What priorities decide how quickly things get processed and made available? Last night’s class discussion, centered, in part, on this prioritization of this goal. One of those priorities, of course, was political. This was particularly relevant when I stumbled upon this week’s New York Times article “9/11 White House Emails Capture History Through Modern Lens,” which you can read here: http://nyti.ms/1gbFvw4
The George W. Bush Presidential Library, managed by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), released several emails sent out the morning of 9/11 fourteen years ago. While many were not made public due to strict privacy and national security concerns, several were released that highlight some of the day’s initial shock.
NARA released the emails to The New York Times as the country commemorates the fourteenth anniversary of 9/11. The anniversary of 9/11 as well as its presence in very recent memory makes these emails a particularly relevant set of records in public discourse and collective remembering. I certainly have held the trope that scholars and historians are bulk of an archives’ visitors. But Frederic Miller’s “Use, Appraisal, and Research: A Case Study of Social History” on social historians’ use of archives has debunked that notion. Everyone accesses archives; scholars are just a minute percentage of users. (Miller 374).
The NYT article demonstrates that as well. Archivists are more visible than we think they are, so their audiences are far-reaching and ever-present. NARA’s decision to release these previously classified items indicates the politicization of processing and release. But it further indicates archivists’ participation in modern-day discourse and shaping of memory and national conversations.
While I wish I could say that I was in the board room meetings when NARA decided to release these records, I imagine that it was challenging and maybe even polarizing. However, I’m sure that these archivists were unanimous on their appraisal value, but how do we determine the value of other records that may at first look less immediately significant? I hope to explore this more as the class goes on!