he directs the MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts program.

"It is such an honor to be able to build on the work of Tom and Iris Tillman Hill," CDS's founding director, Hogan said. "Their contributions to the rich diversity and rhythms of the documentary arts tradition are immeasurable."