Preserving the “Iraqi Jewish Archive”
Doris A. Hamburg
(Excerpts from the article in The Federalist, Fall 2013)
A little-known outcome of the 2003 war in Iraq was the discovery and rescue of a trove of books and documents from the Jewish community of Baghdad, which had been seized years earlier by Saddam Hussein’s intelligence service. The recovery of the more than 2,700 books and tens of thousands of documents from the flooded basement of the intelligence headquarters was all the more meaningful, as these materials connect to the rich past when Iraqi Jews were a vital and thriving segment of the Baghdadi population. After 2,500 years of a vibrant and influential history in ancient Babylon and modern-day Iraq, today all Jews are essentially gone from Iraq.
After laying out the books and documents to dry in the sun, they were packed into 27 metal trunks. In the heat and humidity of Baghdad, the wet and damp books and documents, unfortunately, became very moldy. At that point, the 27 trunks were transferred to the Coalition Provisional Authority, which consulted with a number of experts and also requested guidance and an assessment by preservation experts from the National Archives.
The National Archives sent Doris Hamburg, Director, Preservation Programs, and Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler, Chief, Conservation Lab, to Baghdad to assess the preservation and conservation needs of the books and documents. Upon their return to the United States, the National Archives provided recommendations to the Vice President and to the Secretary of Defense, and was requested to undertake the preservation project. Efforts at the time to identify options for drying the materials in Iraq or the region were not successful, and so it was decided, with the agreement of Iraqi officials, that the materials should come to the United States for preservation and exhibition. Funding for the project would be provided to the National Archives.
To determine what the next steps would be in preserving these materials and eventually sharing them with a wider public, a panel of subject-matter experts met in May 2010 to discuss preservation priorities for the collection.
The subject-matter experts endorsed the following recommendations, which provided the conceptual framework for the National Archives to develop the final phase of the Iraqi Jewish Archive preservation and access plan. This approach ensures that the unique information from the Jewish community in Baghdad can be broadly shared, while utilizing limited resources wisely. Their recommendations included that
- • all documents be digitized and be made available online
- • selected books that are important due to content or rarity be digitized and made available online
- • a listing of the collection that had been in the intelligence headquarters be maintained to reflect the community and historical events of the period, and
- • the exhibition depict the history of the Iraqi Jewish community and the preservation of the collection.
The final phase of the IJA project got underway with the award of $2.97 million in 2011 to the National Archives to complete the following steps of the project in 2014:
- • stabilize books and documents for digitization
- • digitize the documents and priority books
- • develop a website and post the images online
- • plan and mount the exhibition
- • pack and ship the books and documents to Iraq
- • provide fellowships for Iraqi conservators to work alongside conservation staff at the National Archives, and in support of the long-term care of the collection in Iraq.
The two-year project, which is being staggered over three years, taps a dedicated staff hired for the project; staff includes conservators, conservation technicians, imaging specialists, imaging technicians, a project manager, a librarian, and translators. The collection cataloguing information, digitized images, exhibition, the story of the preservation and the resources developed by the project team will be available online at www.ija.archives.gov. The exhibition “Discovery and Recovery: Preserving Iraqi Jewish Heritage” will be on display October 11, 2013, through January 5, 2014, at the O’Brien Gallery of The National Archives Building in Washington, DC.
Doris A. Hamburg is the Director of Preservation Programs at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland.
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1940 Census Released Online
The National Archives released the 1940 U.S. census online on April 2, 2012, at http://1940census.archives.gov/. This census is particularly valuable as a snapshot of the population as it was emerging from the Great Depression and about to enter World War II.
The population for the 48 states in 1940 was 132 million, and that enumeration asked many questions particularly related to work and income. Such questions, it was thought, would help government policy makers. Aside from the basic questions of place of birth, age, level of education, and marital status, it asked some new questions, including the following:
∙ “If not, was he at work on, or assigned to, public EMERGENCY WORK (WPA, NYA, CCC, etc.) during week of March 24–30? (Yes or No)”
∙ “Was this person SEEKING WORK? (Yes or No)”
∙ Number of hours worked in week of March 24–30, 1940
∙ “Duration of unemployment up to march 30, 1940—in weeks”
∙ Number of weeks worked in 1939
∙ “Amount of money wages or salary received (including commissions)”
The Archives scanned the census pages through a partnership with Archives.com, a total of 3.8 million images. The web site allows full access to the 1940 census images, in addition to 1940 census maps and descriptions. The census is not yet indexed by name, so the search must be done by location or enumeration district. Name indexing will be available later through partnerships with Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org,
This census release is the first one online, involved the scanning of over 4,000 rolls of microfilm, and constitutes the largest collection of digital information ever released by the Archives.
The Archives’ web site could not at first keep up with the demand, receiving about 100,000 hits every second. “In the first three hours, we had 22.5 million hits on the site,” National Archives and Records Administration spokeswoman Susan Cooper told the Los Angeles Times.
