ARCHIVISTS AND HISTORIANS:

The Times They Are A-Changin'*

PATRICK M. QUINN
To paraphrase John Donne: No archivist is an island; we are all
influenced by the swirl of social forces all around us. Our job is to
interpret, understand and anticipate those forces so that we might
have some control over them, both as human beings and as archi-.
vists. Archivists, like auto workers or carpenters, or for that matter,
most workers, have a tendency to internalize their work experiences.
Work by its very nature engenders and fosters parochial and provincial
attitudes and outlooks. Not looking beyond the confines of his
or her archives, the archivist is concerned primarily with the day
to day requirements of the job. Just as it is difficult for the auto
worker to transcend the confines of tightening the same nut with
monotonous regularity and visualize his or her role in the entire
production process, or a carpenter to place the house she or he is
building in the context of providing decent housing for the people
of a nation, archivists, too, have necessarily found it difficult to
conceptualize the historical and societal framework of their role.

The nation has recently emerged from a particularly turbulent period
in American history. The 1960s witnessed a massive unleashing of
social forces concerned with the issues of minority oppression, the
war in Southeast Asia, and the struggle of women to achieve full
equality in modem society. We all shared the experience of the
sixties and are familiar with the decade's impact both on our own
personal lives and our profession. In this context, it is important to
keep in mind that the modem American archival profession also had
its birth in a decade of turbulent social change-the 1930s. While
the archival profession was indeed well established in Europe and
embodied literally centuries of tradition, experience and theory, the
American continent was a relative archival desert until the thirties.
To be sure, exemplary research repositories did exist, such as the
State Historical Society of Wisconsin, and the Library of Congress,
but the archival profession itself was fragmented and dispersed. The
national government had no systematic archives, most universities
had none; what collections that did exist were administered by librarians,
historians and well-intentioned amateurs.

The crash of 1929 and the social crisis that ensued engendered
massive unemployment among most strata of society. The turbulent
times created a situation which coalesced the embryonic archival
profession into a distinct entity in its own right, forged a cadre of
archivists who would lead our profession for the next 30 years,
stimulated a project which provided archival jobs for thousands of
unemployed academics and students, and established a national
archives to house the records of a nation.

The social crisis of the 1930s posed as its solution the alternatives
of reform or revolution. Through the implementation of the New Deal,
the former alternative prevailed. The Roosevelt administration was
faced with the harsh reality of millions of unemployed workers understandably
quite discontent with their condition. Attempting to stave
off this discontent, the administration initiated a large scale program
of public works. Most of the jobs created were manual and consisted
chiefly of civic and community improvement projects. Special consideration,
however, was given to students and unemployed members
of the academic community who constituted a potentially explosive
social layer. Federal art, writing and theatre projects were established
both to absorb the creative energies of their participants and provide
them with subsistence wages. For members of the historical profession,
the Historical Records Survey of the Works Progress Administration
was established. Young historians and history students were dispatched
to conduct a monumental survey of the extent, condition, and
location of the records of the country.

From the Historical Records Survey project emerged a generation
of historians-turned-archivists who had learned their. trade in the field.
Similarly, with the establishment of the National Archives in Washington
in the mid 1930s, a corps of young unemployed historians
and graduate students were transformed through experiment and
experience into a cadre of archivists who would found the Society
of American Archivists. Many of these pioneering archivists eventually
became almost legendary giants in our profession.
The social turmoil in Europe led to the arrival of Dr. Ernst
Posner on the American archival scene. Dr. Posner personally embodied
the traditions, experience and theory of the European archival past
and, as such, would come to serve as both the bridge to long
established European archival practices and as the major theoretician
of the American archival craft.

The advent of World War II pulled the country out of the
depression and created the need for new archivists to cope with the
rapidly accumulating records of the Army, Navy, and War Departments,
the Office of Strategic Services, and other war-related agencies.
Many' young archivists who completed their apprenticeships during
the New Deal period, moved into these new positions, gaining further
experience in the process.

With the war's end in 1945, a quarter century of unparalleled
prosperity unfolded. A rapidly expanding American economy created
the need for literally millions of college-educated personnel. As a
consequence, we witnessed a veritable explosion in higher education,
visibly manifested by the development of the mass public universities
and university systems.

This educational explosion had a greater impact on our profession
than any previous phenomenon. With the educational expansion came
thousands of new jobs in the history profession, a geometric increase
in historical research, and a commensurate need for facilities for the
care of the raw materials of historical research. As the universities
themselves expanded, a need was created for the systematic preservation,
organization and servicing of their own official records. Some
corporations, flush with new wealth generated during the post-war
prosperity, began to give serious attention to their records, providing
ample financing and staffing for newly established corporate
archives.

During the late 1960s, as the economy began slowing do~-federal
funds became more difficult to obtain. The Society of American
Archivists had begun to stagnate, with neither its numerical membership
nor its overall outlook reflecting the changes that had occurred
within the profession and in society as a whole. Both the Society
of American Archivists and the archival profession entered a transitional
period-a period spanning adolescence and maturity that
was marked by a generational turnover within the Society itself. A
new generation assumed leadership roles. The founding members of
the profession and the Society, the same generation forged by the
conditions of the thirties, gave way to a new generation shaped by
a different set of social conditions.

