Publication Date

April 6, 2020

Perspectives Section

News

Post Type

Advocacy

The American Historical Association sent several letters to both the United States National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and the Government of the French Republic as archives at home and abroad face crises of censorship, preservation, and equitable access. In response to President Donald Trump’s January threat to launch military strikes against Iran’s cultural sites, the Association also issued a statement decrying the use of the world’s historical sites in warfare.

Letter to NARA Regarding Alteration of Photograph 

The American Historical Association resolutely objected to the alteration of a photograph on exhibition at the National Archives Museum. Addressing David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, executive director James Grossman praised NARA for acknowledging this error in professionalism and judgment. However, urging a systemic review of practices, Grossman articulated underlying concerns about the policies in place and the dangerous precedent of deliberately distorting the historical record.

AHA Statement Condemning the Use of Historical Sites in Warfare 

On January 21, the AHA Council issued a declaration condemning “the use of historical sites anywhere in the world as targets for destruction and as shields for protection,” reiterating that such actions violate international law. More than a dozen organizations have backed this refusal to allow vital cross-cultural and transnational histories to be used as political pawns in conflict.

Letter of Concern about the Proposed Closure and Sale of the NARA Facility in Seattle 

In late January, Grossman asked the Office of Management and Budget and Public Buildings Reform Board to defer their decision recommending the sale of the National Archives and Records Administration facility in Seattle, Washington, until further consultation with agencies, academics, and other stakeholders can be conducted at length. The letter to Russell Vought, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, emphasizes the importance of local access to the millions of records detailing the federal court histories of Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, dating back nearly two centuries.

Letter of Concern about Risks of NARA Policy Regarding Electronic Records 

Grossman also wrote to Ferriero of the National Archives and Records Administration to address the organization’s new policy that all federal agencies transition to digital management of the entirety of their permanent records by the end of 2022. While recognizing the long-term legitimacies of this electronic transition, cause for concern arises from the hasty timeline, lack of funding to complete this directive, and absence of an enforcement or implementation standard. The AHA seriously cautions against overwhelming agencies with this undue and infeasible burden and recommends a more thorough study of the effects of this policy.

AHA Sends Letter to French President Emmanuel Macron with Concerns about Unclear Procedures for Declassification of Archives

In response to nebulous declassification policy changes at Vincennes and elsewhere in France, Mary Lindemann sent her first advocacy letter as AHA president to French president Emmanuel Macron. Lindemann championed the right of students and scholars to have access to valuable primary source documents rendered largely inaccessible in light of the uncertain changes. The Association implores the French government to hone its procedures and timeline for declassification in a clear and concise manner that ensures continued access by all interested parties.

Devon Reich is operations and marketing assistant at the AHA.

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