The shot heard round the world

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One hundred years ago today in Sarajevo, Gavrilo Princip assassinated the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie.  Princip was part of an organization called the Black Hand that wanted Serbia to become independent from Austria-Hungary, whose heir to the throne was the Archduke.  Austria-Hungary presented a lengthy ultimatum to Serbia on July 23, 1914; although Serbia conceded to most every demand by Austria-Hungary, it was not enough to satisfy Austria-Hungary, which declared war on Serbia exactly one month after the assassination.  As alliances involving Russia, Germany, France, and Great Britain kicked in, the so-called Great War began.

The media has given much attention to this centennial in recent weeks.  In case you’ve missed it, some examples include this story NPR did on All Things Considered and an article in the New York Times.  The element that I find most interesting from the perspective of archives is the variety of ways in which Princip’s action have been interpreted over time, with some holding him up as a hero and others labeling him as a terrorist.  But rather than worrying about how documents might be interpreted in the future, I think it’s more important for the profession to focus on the records scheduling, arrangement and description, and reference service that provide the invaluable context necessary for patrons to be able to interpret the records for themselves as time unfolds.  Political priorities and cultural sensitivities have a way of changing, and as I’ve pointed out in earlier posts, many argue that it’s impossible for archivists to be completely objective.  So it’s vital for there to be some fundamental principles that shape our work, and the Society of American Archivists has done a good job of defining those in its Core Values.  Prioritizing accountability and preservation and service will go a long way toward guaranteeing that necessary records will be available for generations to come.

As a result of his actions in Sarajevo in 1914, Gavrilo Princip was imprisoned at Terezin and died in April 1918 of tuberculosis.  This camp in the current day Czech Republic was used by the Nazis during World War II as a labor camp and a transit camp for European Jews who were sent on to death camps at other locations.


cell at Terezin

Princip’s cell at Terezin



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Archives and libraries are always in need of more funds, and here’s a new fundraising program that’s been implemented.  I’m sure they’re still accepting outright donations, but the Duke University Libraries have also begun an Adopt-a-Book program, whereby supporters can “adopt” a rare book that is in need of conservation.  In return, the new adoptive parents will receive an electronic bookplate, added into the item’s catalog record.  And, at least thus far, the donors are also listed at the bottom of the information page linked above.

While people have long been able to donate money to buy books for libraries, this fundraiser with a focus on conservation is an interesting twist.  The Smithsonian Libraries seem to have a similar program in place.

International Archives Day

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In 2007, the International Council on Archives (ICA) voted to establish June 9th as International Archives Day — a date chosen because the ICA was created under the auspices of UNESCO on June 9, 1948.  According to the ICA, the purposes for International Archives Day are to:

  • Raise awareness among the public of the importance of records and archives, in order to make it understood that records and archives provide the foundation for their rights and identity;
  • Raise the awareness of senior decision makers of the benefits of records management for good governance and development;
  • Raise public, private, and public sector awareness of the necessity of preserving archives for the long-term, and of providing access to them;
  • Promote and bring to the attention of the larger public unique, extraordinary, and rare documents preserved in archival institutions;
  • Improve the image of records and archives and enhance their visibility globally.

For examples of how the day was celebrated around the world, visit the International Archives Day web site.

The State Records Office of Western Australia has an interesting post about records of convicts who were shipped from the British Isles in the 19th century.

And here’s a news story about activities that took place in Beijing.


That these dead shall not have died in vain

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“The tragedy of loss is not that we grieve, but that we cease to grieve, and then perhaps the dead are dead at last.”

— poet Gabriel Dauntsey in P.D. James’ Original Sin (1994)

If he had not been so busy as a lawyer and a politician, Abraham Lincoln probably would have been a good archivist.  The Society of American Archivists asserts that “the primary task of the archivist is to establish and maintain control, both physical and intellectual, over records of enduring value.”  The title of today’s post — borrowed from Lincoln — certainly reflects an effort to preserve some purpose from the deaths of so many thousands of soldiers on the battlefield at Gettysburg (albeit not by preserving records).

