Earlier this week, the New York Times published an op-ed piece, “The New History Wars,” by American Historical Association Executive Director Jim Grossman. (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/02/opinion/the-new-history-wars.html?_r=0) Because Jim’s piece teed up an opportunity to note the essential role of archival records in education, Dennis Meissner, Nancy Beaumont, and I pulled together and submitted the “letter to the editor” below.
If the world stays calm, no movie stars get married, and no natural disasters occur, there is a very modest chance this might get printed. But despite the odds, it seemed worth a try. Because I have, and will continue, to challenge our members to get involved in raising awareness of archives, it seemed appropriate to let you know that I’m trying to do the same—to find positive and productive opportunities to draw attention to the many ways in which archival records and archivists contribute to the educational, social, and political conduct of our society. I’ll continue to look for chances to raise a voice on the value and importance of archives, and hope you’ll join me in speaking up about archives whenever we can!
Here’s the letter as submitted (with painful deletions to get it down to the required 175 words):
To the Editor:
The September 1 op-ed piece “The New History Wars” by James Grossman of the American Historical Association draws much-needed attention to the importance and value of America’s archival records as the core resource to support “an unvarnished picture of the past.” Expansion and refinement of our nation’s history is possible only because of increasing access to the essential evidence of the people, organizations, and events that (quite literally) make up our history. Scholars and educators increasingly are drawing on the reality demonstrated in our historical record instead of the pre-digested version presented in earlier textbooks and classroom approaches.
The Society of American Archivists, representing more than 6,200 individuals and institutions engaged in preserving the American record, encourages historians and educators to expand student engagement with primary sources so they experience various perspectives on past events and people and understand the context in which this documentation was created. Students will gain not just historical knowledge, but the capacity to think analytically, weigh fact and opinion, and form evidence-based conclusions – leading to a more informed and thoughtful citizenry.
Kathleen D. Roe, President
Society of American Archivists