“One of the things important about history is to remember the true history.” –George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., June 6, 2008

The Dallas Morning News has a two-question Q-and-A with archivist Sharon Fawcett of the NARA about presidential libraries. Here’s the interesting half:

Managing conflicts between scholars wanting the libraries for unvarnished research and presidents using them to polish their legacies:

“They certainly can conflict. But we look at the early museum exhibit in a presidential library as more of an artifact. It comes to us when the library is built and is the interpretation by the president of his administration. We work with the foundation to temper some aspects of the exhibit. For example, it was very important for the National Archives when the Clinton exhibit opened that it included a section on the impeachment. And that was included. We don’t want to gloss over controversies in an administration. We believe they should be addressed.”

(Bold is mine. Just realized it’s not even a Q-and-A.  It’s like a Suggestion-and-A. Weird little piece, DMN. Especially odd that the link was so prominently placed on your site.)

Anyway, I didn’t realize the exhibit came to the NARA already intact, and that, effectively, each president gets the first crack at presenting his own history (after those first-drafters in the press corps, at least). I knew the Nixon Library had an objectionable approach to Watergate, but I didn’t know who was to blame. I haven’t been to the Clinton Library yet, but I wonder if the National Archives’ leaning did any good.

So, how will W. make it look? Which of these will make it? And what about that enduring question: how long will Bush’s version of history stay on display? If Nixon is any guide…

The [Nixon] exhibit, which stood for 17 years, had been designed to last, and the demolition took two weeks. “It was as permanent as you can build it,” said museum Curator Olivia Anastasiadis.


Historical Bonding

One of the bonds in question.  This one wont mature til 2035.  From the NYT.

One of the bonds in question. This one won't mature til 2035. From the NYT.

On Thursday, the NYT had this story about a bond issued in 1868 that’s just now coming to fruition.  The city has been paying 7% interest on the bonds for 135 years, but on March 1, one of the holders is entitled to collect the full face value: $1,000.

The Times wasn’t able to track down any of the 39 bondholders (city officials wouldn’t give up the names), which the paper admits is something of a shame. Two of the active bonds are in the Museum of the City of New York; they were given to the museum by a bond specialist who bought them in the 1970s from the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery (“The Hudson Valley’s Only Full Service Cemetery”). The Cemetery got them from a Martha B. Jones, who took possession of them in 1881.

SNY is currently working on a print story about some old financial instruments, and, as such, is predictably fascinated by the idea that you can trace these live bonds through the last 150 years. Who holds these and how did they get them? There must be 39 different stories here, each of which reveals something different about families’ financial history, and taken together, one would think they tell a particular story of American investing.

Start Fresh

I had never noticed the Times‘ feature “Fresh Starts” before this Saturday. Apparently it’s a monthly column about “emerging jobs and job trends.”  I had no idea.  Anyway, the job that emerged this Saturday was one near and dear to SNY: digital archivist (or digital asset manager, or digital preservation officer, take your pick).

You can bank between $70,000 and $100,000 — and that’s just in the public sector — and, if the Times is to be believed, people are hiring! So if you’re one of the thousands millions who’ve lost your job, give it a read.

If you’re one of the thousands of entrenched librarians or archivists who went in to library science or archival preservation because you wanted to deal with actual paper objects housed inside buildings of brick and mortar, well,  just pretend I never brought it up.

An Experimental Eviction

The Times has had a flurry of collecting, and even archiving, stories lately, so I plan on catching up over the next few posts.  Let’s work backwards for now.

Today’s story concerns the impending homelessness of the Film-Makers’ Cooperative, an experimental cinema group that maintains 5,000 films, by 900 different artists, on the thirteenth floor of P.S.1 in Queens.

The museum is giving the 8,200 square feet to a fledgling radio project called Art International Radio, which plans to produce poetry, music and theater in the space.

Now, does one of these seem drastically more important than the other? Personally, I call it a draw.  Both are fighting the good fight for non-commercial art. So, why is the Film-Makers’ Cooperative, and its archive, being unceremoniously ushered out?

Well, the Times doesn’t say.  But it does say that the founder of Art International Radio, Allanna Heiss,  happens to be the founder of P.S.1, who happened to serve as executive director of the museum until last year.

And while some on both sides are giving the usual cliches about a compromise, the Times has this gem from Ms. Heiss:

“I have enormous respect for the co-op, and we hope we can work together in the future,” she added. “When it moves, it should move very carefully.”

As in, don’t let the door hit you on the way out  and make you  drop all your precious little experimental movies.  No word yet on whether that compromise has been struck to let them use the elevator.

Regarding the Pain of Others

The Museum of Jewish Heritage hosted a fascinating discussion last night based on the Susan Sontag book Regarding the Pain of Others.

Each of the presenters had an interesting take on how photos of atrocities — from Cambodia to September 11th — should, or should not, be made public.  In short, such photos educate us on the effects of war; they can provoke social change; and censoring them in the name of good taste can be a method of government control.

But the most interesting part of the panel was a rift that developed between Clifford Chanin, a senior program adviser to the 9/11 Memorial Museum, and Sidney Schanberg, a former Times reporter and photographer in Cambodia.

Chanin made the case that some images can be so traumatizing that they defeat the purpose of showing them in the first place.  In short, the photograph’s function — to bear witness to an event — is lost if the viewer shuts down psychologically.

Schanberg was skeptical.  He seemed to think that a little trauma was a good thing, a motivating factor that might shock people into caring, but wouldn’t paralyze their ability to process the photo, nor do them any long-term psychological damage.

A questioner wondered whether the source of their disagreement was rooted in the different functions of museums and the media.  That’s possible, of course, but I tend to think it’s even more simple.

September 11th was a traumatizing moment for Americans, and particularly, New Yorkers, so in Chanin’s case there is a very real, latent trauma that might be easily activated by some of the terrifying photos from that morning.  In Schanberg’s case, he felt his charge with the Times was to make people see what was happening — to traumatize them into caring about atrocities that were a world away.

I wonder if Schanberg would have felt differently about a display of Cambodia atrocities in Cambodia, or if Chanin might view the potential for psychological trauma to be less acute were he displaying photos of 9/11 outside either New York or America.

A Birthday that Predates Us All


Inside the meta-library

Happy 125th to the Grolier Club.  If you haven’t been by to see their exhibition documenting the club’s history, I’d recommend you stop by.  And ask to peek in the library while you’re there…