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Posted at 12:52 PM ET, 01/27/2011

Archivist of the United States on altered Lincoln document

By Ed O'Keefe
David Ferriero
David Ferriero

Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero took questions Thursday about the removal of a pardon issued by President Abraham Lincoln, in which dates were changed by a Woodbridge historian to amplify its significance and promote the historian's career.

When people review documents from archives, how often is there a camera recording their actions? Is it time to require more photographic oversight, not just to prevent alterations, but removals?

Ferriero: The incident occurred in 1997 before security cameras were in place in all of the Archives research facilities. "Photographic oversight" is now in place.

In these days of the Internet, why not copy the archives and put all the records online? That way, people won't have to come to the archives to look at documents except in extreme cases, and they would be available 24/7 rather than when the archives is operating. Furthermore, Internet documents are generally searchable electronic records so people looking for ancestors will have a much easier job. This certainly would solve the issue of people altering or removing documents, an issue both the archives and the Library of Congress have faced. I also doubt there is any legal issue involved, since documents lose their copyright when they are over 70 years old.

My dream exactly! The problem is that we have more than 10 billion pages at the moment. We have a number of scanning projects underway, however. It will be many years before everything is available digitally.

How widely has the story of this assassination-day pardon been disseminated? Is it in most modern scholarly and popular accounts of the assassination? Has it influenced scholarly theory about military justice or about Lincoln or the war, or just been a random anecdote without much impact? I'm assuming that with the recent Lincoln anniversary a few years ago, the story must have been repeated many times in books and articles. How best to retract it? Have you considered a talk or seminar at some annual Lincoln history conference?

Historians have used this story since it was first brought to light.

Mr.Ferriero, I don't mean to be disrespectful, but to many of us lay people this does not seem to be terribly important. We realize changing the date was wrong, but front page coverage on the Washington Post? Can you please explain? Thank you.

The Archivist of the United States has no control over where the Washington Post places a report!

Read the full chat and leave your thoughts in the comments section below

By Ed O'Keefe  | January 27, 2011; 12:52 PM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments  
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