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ARCHIVES Home

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ARCHIVES  April 2006, Week 3

ARCHIVES April 2006, Week 3

Subject:

nara and reclassification

From:

Richard Cox <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Thu, 20 Apr 2006 05:37:29 +0000

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (53 lines)

Bruce Montgomery writes, “Although some believe we should not recall the events surrounding Nixon and his presidential materials, they have everything to do with how NARA has been transformed into an essentially political (more than cultural) executive branch agency. It's a complicated story, but one that explains how presidential administrations see the Archives as a repository of executive branch evidence that may have a profound influence on how history judges their actions. As others know, the Archives has often been subject to political pressures from the White House to serve its own interests in strengthening the presidential prerogatives of executive privilege. It has sometimes been caught in the wider struggle over the separation of powers as the executive branch battles to circumvent or nullify much of the post-Watergate legislation that was designed to establish a more accountable and open government.”  

Montgomery provides a pretty good assessment of what has occurred with NARA, but in my opinion it suggests all the more reason why archivists need to speak up, with or without SAA leadership.  It is all the more reason why we should be fighting for a strong NARA, not just understanding the situation.  If we just sit back and allow our government to create a more and more secret regime, is there any point at all in trying to function as archivists?  Are we going to sit back and allow the FBI, and other intelligence agencies, come into our archives to shut down our collections in the name of national security and state secrets, such as is happening with the Jack Anderson papers being offered to the George Washington University?  I hope not. (And I am appreciative of the small group of individuals posting messages about this case – but it could be a lot more!).

Why is it that the Smithsonian-Showtime agreement has generated such a quick response, according to Jacqueline Trescott in the April 18th Washington Post, when  “More than 200 filmmakers and historians asked the Smithsonian Institution yesterday to abandon its production deal with Showtime Networks and reconsider a recently imposed policy that limits access to Smithsonian archives and experts”?  It seems to me that the government secrecy issues represented in the reclassification controversy possess far greater implications for us as a nation and profession than the intellectual property concerns that we see in the Smithsonian controversy. Are archivists just too uninterested in the National Archives?  Do they merely think that this is business as usual, for both NARA and the Bush administration, so why bother?  Or are archivists just too willing to accept, at face value, any explanation coming from Archivist Weinstein and NARA leadership?

BTW, there are an increasing number of books appearing about disturbing aspects of government secrecy or government records policy that archivists ought to read for both background for this case and, perhaps, to gain appreciation for why we need to be vigilant about such matters and desire to have a stronger National Archives.  Here are some to get people started – read up!

Richard J. Cox, Ethics, Accountability, and Recordkeeping in Troubled Times (London: Facet, forthcoming in late 2006)

Mark Danner, The Secret Way to War: The Downing Street Memo and the Iraq War’s Buried History (New York: NYRB, 2006).

Verne Harris, Archives and Justice: A South African Perspective (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, forthcoming in 2006).

[Verne Harris and others], The Nelson Mandela Foundation, A Prisoner in the Garden (New York: Viking Studio, 2006).

Benjamin Hufbauer, Presidential Temples: How Memorials and Libraries Shape Public Memory (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2005).

Bruce Montgomery, Subverting Open Government: White House Materials and Executive Branch Politics (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 2005) [Thanks Bruce]

Margaret Proctor, et al, Political Pressure and the Archival Record (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2006).

Alasdair Roberts, Blacked Out: Government Secrecy in the Information Age (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006)

And, oh, in one of my previous postings I made a comment that it is good that we have the National Security Agency watching NARA; I might, of course, the National Security Archives – perhaps this was a Freudian slip?
 
--
Richard J. Cox
Professor
Department of Library and Information Sciences
School of Information Sciences
University of Pittsburgh
Editor, Records & Information Management Report
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
Voice:  412-624-3245
FAX:    412-648-7001
e-mail: [log in to unmask]
homepage: http://www2.sis.pitt.edu/%7Ercox/

"What we would like to do is change the world - to make it a little simpler for people to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves as God intended for them to do. And we can change the world: we can work for the oasis, the little cell of joy and peace in a harried world.  We can throw our pebble in the pond and be confident that its ever widening circle will reach around the world." - Dorothy Day 

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