The Historical Office of the Department of Labor has recently posted online the minutes of the 1933 Special Industrial Recovery Board (SIRB) meetings. The board was established by President Franklin Roosevelt immediately upon passage of the National Industrial Recovery Act (June 16, 1933). The SIRB was charged with setting up the National Recovery Administration (NRA) and developing policies to jump start the nation’s economic recovery through fair competition and a public works program.
The Special Industrial Recovery Board met weekly from June until December 1933. After each weekly meeting, minutes were typed and distributed to Board members. On December 18, 1933, after only six months of service, the functions and duties of the Special Industrial Recovery Board were absorbed by a new National Emergency Council created by Executive Order 6513.
The proceedings of the SIRB meetings yield a great deal of varied and wonderful information. Through these minutes, you are able to watch the birthing process for the National Recovery Administration. You are also able to witness discussions of the many troublesome issues surrounding the codes of fair competition that were developed to regulate each separate trade and industry and through which businesses achieved the coveted “Blue Eagle.” The meetings also highlight the magnitude of the Great Depression. On September 6th, Harry Hopkins told the Board that at one time, America had 4,800,000 families on public relief, amounting to about 15,000,000 individuals. West Virginia was cited as having 35 percent of their population on relief and, in some areas, the number rose to 50 percent (Meeting 12, pages 12-13).
Key Board members included Daniel C. Roper, Secretary of Commerce; Homer S. Cummings, the Attorney General; Harold L. Ickes, Secretary of the Interior; Henry A. Wallace, Secretary of Agriculture; Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor; Lewis Douglas, Director of the Budget; Hugh S. Johnson, Administrator of the Industrial Control Act; Charles H. March, Chair of the Federal Trade Commission. Other important New Deal figures also attended meetings upon request in order to provide specific information or argue a particular policy position. Often Board members heatedly debated procedures and policies from the perspectives of their own Departmental missions, but their determination to help the country recover from economic collapse unified them into a cohesive and productive unit. Their passionate desire to help echoes through comments such as the one by Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins when she spoke about alleged violations of the National Industrial Recovery Act, saying “…those little fellows like the macaroni manufacturer in Oshkosh get short shrift from the big men who, because of their advantages, are chosen to serve on the large policy-forming bodies. He is incoherent, not very articulate and not well educated… The Government must see that he gets justice even if he is unimportant” (Meeting 15, page 14).
Proceedings of the SIRB meetings can be found at: http://www.dol.gov/oasam/programs/history/1933-sirb.htm .
Additional resources relating to the history of the Department of Labor are located on the Historical Office web page at: http://www.dol.gov/oasam/programs/history/main.htm
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The Grace Tully Archive
The story of the recent release of the Tully Archive of documents from President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration presents some stark lessons for the history community, ranging from the protection of federal records to the awareness that we can never write a final history of an era.
This collection of documents recently released by the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library at Hyde Park, NY, was secretly held for decades by FDR’s last secretary, Grace Tully. As his confidante and friend, she held onto approximately 5,000 handwritten notes, memos, drafts, and letters that should have been included in and transferred with his official documents. Many of these were originally generated through dictation, later to be formalized. They include three groups of documents: FDR materials, documents maintained by Grace Tully, and others collected by FDR’s previous secretary, Marguerite “Missy” LeHand.
The documents include a June 1933 letter from Mussolini to FDR; the handwritten, first draft of FDR’s 1938 State of Union address; Joseph P. Kennedy’s letter to Marguerite LeHand, October 3, 1939; FDR’s draft note (“chit”) to Harry Hopkins about the public works programs, July 6, 1935; the president’s “chit” listing of “Must” legislation for 1935, May 31, 1935; a letter from Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd to Grace Tully, April 5, 1945; FDR’s “chit” regarding promotion of George C. Marshall to brigadier general, ca. 1936; FDR’s note from Cairo to Grace Tully, November 6, 1943; FDR’s draft of a telegram to President Hoover, 1932; and much more.
These documents would have been useful to historians over the decades, but there were few clues to their existence. Tully did draw facts from the documents in her brief memoir, F.D.R, My Boss, but the Roosevelt papers had not been opened yet (mid 1950s), so her book caused no stir. Upon her death in June 1984, the collection apparently passed to her sister, and then years later to Guernsey’s Auction House in New York City. It changed hands, and in 2001, the collection was acquitted by Hollinger International Corporation for $8 million. Hollinger’s Chief Executive Officer Lord Conrad Black was an FDR collector, and he published a book titled Franklin D. Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom (Public Affairs, 2003), citing documents from his collection. After financial difficulties, Hollinger changed its name to Sun-Times Media Group, after which the documents were offered at auction at Christie’s. The auction house contacted the Roosevelt Library pointing to certain items they might find interesting, as they hoped to divide the collection to boost sales price. The Library acted with the National Archives Office of the General Counsel to stop the sale and to plan how to retrieve the collection for the government, where it belonged.
