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Archivists Up In Arms

There's nothing worse than waking up and learning that one of your favorite government programs faces a budget cut. Okay, so maybe waking up and discovering that your goiter has grown in the night. Or waking up and discovering that you forgot to amount to anything in your sorry, vapid life. I particularly hate waking up and discovering that I'm in a Days Inn off the Interstate somewhere in the Carolinas. Stuff like that happens to me unexpectedly. My life has a level of chaos normally associated with kidnap victims.

Anyway, I just got a note from James Guba, an editor at The Papers of George Washington, and I will paste it in below. But to summarize, it appears that the Administration has proposed a cut to the federal program that supports the editing of historic manuscripts. This is one of those government programs that has multiplying benefits that can't easily be measured. If you want to write a book, or a term paper, or just learn about the Founding Fathers, for example, you can go to the carefully edited bound volumes that archivists and historians have painstakingly put together over the last few decades. This is ongoing work -- the Washington Papers project just put out another volume for GW's presidency -- and the Jefferson Papers project is, as I recall, still barely halfway through the man's career after half a century of labor. But what this does is democratize history. Anyone now has access to the raw material of our nation's past. You don't have to be a professional historian. I couldn't have written my book on Washington without the Washington Papers. In any case, here is the note from Guba:


From Guba: "If you think it is newsworthy and your readers would be interested, by all means mention that federal grants for manuscript editing are about to be eliminated. This is much bigger than just GW and the other Founders, but includes grants for a range of 19th and 20th century projects.

For simple background, I've attached some advocacy material, including a brief history of the NHPRC (National Historic Publications and Records Commission). Here is a sample paragraph from a briefing sheet by the "National Coalition for History":

"As characterized by former Archivist of the United States John Carlin, the NHPRC is "History's venture capitalist" -- through federal outright and matching grants, it successfully leverages private sector contributions to projects such as the publishing of papers associated with nationally
significant individuals and institutions. The NHPRC is currently helping to fund dozens of papers projects, including those of founders Franklin, Jefferson, Washington, Adams, and Madison; projects documenting the ratification of the U.S. Constitution and the First Federal Congress; the correspondence between Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, the Papers of Eleanor Roosevelt, the Frederick Douglass Papers, and the Papers of General George C. Marshall...."

The budget cutters on the other side doubtless have good motives as well, but I have no similar material representing their views."--J.G.

By Joel Achenbach  |  March 22, 2005; 6:53 AM ET
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