Working Through Our Emotions: Help from Archives and Special Collections

By Francesca Marini | 04-16-2021

Texas Sunset. Photo by Francesca Marini, 2020.


In 2020 and 2021, the world has been through extraordinarily hard times, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, violence, unrest, and natural disasters: very hard and painful situations, causing destruction, worries and anxiety, and giving us little or no respite. But some good things also came out of these hard times: more awareness of social justice issues, more support of one another, and innumerable examples of great dedication and selflessness. Good and bad, to extreme degrees.

Even in the best circumstances, we all had to deal with intense emotions; some new, some old. I want to share an approach that is helpful to me: reflecting on materials in our Cushing Memorial Library and Archives collections to process thoughts and feelings.

For over a year now, reading and watching news stories has been more painful than ever: the pandemic raging, wildfires and extreme-weather events raging, killings raging, people raging… Our minds and hearts can find it hard to process what we see and hear. At times we might ask ourselves: “would a world without emotions be easier to live in?” My answer is “no,” but the arts continue to explore the idea of an emotionless world, especially in the science fiction genre.

Novels, stories, and movies explore this reality: removing emotions is often presented as a way for evil governments (human or alien) to have control over people. One of my favorite stories is the one narrated by Jack Finney in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which started as a three-part serial (simply titled The Body Snatchers) in Collier’s magazine (November-December 1954; Cushing Library/Kelsey Illustrators/Call Number: AP2 .C65). It was later published in novel form (with some story variations) and adapted to several movie versions. Alien life comes to Earth through vegetation, which grows into replicas of town people, replacing humans with emotionless versions of themselves. When people fall asleep, the alien form takes over and the original person is destroyed. The “new” humans act in a controlled manner, without any emotions: no anger or anxiety, but also no love, empathy, or concern for life. The hero of the book, a doctor, fights against the invasion. The two most famous movie versions have different endings. The 1956 version, directed by Don Siegel, has a hard-fought, but positive resolution, where the hero finally gets help and saves the world. The 1978 version, directed by Philip Kaufman, has a hopeless ending, where the hero loses his human identity and betrays his friend, who had so far escaped from everyone else’s destiny. The Invasion of the Body Snatchers story helps me, because it is a reflection on the importance of humanity and compassion. It encourages us to fight to remain human.

Disregard for human life and a loss of humanity were displayed in 2020 and 2021 in horrible instances of hatred and racism. The Cushing Memorial Library and Archives has extensive holdings related to racism, antiracism, social justice, and activism, especially in our Area Studies/Africana and Women’s and Gender Studies collections. Many historical items in our collections sadly embody racism: for example, historical issues of the Texas A&M University Yearbooks are often disturbing. At the Cushing Memorial Library and Archives, we use these materials critically. When the yearbooks were digitized and posted online (, an explanation was added to the page, alerting readers of the offensive nature and negative stereotypes that can be found in these publications. I have the honor to organize our virtual talk series, which we inaugurated on July 15, 2020, with a brilliant talk by my colleague, Professor Rebecca Hankins, titled Capturing Controversy and Digitizing Racism: Yearbooks at Texas A&M University. This talk was extremely successful and empowering, with a national and international live audience of about 150 people. We were very happy to receive a message from one of our Texas A&M University students, who asked us about resources because the talk inspired him to be an antiracist. Racist materials and artifacts can be critically used to analyze and change culture and behavior, raising awareness and moving towards an inclusive society. This virtual talk and items in our collections help me work through the painful emotions raised by racial hatred and violence. I find some comfort in our efforts to make a positive difference.

Naming our feelings and fears is often the first step towards overcoming obstacles. As we make our way through 2021, we want to affirm that we are not alone and we can find support and help from other beings, including people who guide us from the past. The Cushing Memorial Library and Archives strives to be a safe and welcoming place. Our collections are here to be used and ensure that we continually move towards a better life and a better world.

Tags: Year 2020; Year 2021; Antiracism; COVID-19; Finney, Jack; Invasion of the Body Snatchers; Racism; Science Fiction; Social Justice; Yearbooks. 

Cushing Memorial Library and Archives Collections: Area Studies/Africana; Kelsey Illustrators; Science Fiction & Fantasy Research Collection; Texas A&M University Archives; Women’s and Gender Studies

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Francesca Marini smiling

Dr. Francesca Marini is Associate Professor, Programming and Outreach Librarian at the Texas A&M University Libraries, Cushing Memorial Library & Archives. In her role, she makes collections and ideas available to the public, through in-person and online talks, exhibitions, tours, fairs, and more. She holds a Ph.D. in Library and Information Studies (UCLA), a Master’s degree in Archival Studies (Modena State Archives), and a Bachelor’s Degree in Film and Theatre Studies (University of Bologna). Her research focuses on performing arts archiving, as well as on special collections and archives outreach.