With the support of the Rothman Faculty Summer Fellowship, Dr. Amy Abugo Ongiri spent the summer months of 2010 at the Hoover Institute at Stanford University and the Freedom Archives in San Francisco. She used these archives to find significant primary source material on radical movements in the sixties and seventies that have not been included in existing scholarship. Her work focuses on two specific radical groups, the Black Panther Party and the Symbionese Liberation Army, and analyzes their use of images in political activism and how images of these groups have been used in turn by others. She is investigating how graphic images challenge the boundaries of new media and the prevalent notion that the radical ideologies of sixties and seventies represent “dead” ideologies.
Dr. Ongiri’s work this past summer focused primarily on the Symbionese Liberation Army. The Symbionese Liberation Army is most often remembered through their spectacular representation in visual media culture as related to the kidnapping of Patty Hearst rather than through their political actions or agendas, and so she set about investigating how media shaped the image of the group while it was operating, and how the changing media structures of the present day have altered the presentation of this radical group. At the Hoover Institute, she collected material such as the original police investigation report of the raid that killed most of the members of the Symbionese Liberation Army, and the correspondence between various federal bureaus involved in the action. She also collected underground newspapers, pamphlets, and leaflets supporting and critiquing the activities of the group. At the Freedom Archives, Dr. Ongiri explored the most complete archive collection of print and audio material related to the Symbionese Liberation Army. She was able to find the complete journal belonging to members of the Symbionese Liberation Army, as well as the entire collection of audio tapes that the group had released to a local radio station in Berkeley, California.
Since the scholarly study of the cultural importance of radical groups such as the Symbionese Liberation Army is relatively new, and since the actions of these groups were clandestine and criminalized, primary source material is rarely found in existing books and articles and are mostly unavailable outside of archives. Dr. Ongiri's work in these archives, therefore, has given her access to important sources that will contribute to the modern understanding of the radical culture of the sixties and seventies. She plans to submit her research in an article to the Journal of Transnational American Studies, as well as incorporate it in an upcoming book.
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