This new generation, represented by such individuals as Robert
Warner, Herbert Finch, Mary Lynn McCree, Philip Mason, and F.
Gerald Ham, began questioning some of the values and assumptions
of the founding generation of our profession. Many of these values
and assumptions while novel and innovative in their time, had become
encrusted, ossified, and impervious to changing reality during the
quarter century following World War II. Behind the McCrees,
Masons, and Hams loomed still a younger and even more strident
generation of archivists who had come to the profession during the
social upheaval of the 1960s. Together these two younger generations
began pushing the Society and the profession, not without resistance,
in the direction that it is moving today.

Many members of both new generations began drawing a number
of conclusions about the profession and the Society of American
Archivists:

(1) The SAA itself was stagnating in terms of its activities,
outlook and membership. It neither reflected the reality of the changing
profession nor adequately met the needs of its members.

(2) The SAA, led in part by a rather staid and closed group comprised
in the main of top-level administrators, National Archives
administrative personnel and an unusually large number of archivists
from Southern states who held rather traditional values, was seen by
many newer members as an elitist and undemocratic organization.

(3) The SAA was virtually lily-white in its composition and, with
but a few notable exceptions, women in the profession were not treated
as equals.

(4) Many traditional notions of what types of primary source
materials should be collected and from what sectors of the population
source materials should be solicited encouraged an elitist approach to
writing history, an approach that in effect ignored the history of
blacks and other minorities, women, working people and the poor.

(5) The national priority of spending public monies on foreign wars,
especially in Southeast Asia, instead of meeting the needs of Americans
for improved health care, housing, and educational and cultural
opportunities (including archives) was seen as a fundamentally wrong
priority, one that must be altered.

As these issues began to penetrate the hitherto impregnable walls
of the SAA, they were reflected in a number of ways, including:

(1) The Report of the SAA Committee on the Seventies which
initiated the process of democratizing the Society,

(2) The creation of the ad hoc SAA Committee on the Status of
Women in the Archival Profession which was charged with inquiring
into that question and, eventually, offering remedies for abuses extant
in the profession.

(3) Pressure placed upon the SAA to adopt a policy opposing discrimination
within the Society and the profession.

(4) The development of action groups within the SAA such as ACT
(Archivists For Action) and the emergence of newsletters such as the
New Archivist.

(5) The initiation of a campaign to recruit new members and secure
funds to support a full-time executive secretary for the SAA.

(6) The development of the regional archival organizations to meet
needs the SAA could not fill.

Many of these new ideas were by no means held by a majority of
either the SAA membership or practitioners of the profession. This
fact was perhaps best exemplified by the remarks of a respected
senior member of the profession at the 1974 SAA Annual Meeting
in Columbus, who objected to the fact that the SAA was getting too
large and wondered aloud about the credentials of the new members
who had recently joined.

Many of the problems and issues currently facing the profession
should be examined in the context of a generalized downturn in the
American economy., In short, the post-Vietnam War period of economic
expansion has run its course. This is said not as a prophecy of doom
but as a realistic observation of the fact that the American economy
no longer reigns unchallenged on the world market-Japanese and
German capital have become competitive and the American economy
is no longer artificially stimulated by the massive military expenditures
of the Vietnam War.

What implications will this new economic situation likely have for
archivists?

(1) An already tight job market will become tighter.

(2) Large-scale cutbacks in public expenditures for archival operations
can be expected. Archives, after all, in a non-expanding economy,
are a luxury. With the cutbacks will come layoffs and threats to job
security.

(3) For the next few years, at any rate, unemployed history Pills
will continue to compete with apprentice, on-the-job trained, archivists,
for the few jobs and promotions that become available.

(4) With the tight job market, no substantive change in the almost
exclusively white complexion of the profession will occur.

(5) The use of part-time students and other para-professionals in
order to cut costs will escalate. Such use of student help will
inescapably undercut jobs for full-time archivists.

(6) Salaries will barely keep pace with the rate of inflation; the
days of generous salary increases are over.

(7) Controversy over the right of privacy vs. the right of access to
our holdings will increase. Watergate is merely a foreshadowing of
things to come.

(8) Many archivists will militantly defend the gains they have
already made and actively seek further gains. Archivists, especially in
non-administrative, lower-paying positions, will begin to join trade
unions such as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal
Employees, the American Federation of Teachers, and the
American Federation of Government Employees in order to protect
themselves, simply because the profession, small as it is, packs no
real economic or political clout.

(9) The SAA, compelled by the new turn in events, by its increasingly
younger composition, and by pressure of regional groups such as MAC,
will seriously try to come to grips with some of the problems facing
the profession.

