From the Archives: GI Roundtable Revisited
Kenneth Colgrove, a professor of Political Science at Northwestern University, wrote to Guy Stanton Ford of the AHA in August 1945:
Many thanks for your letter of the fourteenth of August, and for the five copies of What Shall Be Done about Japan after Victory? which you sent me. You indicate that I am the author of this little pamphlet, but I need a microscope in order to find even a few sentences which I recognize as my own. Also, it seems to me the whole emphasis of the pamphlet has been radically changed. As a student of international affairs, I regret to see most of these changes, but, on the other hand, I fully realize how the Historical Service Board was handicapped by official views.
Colgrove had been commissioned to author a pamphlet on the fate of postwar Japan for the GI Roundtable series—a project sponsored by the War Department to provide citizenship training and diversion for GIs during the Second World War. Colgrove’s complaint was fairly common among series writers as they underwent an extended process of writing, editing, revising, and rewriting. Authors were commissioned on a subject in their field of expertise, and along with their $300 compensation they were charged to draft a document that would be deemed acceptable by peer reviewers, coordinators at the AHA, government bureaucrats, and the average GI. There was a divide in the series’ construction between “objective” scholars, and government reviewers trying to shape the pamphlets to fit predetermined agendas about winning the war and creating post-war domestic order. It would be fair to suggest that these “official views” (to borrow Colgrove’s phrase) were in fact government-sanctioned propaganda—though surely the kind that fostered “honest and aboveboard promotion of things that are good,” as the What is Propaganda? pamphlet suggests. This tug-of-war between scholar and bureaucrat sometimes triggered, as Colgrove bitterly expressed, the total rewriting of an author’s original work; not infrequently it led to the commissioning of a new writer altogether. Some pamphlets saw up to four separately commissioned authors before—and if—they were published (In the end, less than half of the commissioned pamphlets made it into print). Authors were not the only dynamic factor in the construction of the series. Some pamphlets went through multiple titles, including a pamphlet originally titled “Conciliation or Conflict” from the cancelled pamphlets section, which went through four unsatisfactory and unpublished designations.
While up till now the GI Roundtable website has lacked the names of pamphlet authors and/or revisers, the AHA staff delved back into the archives to fill this void. The GI Roundtable archives now list the original author commissioned, notable revisers (those who had a significant hand in shaping the content of the work), and when necessary subsequent authors of rewritten pamphlets. The identity of these authors puts a decidedly human face on the otherwise very official-sounding and “objective” pamphlets. Although sometimes pamphlets were so trimmed that the original authors’ work had vanished in the final copy, others were edited sparsely, giving the final draft a marked connection to the character and, perhaps, biases of the original author. The Titles in the Series page now displays the names and positions of these authors and revisers.
Also new to the GI Roundtable website is a page devoted to cancelled pamphlets. These pamphlets were often not ready for publication before the end of the war, though in some cases the delay stemmed from editorial struggles over controversial subject matter. The Cancelled Titles section does not link to digitized pamphlets because copyrights were returned to the original authors and are therefore unpublishable. Hopefully, the full list of intended titles, subjects, dates, and authors will provide a better view of the intended scope of the project and may inspire researchers to delve further into the original drafts, located among the AHA Papers in the Manuscript Reading Room at the Library of Congress. The cancelled pamphlets page and the expansion of the titles page will serve as useful guides for researchers studying the series and its relation to mid-twentieth century America and visions of the postwar world.
This post first appeared on AHA Today.
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