[Marxism] A Dubious Archivist

Stacey Barber emusis at adelphia.net
Tue May 4 07:56:52 MDT 2004

Message: 8
Date: Mon, 03 May 2004 15:10:29 -0400
From: Louis Proyect <lnp3 at panix.com>
Subject: [Marxism] A dubious archivist
To: Activists and scholars in Marxist tradition
<marxism at lists.econ.utah.edu>
Message-ID: <40969925.5010706 at panix.com>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=windows-1252; format=flowed

LA Times, May 2, 2004
Historian With a History
The nominee for U.S. archivist has a penchant for dubious methods.

By Jon Wiener, Jon Wiener is a professor of history at UC Irvine and
contributing editor to the Nation magazine. His forthcoming book is
"Historians in Trouble." E-mail: wiener at uci.edu.

Go ahead, try. Name the archivist of the United States.

It's a pretty fair bet you failed. The archivist, former Kansas Gov.
John Carlin, oversees the nation's most important documents: the
Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights. The
position has traditionally been one of the lower-profile jobs in the
federal hierarchy, but, as its website notes, the National Archives is
not simply "a dusty hoard of ancient history. It is a public trust on
which our democracy depends. It enables people to inspect for themselves
the record of what government has done."

The archives collects and preserves the records of government, including
many presidential papers and documents from hearings such as those
conducted last month by the 9/11 commission. In the next year, the
archives will be preparing the release of papers from President George
H.W. Bush's term in office.

Researchers rely heavily on the archives' documents and on its
commitment to openness and access, which may be why so many historians
are deeply worried about President Bush's nomination last month of
historian Allen Weinstein to take over the job from Carlin next year.

The White House nominee has a controversial history involving charges of
excessive secrecy and of ethical violations. Almost two dozen
organizations of archivists and historians have expressed concern about
his nomination, and will almost certainly speak against it at Senate
hearings later this year.

The charges against Weinstein center on ethical issues involving access
to research materials he used in writing two books. Other historians
have not been permitted to see his documents and interviews, which
violates the standards of the American Historical Assn. and the Society
of American Archivists.

Weinstein's 1999 book, "The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America -
The Stalin Era" (coauthored with a Russian-speaking former KGB agent
named Alexander Vassiliev), is based on documents said to come from KGB

Weinstein's publisher, Random House, paid approximately $100,000 to an
organization of retired KGB agents to gain exclusive access to the
documents for its authors - something widely regarded as a violation of
research ethics. It's wrong for a historian (or his publisher) to pay
archivists not to provide information to anyone else. It prevents others
from checking the accuracy and completeness of the resulting work.

After the archival operation at the KGB had been going on for two years,
the Russian government closed it down. It has remained closed ever
since, leaving Vassiliev (Weinstein doesn't speak Russian) as one of the
few people to have had access to it. The result, says Anna K. Nelson, a
historian with expertise in government archives policy, is that "we have
no way to confirm the contents of this book."

Other historians with other publishers did it the right way: When Yale
University Press obtained access to the Communist Party archives in
Moscow, editors declared that their documents would be available to
other researchers. Jonathan Brent, executive editor of the "Annals of
Communism" book series at Yale, explained that "we want to enhance
scholarship, not impede it."


Money playing a role in the archiving world isn't anything new.  A lot of
archives rely on the noblesse oblige of philathropic institutions (often
backed by the wealthy) in order to function.  At least the James Joyce
archives at the Poetry and Rare Books library where I worked did.

Stacey B.

More information about the Marxism mailing list