In a unique newly published book project, The American Fraternity: An Illustrated Ritual Manual, Cornell University professor and director of visual studies Andrew Moisey combines excerpted lofty oaths and secret rituals from a dogeared 50+-year-old leather-bound ritual manual he discovered in a vacated fraternity house with his own documentary photography of life in his younger brother’s Berkeley residential Greek house captured between 2000-2008; both remain unnamed. Interspersed in the book, styled after the found ritual manual, are historical images of fraternity men, buildings, and activities, collected through archival research. Lists of the fraternity affiliations of U.S. government and corporate leaders—U.S. Presidents, Cabinet members, Supreme Court Justices, Senators, Fortune 500 CEOs—convey an implied question by Moisey about the entwined relationship between political and economic power, definitions of masculinity, and the complicated history and culture of some of America’s oldest secret collegiate societies.
This unique book project also includes an essay by Nicholas Syrett, a leading authority on the history of white fraternities in America and Chair of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of Kansas, and a creative response by novelist Cynthia Robinson. Tucked inside the book, like a long-lost college memory, is a faithful reproduction of an original folded and stapled anthropology assignment written by a fraternity member using his own Greek house and brothers as the subject with the teacher’s comments and a grade. This exhibition includes a small selection of images and text from the book project, as well as the original found ritual manual.