New Tools for Men of Letters
This is the 1935 article published in the Yale Review, based on the memorandum “New Tools, New Recruits, for the Republic of Letters”, which Binkley wrote for the Joint Committee on Materials for Research the previous November. For the relationship between this version and the memorandum, see the posting “New Tools for Men of Letters: the Lost Paragraphs”. Binkley considered the memorandum to be the authoritative version, and called the Yale Review version “something of an abstract”. The Yale Review version is however the only one that was publicly accessible until June 2012, and is the version generally referenced.
The text of the memorandum: New Tools, New Recruits, for the Republic of Letters.
A note on the text: I transcribed it from the Selected Papers (if you find any remaining scanning errors please let me know). The page markers link to the corresponding pages of the facsimile at the Internet Archive. You can link to pages or paragraphs in this text by adding the appropriate fragment identifier to the url of this page: e.g. “#Y13” for a paragraph or “#p181” for a page (note: no period after the “p”).
Citation: Robert C. Binkley, “New Tools for Men of Letters”, Yale Review n.s. 24 (1935): 519–537, Reprinted in Selected Papers of Robert C. Binkley, ed. Max H. Fisch (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1948), pp. 179-197.
[Y1] There is taking place in the techniques of record and communication a series of changes more revolutionary in their possible impact upon culture than the invention of printing. With some of these techniques, notably those that depend upon electricity and include the telegraph, telephone, radio, teletype, and television, the world is already familiar, though what their total result will be we do not yet know. Others coming up in the graphic arts, based on the typewriter and photography and including “near-print,” micro-photography, and photo-offset, are less widely understood.
[Y2] These two series of innovations operate, or promise to operate, in contrary directions in their effects upon culture. The electrical devices, together with the moving picture and the modern developments in commercial publishing, tend to concentrate the control of culture and to professionalize cultural activities. Telegraph and teletype serve in this way for news, radio for music, and the “talkies” for dramatic entertainment. Meanwhile, printing has keyed literature to mass production, technologically by means of fast presses and machine papermaking, commercially by means of a union with advertising, both in the promotion of book sales and the sale of magazine space. The new graphic arts devices are, I believe, capable of working the other way—as implements for a more [p.180] decentralized and less professionalized culture, a culture of local literature and amateur scholarship.
[Y3] This possibility is especially important today, when electric power promises to develop the village at the expense of the metropolis, and when shorter working hours offer a prospect of leisure to a population of which an increasing proportion is being exposed to college education.
[Y4] The activities reorganized in the fifteenth century by the invention of printing, and now offered another reorganization by innovations in the graphic arts, affected bookmakers, authors, and readers. The technical processes of photo-offset and photogelatin printing disclose new prospects in bookmaking. Near-print frees the author from some present restraints upon him. And micro-copying opens a new world to readers.
[Y5] When the printers drove out the copyists in the fifteenth century, there was some loss as well as gain. Typography has never captured the sheer beauty of some of the medieval manuscripts, although the early printers often produced admirable effects by drawing for their type forms directly upon the rich tradition of the calligraphers’ craft. Today in certain ways artistic typography is again trying to draw closer to the art of calligraphy. In some of the finest type fonts, there are cast several slightly different forms of a single letter, used at random, so that the too faultless regularity of print may be in some measure offset. The modern typographic expert also tries to choose a type face that will seem to harmonize with the subject or style of a book. Yet it is evident that calligraphy can convey the author’s individuality in a manner beyond the reach of typography. Now the way has been cleared for the return of the manuscript book.
[Y6] This has been done by the photo-offset process, which transfers a text with black and white illustrations photographically to a sheet of zinc or aluminum in such a fashion that the metal sheet becomes a printing surface, laying down an image on a rubber roller, which transfers it to paper. This process has [p.181] received its widest application in advertising work, because it is adapted to the handling of combinations of pictorial and textual material without added expense. It costs no more to photograph a drawing than to photograph the same area of print. The process is also used extensively in reprinting old books, but it can equally well multiply copies of a manuscript, old or new. Photo-offset renders sharp black and white; the related photogelatin or collotype process, which renders gradations of tones from light to dark, is also used in reproducing old manuscripts. In Germany a newly founded “guild” has made a number of beautiful manuscript books and multiplied them by the photo-offset method. Since the necessary press and equipment are now available as a kind of office machine, and the handcraft of book binding is widely practiced, the whole sequence of processes involved in manufacturing manuscript books might be organized without using the equipment or sharing the overhead costs of the present publishing industry.