(10) The related phenomena of individuals becoming archivists by
default, and the archival profession comprised in the main of history
prelim flunkouts and librarians assigned to archival work against
their wishes, are over. The new archivist will be a person who consciously
and deliberately chooses to enter the profession. Criteria for
prospective archivists will be determined more and more by exigencies
of the economy combined with apprenticeship performance rather than
being based upon artificially imposed educational standards.
If in the past the historian has been the bricklayer and the archivist
the hod-carrier, the future will witness at least an equalization of
these roles. If the archival profession can manage to organize itself,
it will become a meaningful pursuit in its own right and not simply an
appendage of either librarianship or the pursuit of history. To achieve
this maturity it will be necessary for archivists to commence a dialogue
with colleagues in other fields-especially historians.

Prior to 1970 most archivists came to their chosen trade after
brief stopovers in the temple of Clio, but the relationship between
archivists and historians in the period following World War II has not
been particularly cordial. Most historians tended to view archivists
in the same manner as they did filling station attendants, while
archivists, especially those with history backgrounds who entered
the archival craft by circumstance or default, looked upon most "real"
historians with resentment and jealousy.

This situation was perhaps best articulated by W. Kaye Lamb, then
Dominion Archivist of Canada, in a paper presented at a joint
luncheon of the Society of American Archivists and the American
Historical Association in Washington, D.C., in 1961. Noting that to
historians "the archivist is essentially a hack, a hewer of wood and a
drawer of water," Mr. Lamb devoted the balance of his presentation
to an impassioned defense of archivists, calling upon them to shed
their collective archival inferiority complex.

The infamous "Lowenheim affair", involving scholarly access to
records at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library, exacerbated
the uncongenial relationship between archivists and historians.
Separated by a wall of mutual suspicion and narrow specialization,
archivists and historians, in many respects, became adversaries. The
longstanding European tradition of the archivist as historian-scholar,
as exemplified by Dr. Ernst Posner, virtually disappeared in the
United States by the 1970s.

Yet, ironically, two of the most important critiques of contemporary
archival practices in recent years have come from historians. In both
instances an historian came before the Society of American Archivists
with a trenchant criticism of commonly accepted archival theory and
practice and challenged the Society and its membership to transcend
narrow and parochial traditions and concerns and begin to implement
a wholly different approach to acquiring and making available the
records of our time.

Professor Howard Zinn of Boston University shocked and offended
many in his audience with a paper entitled "The American Archivist
and Radical Reform" presented at the 1970 Annual Meeting of the
Society of American Archivists in Washington, D.C. Zinn delivered
his paper at a session on "The Archivist and the New Left," chaired
by Frank Evans. The other panelists were Philip Mason of Wayne
State University and myself.

While Zinn' s paper most certainly was received with disdain by
many of those present, it was welcomed most enthusiastically by a
relatively small group of mainly younger archivists who thereafter
committed themselves to publicizing Zinn's views and persuading
their colleagues of the validity of his criticisms of the archival profession.
Largely as a consequence of Zinn's challenge, a small number of
archivists in San Francisco the following year for the 35th SAA Annual
Meeting founded ACT, an informal caucus dedicated to reform within
both the SAA and the archival profession. During the six years
since ACT was founded in 1971, many of its ideas and recommendations
have been adopted by the SAA.

At that same meeting in San Francisco, another historian ventured
into the archival den, offering a critique and challenge similar to
Zinn's. Professor Sam Bass Warner, Jr., then of the University of
Michigan, presented at the session on urban archives a paper entitled
"The Shame of the Cities: Public Records of the Metropolis" in which
he scored the deplorable state of urban archives in the United States
and called for a fundamental reassessment of all of the traditional
assumptions, notions, and practices connected with the acquisition,
preservation and research use of municipal archives. His views, in
large part, were echoed and reinforced by the other members of the
panel, including Dennis East, then of Wayne State University, and
Allen Weinberg of the City and County Archives of Philadelphia. The
session was chaired by Edward Johnson of the Florida Bureau of
Archives and Records Management.

Unfortunately, as it turned out, Warner's paper did not have the
same impact as Zinn's, in part because of the relatively small attendance
at the San Francisco meeting. Warner's plea, however, did not
go entirely unnoticed. F. Gerald Ham, in his SAA presidential
address given in Toronto in 1974 entitled "The Archival Edge,"
called attention to Warner's suggestions and urged that they be given
careful consideration.

Most archivists, however, have only heard about Zinn's and
Warner's papers. Few have had an opportunity to read either of them.
Warner's paper was never published and Zinn's appeared in a small
circulation journal not easily accessible to archivists. It is thus as a
service to the archival profession that the Midwestern Archivist is
including both Zinn' s and Warner's papers in this issue. I hope that
readers will consider these articles not merely as historical documents
but as contemporary guides for action, offered in good faith and with
good will. These colleagues from an allied profession had the courage
to disregard the arbitrary constraints that confine and circumscribe
academic disciplines. Their stimulating critiques and recommendations
present archivists with a challenge that warrants serious attention.

* An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Fall 1973
meeting of the Midwest Archives Conference in Madison, Wisconsin

From Midwestern Archivist Volume II, Number 2 1977 pp. 5-13.