These sorts of sensibilities have led me to a career as an archivist and have made me more attuned to actions that threaten history and memory.  The build-up to the 25th anniversary of the protests at Tiananmen Square has been one such example.  The protests in 1989, led by students and other activists who desired a more open society in China, spawned an aggressive silencing on the part of China’s communist party.  The number of people who died as a result of the military response has never been officially corroborated.  A search for “June 4” in the primary Chinese Internet search engine results in a message that says: “According to policies from relevant laws and regulations, part of the search results cannot be displayed.”  William Nee, a researcher for Amnesty International, has characterized the actions of the Chinese government as “an attempt at forced amnesia.”

Gate of Heavenly Peace

Gate of Heavenly Peace

I had the opportunity to travel to China in 1997 and visited Tiananmen Square.  The combination of buildings and monuments that comprise this square is fascinating:

  • Great Hall of the People, where the National People’s Congress meets
  • Mao Zedong Mausoleum, which has housed his remains since his death in 1976
  • Museum of Chinese Revolution/Museum of Chinese History — closed from 1966 to 1978 as Chinese history was being reassessed
  • Gate of Heavenly Peace — built in the 15th century and the place at which Mao announced the creation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949
  • and in the center of it all, the Monument of the People’s Heroes, completed in 1958

Our guide, who was of course an employee of the government, explained to us at Tiananmen Square that the workers and peasants didn’t join the students during the “June incident” for several reasons: the country had recently emerged from the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution; the Chinese people already had some freedom to criticize; and the Chinese already had a decent standard of living.  Yet his willingness to acknowledge the questionably scant numbers the government claimed to have been killed or arrested during the crackdown made me believe dramatic change in China was coming sooner rather than later.

In his acceptance speech for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, Liu Xiaobo commented, “Even in the political arena, where progress is slowest, the weakening of the ‘enemy mentality’ has led to an ever‑growing tolerance for social pluralism on the part of the regime and substantial decrease in the force of persecution of political dissidents, and the official designation of the 1989 Movement has also been changed from ‘turmoil and riot’ to ‘political disturbance.'”  Despite not being able to deliver this speech in person due to his imprisonment, Liu evidences hope for the future of human rights and freedom in China.  He concludes, “Freedom of expression is the foundation of human rights, the source of humanity, and the mother of truth.  To strangle freedom of speech is to trample on human rights, stifle humanity, and suppress truth.”

Unfortunately, optimism doesn’t equate to change.  An article published by McClatchy new service in early May details various lawyers, activists, and journalists that were being detained because of their efforts to remember the victims of the 1989 crackdown.  An article published by the Associated Press this week recounts the tribulations of family members who have wanted to commemorate the lives of those who died in 1989.

I am hopeful that change is coming.  But in the meantime, for Lincoln’s sake, we must continue to grieve the lost.

Maya Angelou

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Maya Angelou punctuates my memories of the 1990s.  She delivered an address to my incoming class at Duke, imploring us to recognize that our lives had already been paid for and challenging us to live in a manner that would have a positive impact on the lives of others.  This theme recurred in the poem that she delivered at Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration, “On the Pulse of Morning.”

After her death this week, NPR broadcast a recording of Angelou reading her poem “Still I Rise.”  As with so many of her writings, she shows her reader how to meet adversity with hope.  But it’s her commentary on rising above what’s written in history that speaks to me as an archivist — speaks to the importance of preserving voices so that, even when they are not immediately recognized, their gifts and dreams and hopes may some day rise.

If you’ve somehow overlooked this remarkable author, her official web site includes a biography, a useful annotated list of her books, a list of the films with which she was involved, and other media.  The New York Times posted an article that provides a thorough overview of her early life.  NPR also ran a full story this week.

In 2010 the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, part of the New York Public Library system, bought the papers of Maya Angelou.  (I cannot discover a finding aid online, so I assume this collection has not yet been processed.)  The New York Times article previously mentioned includes a short embedded video that interviews the director of the Schomburg.

I leave you with Angelou’s final tweet: “Listen to yourself, and in that quietude, you might hear the voice of God.”