Publication Date

February 1, 1998

Update on the NEH

During his first month as chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, William R. Ferris indicated that he intends to build on existing programs and to make few programmatic changes. In an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, Ferris said that he would never advocate any particular approach to a field of study but would seek to accommodate disparate views on what is worthy scholarship. He hoped, he added, to bridge the gap between the warring factions in the culture wars. Ferris also discussed trying to revive some of the grant programs that have been reduced or eliminated, such as summer institutes for college and high school teachers and grants for university presses and museum exhibits.

Ferris plans to expand the role of the NEH through increased emphasis on the work of the NEH's Enterprise Office, which was created last year to promote partnerships with foundations and corporations. The NEH's recent EDSITEment project, which helps students, teachers, and parents in locating the best humanities sites on the Internet is an example that Ferris uses of how the endowment can work with the private and corporate worlds. There has been widespread praise and interest in EDSITEment, which is funded by MCI and has been developed as a joint venture between the NEH and the Council of the Greater City Schools. This site is accessible on the World Wide Web at

Classified Military Records on Cuba Released

The Assassination Records Review Board, an independent federal agency overseeing the identification, review, and release of records related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, released on November 18 approximately 1,500 pages of previously classified military records from 1962 to 1964 that relate to U.S. policy toward Cuba. According to Anna Nelson, a member of the review board and a professor of history at American University, these records "further expand the historical record by illustrating the United States government's deep interest in developing a policy that would force Castro from power during the early 1960s." She added, "We now have a new window into the policy options toward Cuba that were being considered and debated at the highest levels of the military services."

Update on NHPRC

Roger Bruns, acting executive director, reports the inclusion of National Historic Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) documentary history volumes in the United States Information Agency's (USIA) American Studies Collection. The USIA's panel of scholarly experts selected approximately 100 NHPRC volumes, at a cost of about $300,000, to be a part of the 1,300 volume set of current scholarship in American history, government, and culture. Sets of this core scholarship have been sent to 60 universities that have American Studies Programs in South America, Asia, Africa, and Europe. The intent of the USIA's American Studies Collection project is to provide foreign students, teachers, and scholars with the opportunity to increase their understanding of American history, politics, and culture. The NHPRC is a partner in the project. Bruns also has highlighted a recent analysis of the anticipated completion dates for the 41 documentary history editing projects funded by the NHFRC. He expects that 24 of the 41 projects will be completed in the next six years.

Destruction of Naval Laboratory Records to be Investigated

Responding to a letter from the chief of naval research regarding the tremendous loss suffered by the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) because of the destruction by the National Archives of records that the NRL considered of permanent historical value, Archivist John Carlin has ordered an investigation of the matter. "If the process is flawed, or the evaluation criteria are inadequate, then obviously the situation must be fixed," Carlin said. Additionally, Carlin stated that he would "be grateful for the Navy's cooperation in determining where the problem lies so that together we can take appropriate action."

Paul Gaffney, the chief of naval research, wrote to Carlin on November 13 stating that lithe historical record of our nation's scientific and technical heritage has suffered a serious and irreparable loss." The destroyed records included bound and numbered laboratory notebooks as well as 600 cubic feet of correspondence and technical memoranda that documented the work of the pioneers of American radar, path-breaking acoustic and oceanographic research, early sonar research, the first U.S. satellite program, and the early rocket-based astronomical research. Gaffney contends that the Naval Research Laboratory personnel received no notification of the National Archives' plan to destroy these records that they considered permanently valuable and which constituted the core of the agency's corporate memory. The major thrust of Gaffney's letter was "to understand how this great misfortune occurred and to devise a method of administration control that will prevent its reoccurrence. Gaffney proposed that the National Archives and the Navy Research Laboratory together "form an independent ad hoc advisory group to review the case of NRL's record destruction and to evaluate records disposal policies and processes."

Carlin contends that the records in question were destroyed "following procedures established years ago for evaluating naval laboratory records," and that Navy officials were consulted in the development of the disposition schedule. National Archives staff did not consider the material that was destroyed met "the tests for permanent value." Additionally, Carlin has pointed out that the Navy had been notified about the pending destruction and had "raised no objection."

Clearly the National Archives and the Naval Research Laboratory have different interpretations of the schedule for preserving and disposing of records and have different views on the notification process. Considering the divergent views of the two agencies, Gaffney's recommendation of an ad hoc independent review group seems useful. The American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, and the Society of American Archivists have indicated to Gaffney that they would be willing to recommend individuals who have the appropriate professional expertise to serve on such an independent review panel.

New Copyright Legislation Introduced

Representatives Dick Boucher (D-Va.) and Tom Campbell (R-Calif.) have introduced HR 3048, the Digital Era Copyright Enhancement Act. This bill not only provides for the implementation of the World Intellectual Property Organization's (WIPO) Copyright Treaties adopted in Geneva last December, but also addresses more comprehensively issues of fair use, first sale, and distance learning. On introducing this bill, Boucher said, "This legislation provides an historic opportunity for Congress to enact a comprehensive set of reforms to modernize our copyright law in a way that will spur creativity, advance the frontiers of education, and promote technological innovation." The bill would enable educators to use computers in the same way that they currently use television to foster distance learning Furthermore, Campbell has noted that the legislation would also mean that librarians would "be able to use the latest technology to preserve and to share great works of literature and scientific discoveries with their patrons." This legislation would protect the legitimate concerns of copyright owners by focusing on "infringing conduct" instead of using "circumvention devices" a strategy that is part of HR2281 and S1121, the legislation introduced earlier this year to implement the WIPO treaties.

The Boucher/Campbell legislation, HR3048, is similar in a number of ways to S1146, the Digital Copyright Clarification and Technology Education Act of 1997, which was introduced in the Senate by Senator John Ashcroft (R-Mo.) on September 3. Both HR3048 and 51146 are supported by the Digital Future Coalition and by many in the library, archival, and scholarly communities. A section-by-section analysis of HR 3048 may be seen at the Digital Future Coalition web site,

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