Under an agreement, the collection was boxed, sealed, and deposited at the FDR Library until the case was decided by the court or resolved through negotiations. Finally, it was agreed that an act of Congress would allow the Library to receive the collection as a gift, and allow the Sun-Times Media Group a tax donation. Bankruptcy proceedings against the company threatened the deal, but the court allowed the donation to proceed. On June 30, 2010, the FDR Library was able to take possession of the materials and open the Tully Archive.
The Library has digitized this collection and made it fully available online. The finding aid is posted at www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu. Full information on this collection is at http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/archives/collections/tully.html
This fascinating episode exemplifies the fragility as well as excitement surrounding historical evidence. As historians, we recognize the absolute necessity to protect the evidence, and in the case of federal records, to maintain the legally specified transfer of government documents. Here, in that unique, secretive space between executive and secretary, Tully chose to view certain documents as personal property. She hoarded those materials, perhaps loosely considering them to be unofficial materials. Nevertheless, they were part of the president’s executive records. We’ve come a long way, as the papers of presidential advisors and White House personnel are regularly deposited in the presidential libraries. However, the opportunities for siphoning off such materials still exist, and do occur. We must be vigilant about such possible hidden collections, and recent controversies, such as those of the Bush administration’s e-mail files, again highlight these concerns.
Also, as historians, we welcome the release of new documents that will allow more detailed insights into past events and personalities. In this way, we have to think of our narratives as somewhat tentative, open to reanalysis, for we don’t know what new evidence can suddenly find the light.
— Benjamin Guterman
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Modern Records Preservation
The preservation of modern, digital records is perhaps the greatest challenge to archives at all levels of government. In large part this is because of the rapidly changing nature of electronic records as new programs and formats are created. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) faces this challenge more urgently than any other repository because of both the sheer volume of records it accessions and for the range of formats it sees.
Arian D. Ravanbakhsh of the National Archives’ Electronic Records Management (ERM) policy team wrote in The Federalist that his unit develops guidance for the other government agencies that are required to send their records to NARA. That guidance, he wrote, “advises agencies to select formats for their electronic records that are sustainable,” allowing both NARA and the agency “the best chance for preserving the electronic records for future researchers.” “Characteristics of sustainable formats,” he noted, “include that they are self-documenting, publicly available, non-proprietary, in widespread use, and that they can be opened, read, and accessed using readily available software.”
The early electronic records NARA received in the 1970s were in the form of database systems that could be “easily migrated into a sustainable format.” However, newer electronic formats pose far greater challenges. As a result, NARA has had to devise instructions for dealing with such formats as e-mail with attachments, scanned image of textual records, digital photographic records, records created in Portable Document Format (PDF), digital geospatial records, and web content records. Two federal agencies have very successfully preserved their records using this guidance: the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Communications Commission.
The ERM team must constantly update its guidance. It has done so with such publications as Frequently Asked Questions About Instant Messaging and Implications of Recent Web Technologies for NARA Web Guidance. These products and additional information are on the NARA web site at http://www.archives.gov/records-mgmt/initiatives/erm-guidance.html
Electronic Records Archives (ERA) Ordered to Halt Development
The Electronic Records Archives (ERA) was ordered to stop further development by October 1, 2011. It will not be able to fulfill the grand plans officials had for it in 2001 when they envisioned it as an advanced preservation system that would store electronic records from all formats and make them accessible to researchers. The system, funded by Congress, was a response to the constantly increasing quantity and complexity of electronic records generated by government agencies and ultimately to be deposited in the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).
The Office of Management and Budget ordered the end of the development stage after years of delays and poor oversight. The developer, Lockheed Martin, had met approximately 60–70 percent of the program requirements, and a January 13 report by the Government Accountability Office estimated that full completion would not be achieved until 2017, five years beyond the original plan. The resulting costs, it predicted, would be about $1.2 billion, much higher than planned.
NARA’s 2001 contract to Lockheed Martin for $317 million specified development of a multi-leveled system conceived to receive records from agencies, preserve them, and make them available to the public. But the execution was marred by lateness, cost overruns, unclear specification of functions to be delivered, and poor review methodologies and processes. System requirements were also uncertain, in some cases still being negotiated with Lockheed Martin. In addition, current government budget cutbacks will reduce the funds available for the program. With the order to stop development, maintenance costs for the limited system are estimated to run about $30 million per year.
The archival demands of these records are enormous with NARA now holding about 97.4 terabytes of electronic records. It’s estimated that incoming images of the 2010 Census will add 488 terabytes, and classified military records from the Iraq war will approach 40 terabytes.
Now, NARA will focus on operations, perfecting the current, limited functions for the system. All agencies will be required to use the system by October 2012 for submitting permanent electronic records scheduled for transfer. This process has started with three agencies: the Department of State, Justice Department, and Health and Human Services Department. There will be web access for viewing and ordering copies of documents and images, but search capabilities will be limited.