Archiving, Preservation, and History: Eric Wakin on EconTalk
By Amy Willis
What does an x-ray of Hitler’s skull have in common with a jar of Ronald Reagan’s jelly beans? They are both part of the Hoover Institution archives. And they remind us of our human attraction to the material, a consideration important in the world of archiving.
EconTalk host Russ Roberts sat down this week with Hoover Institution archivist Eric Wakin, who indeed tried to acquire the shipwrecked Lusitania for the collection. The Lusitania examples raised fascinating questions about the nature of property rights… While an individual purports to own the wreck, the government of Ireland, near whose shores the wreck lies, must give him permission to dive to his property. So who can own a shipwreck? And why is access to Hitler’s dental records of value? (Or Reagan’s astrological charts or jelly beans, for that matter…) These are just some of the questions that piqued my interest in this week’s episode.
I also found the distinction Wakin draws between the mission of libraries and archives very interesting. Certainly the former take a much longer term perspective. Their emphasis, according to Wakin, is on access, rather than use, as would be a library’s. The rather specialized focus of Hoover’s archives was also interesting…I admit I, too, forget that the institutions full name is the Hoover Institution for War, Revolution, and Peace. You can access much of the archives online, though have a listen to this week’s episode, and you’ll get a feel for just how much you’re missing.