Roberts, James S.
- Existence: 1950
James Roberts entered Northwestern University as an undergradute student in 1968. During his freshman year, Roberts worked on the kitchen staff of the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, meeting and befriending other students who introduced him to Northwestern’s photography community. That summer, after buying a Canon SLR (single lens reflex) camera, Roberts immersed himself in photography, capturing scenes of his travels to Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Bangkok. During his sophomore year at school, he joined the staff of Syllabus, Northwestern’s yearbook, then transitioning in spirit from straightforward and traditional coverage of fraternity and sorority life, sports, and campus organizations to more artful and socially conscious documentary photography. Roberts became a fixture of the dark room community that operated first in the music building and then in a house on Sheridan Road. Many of Roberts’ photos were published in the Syllabus.
Roberts’ photographs documented apartment life at Northwestern, fraternity life, and the scenes of Evanston and Chicago. He captured portraits of his favorite history professors, musicians and speakers, and produced fashion shoots for the Daily Northwestern. Roberts also participated in and photographed a big brother program at the Oakton School in Chicago.
In the spring of Roberts’ sophomore year, he was both a participant and a photographer during the anti-war strike at Northwestern. The strike, which suspended school, lasted from May 6 until May 12, 1970. Like similar events occurring on campuses across the nation, Northwestern’s strike was motivated by the killing of four students by the National Guard during a student demonstration at Kent State University in the wake of President Richard Nixon’s announcement that Vietnam War military operations would expand into Cambodia. During the strike, students barricaded the intersection of Sheridan Road and Chicago Avenue and held rallies at Dyche Stadium (now Ryan Field) and on Deering Meadow. On the last day of the strike, 40 students broke into the building housing Northwestern Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, where many were arrested by the police.
After two and a half years at Northwestern, Roberts and many of his friends spent their spring semester abroad in Cuernavaca, Mexico outside of Mexico City. They enrolled at the Centro Intercultural de Documentación (Intercultural Documentation Center) started by Ivan Illich, a philosopher and cultural critic who had spoken at Northwestern University during Roberts’s stay. In Mexico, Roberts photographed his travels to beaches, Mayan ruins, and Mexico City. He photographed many street scenes: local kids, buses, and markets.
After graduating Northwestern University in 1972, Roberts went on to graduate school at University of Iowa, earning a PhD in European History. At Stanford University and University of California Berkeley, Roberts held post-doctoral fellowships. He then moved with his wife, Deborah Jakubs, to Durham, North Carolina, where he earned an M.B.A. degree at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. Roberts subsequently pursued a career in academic administration at Duke University for approximately 30 years and retired in 2018. He maintained a strong interest in documentary photography and joined the Board of the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University.
Found in 2 Collections and/or Records:
"1969-1972 The Only Years" Digital Photobook
James S. Roberts Photographs
Northwestern University alumnus James (Jim) S. Roberts studied history and took photographs during a tumultuous time on and off the campus from 1969 to 1972. His photos (prints, color slides, and black-and-white negatives) include depictions of anti-war events such as the November 15, 1969 Moratorium march on Washington, D.C. and the May, 1970 strike at Northwestern University, as well as scenes from Cuernavaca, Mexico, and general student activities at Northwestern.