Digging Up the Dry Truth: A Digital Exhibit

In Fall 2020, rhetorical arts students in professor Laura Poladian’s classes and librarian Rachel Wen-Paloutzian came together over Zoom to explore unique collections housed in the William H. Hannon Library’s archives and special collections. In collaboration with these students, we are proud to share with you the digital exhibit “Digging Up the Dry Truth: Owens Valley Stories Told in the J. D. Black Papers.” This is the second installment in a three-part digital exhibit series created entirely in the virtual space by rhetorical arts students.

Whether you are from Los Angeles– like one student who noticed, “I live in Los Angeles County. I have been on Mulholland before and never knew about where the name came from”– or if like other students, you “had never heard J. D. Black, or the California water wars or a thing about California history or a place called Owens Valley,” this exhibit is a place “to learn about an event beyond basic facts by being exposed to real-life stories.” Through letters, records, and photographs in the J. D. Black Papers, students inquired about, researched, and commented on the Owens Valley water crisis. The class also had a special virtual meeting with two of J. D. Black’s granddaughters, who helped bring J.D. Black’s personal history and legacy alive.

At the end of the exhibit project, one student reflected on how she was encouraged to learn as a whole person through the J. D. Black papers:

“Working on the J. D. Black exhibit with LMU was very meaningful to me in ways which I may not have even realized until afterwards. First of all, working on the exhibit allowed me to connect with my peers on both an academic and personal level, something which is often severely lacking in a virtual learning setting. Speaking with J. D. Black’s granddaughters introduced a new, emotional layer to the research we were doing and fueled me to work harder for their cause. Speaking to real people made the research feel less like a history assignment and more like meaningful and important work. The questions which arose due to this research in class such as, ‘why have I never heard of this before’, made me realize even more the pitfalls of our media-centered society that chooses which stories to lift up versus bury and leave forgotten.”

Get started with this quick intro video to the J. D. Black Papers created by a student researcher. Then, visit the exhibit to dive into the photographs, documents, and stories about the Owens Valley water controversy.

A special thank you to the student collaborators pictured below with their final words on their work on the exhibit. Stay tuned for the upcoming, final installment of the Rhetorical Arts student-curated digital exhibits, focusing on the Robert Singleton Papers, and in the meantime, also check out the first rhetorical arts digital exhibit Entre Dos Mundos: Strength and Resilience in the Venegas Family”.

Student on Zoom showing words on paper like moved, inspiring, and engaging