Tuesday, August 02, 2011

The Road Warrior's Tales
from the Archives
(by Brenan Smith, M.A. Candidate in History)

Richard Nixon Library

Despite my hopes that I had mastered the art of archival research while at the Eisenhower Library, I soon learned that one always has more to learn. 

On the second research trip, for example, I discovered that while the Richard Nixon Library does indeed have more documents related to Richard Nixon than the Eisenhower Library, it has much tighter controls.  There's probably a joke about a paranoid need for control in there somewhere.

Still, I was able to conduct lots of research; I scanned an average of 858 pages per day of research.  While in Abilene, I had found that on a short research trip (as they generally are, given research funding constraints) it is easiest to find things that might be of use and scan as many of them as possible.

But in L.A. there were several complex layers added to this process.  The Nixon Library's protocol is that the researcher present the files within the folders within the boxes that s/he would like to scan before actually scanning them.  If that sounds complicated, that's because it is.  According to a fellow Canadian who was also at the Library, it was "the most ridiculous policy" that he'd ever encountered.

Another key lesson that I learned (after "know thy protocol") is that being extra polite, combined with some level of feigned (not so feigned?) helplessness, can go a long way with archivists.  The archivists were friendly and helpful -- and with each passing day, my research became easier.

And so ended my first two research trips.  I had lots of fun and discovered all sorts of great information, although some of it might only amuse other historians in my field.  I have a newfound respect and admiration of the American Interstate system (N.B. Dwight Eisenhower created it!) and I became ever more enthusiastic about my topic even as the gads of information that I gathered have made me start to worry about fitting it all in to one tiny thesis.
Fountain outside Richard Nixon Library