The Coalition Column

News Briefs, December 2010

Lee White, December 2010

Matthew Wasniewski Is the New House Historian

On October 20, 2010, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the appointment of Matthew Wasniewski as the new Historian of the House of Representatives. Wasniewski, who currently serves as the historian in the House Clerk’s Office of History and Preservation, received the unanimous recommendation of the House Historian Search Committee appointed by Speaker Pelosi with the input of House Republican Leader John Boehner who concurred on the appointment.

The appointment of Wasniewski follows the retirement of Robert Remini as House Historian earlier this year after serving for five years. Speaker Pelosi decided at that time to have a panel of distinguished historians conduct an impartial and professional search for the replacement, rather than simply rely on a Speaker appointment, as House rules permit.

National Archives to Put the Founders’ Papers Online

The National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), the grant-making arm of the National Archives, has announced a cooperative agreement with the University of Virginia Press to make freely available online the historical documents of the Founders of the United States of America.

The NHPRC and the press will create a new web site that provides access to the fully annotated published papers of key figures in the nation’s founding era. The project is designed to include the papers of George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and Benjamin Franklin. The National Historical Publications and Records Commission will provide funding in the amount of up to $2 million for the University of Virginia Press to undertake the work on the published papers.

Through this web resource, users will be able to read, browse, and search tens of thousands of documents from the founding era. A prototype web site including the contents of 154 volumes drawn from print editions of the papers of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison will be prepared by October 2011. The fully public version will be launched by June 2012 and will also include the 27 volumes of the Papers of Alexander Hamilton. By June 2013, Founders Online expects to add the 39 published volumes of the Papers of Benjamin Franklin. The new resource will include the complete contents of 242 printed volumes, including all of the existing document transcriptions and the editors’ explanatory notes.

In conjunction with entering into the cooperative agreement, Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero also announced the appointment of three leading scholars to a special Founding Fathers Advisory Committee. The three members are Edward L. Ayers, president of the University of Richmond and a leading scholar on the Civil War and the American South; Mary Beth Norton, professor of American history at Cornell University and a leading scholar on the social and political history of 17th- and 18th-century America; and David Hackett Fischer, professor of history at Brandeis University, who is a leading scholar on the colonial era and the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Washington’s Crossing (2004). The committee, which will advise the archivist on the progress of the founders’ papers editorial projects, is scheduled to meet at the National Archives on December 13, 2010.

Study Shows Dire State of Sound Recording Preservation and Access

Digital technology alone will not ensure the preservation and survival of the nation’s sound history. That is one of the findings in a major study released by the Library of Congress National Recording Preservation Board (NRPB) detailing the state of sound-recording preservation and access. “The State of Recorded Sound Preservation in the United States: A National Legacy at Risk in the Digital Age,” outlines the issues that threaten the long-term survival of America’s sound-recording history.

It also identifies the public and private policy issues that strongly bear on whether the nation’s most culturally and historically important sound recordings will be preserved for future generations.
The study was mandated by the U.S. Congress under the “National Recording Preservation Act of 2000” (P.L. 106-474) and is the first comprehensive study on a national level that examines the state of America’s sound-recording preservation ever conducted in the United States.

The report is available for purchase and as a free download at www.clir.org/pubs/abstract/pub148abst.html. Information for this study was gathered through interviews, public hearings, and written submissions. NRPB previously commissioned five ancillary studies in support of this final report, which will lay the groundwork for the National Recording Preservation Plan, to be developed and published later this year.

For more findings from the report, review the appendix at www.loc.gov/today/pr/2010/PR10-194SRstudyAppendixwithkeyfindings.pdf and the introduction/executive summary at www.loc.gov/today/pr/2010/CLIRpub148Intro.pdf.

New System for Searching Archival Finding Aids Unveiled

The Library of Congress recently unveiled a completely redesigned special collections search system to help researchers locate primary-source materials. The new search engine can be found at www.loc.gov/findingaids. Over 1,000 finding aids will now lead remote and on-site researchers to more than 32 million archival items in the Manuscript, Music, American Folklife, Prints and Photographs, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound, and other Library of Congress research centers.

Lee White is the executive director of the National Coalition for History. He expresses his gratitude to the National Security Archive and the Associated Press, on whose reports he has heavily relied for writing this article. He can be reached at lwhite@nationalhistorycoalition.org.