[Y7] The reader as well as the bookmaker found his world changed by the invention of printing. Books became more accessible. The first effect, in China in the Sung era as in the West in the fifteenth century, was to spread more widely the source books by which all intellectual activities were fed— the Chinese classics in the one case, and the basic Christian and Greco-Roman works in the other. So it became possible for the moderately wealthy man to possess what previously only princes or great religious establishments could afford—a fairly complete collection of the materials he desired.
[Y8] This happy position was destroyed in the nineteenth century by the flood of books and journals that accompanied specialization in all fields of learning. By their cost readers and scholars were for the most part forced to give up the attempt to make complete collections and turn, as in the days before printing, to the libraries of institutions. When this happened, the institutional library developed an administrative system of great efficiency, and by its detailed catalogue made its possessions [p.182] available to scholars and other readers within each. Research libraries in the country are spending about six millions of dollars a year for new acquisitions. The reader who now has all this material at his disposal is still profiting immensely from the increased accessibility given to reading matter by the invention of printing.
[Y9] Meanwhile the relation of the scholar-reader to the books on the library shelves has been changing. The body of documentation that was once the common ground of all learning and culture has lost its cohesion. And it has become a relatively unimportant element in the total bulk of publication. Today the Western scholar’s problem is not to get hold of the books that everyone else has read or is reading but rather to procure materials that hardly anyone else would think of looking at. This is, of course, the natural consequence of the highly specialized organization of our intellectual activity. As a result, so far as Western culture is concerned, the qualities of the printing process that began in the fifteenth century to make things accessible have now begun in our different circumstances to make them inaccessible. When many if not all scholars wanted the same things, the printing press served them. In the twentieth century, when the number of those who want the same things has fallen in some cases below the practical publishing point (American Indian language specialists are an illustration), the printing press leaves them in the lurch. Printing technique, scholarly activities, and library funds have increased the amount of available material at a tremendous rate, but widening interests and the three centuries’ accumulation of out-of-print titles have increased the number of desired but inaccessible books at an even greater rate. Scholarship is now ready to utilize a method of book production that would return to the cost system of the old copyist, by which a unique copy could be made to order and a very few reproductions supplied without special expense.
[Y10] Precisely this prospect is now presented by micro-copying. [p.183] The process promises to reproduce reading matter not only at a cost level well below that prevailing in the book trade but also under a cost system that will operate like that of the medieval copyists. This system is being tried out in recording the hearings of the National Recovery and the Agricultural Adjustment Administrations. The reports of these hearings constitute a very comprehensive body of useful information on contemporary business interests and practices. The non-confidential parts of the record run to 286,000 pages. It would cost more than half a million dollars to publish them in a printed edition. Since printing was found too expensive, the A.A.A. and the N.R.A. turned to hectograph and mimeograph, the so-called “near-print” processes. Purple-ink hectographed copies of the hearings were offered to libraries at two cents a page. At this rate the cost to a library of the full file of the hearings would have been more than $5,000. No library purchased a set at that price, though Trade Associations and Code authorities with money and special interests to serve, provided themselves with copies of parts that particularly concerned them, paying in the case of the N.R.A. records a higher rate—ten cents a page. Nowhere save in the government offices in Washington could a complete file be seen.
[Y11] Then micro-copying was tried. This is a process by which a page of print or typescript is photographically reduced twenty-three diameters in size, being copies on a strip of film 1/2 inch wide and one or two hundred feet long. The micro-copies are rendered legible by projection. A machine throws an enlarged image downward on a table, where the reader finds it just as legible as the original page. The cost of materials and operation is so low that the half million pages can be distributed for about $421.00 instead of $5,000 a set—and this rate will apply even if only ten libraries should purchase copies. The cost of making a unique micro-copy of a document is roughly twenty cents per hundred pages, and the cost of making additional copies drops to about twelve [p.184] cents per hundred pages. These costs are well below normal production costs of printed volumes, in ordinary editions of over two thousand. Micro-copying thus offers the reader a book production system more elastic than anything he has had since the fifteenth century; it will respond to the demand for a unique copy, regardless of other market prospects. So the scholar in a small town can have resources of great metropolitan libraries at his disposal.
[Y12] The organization of service that will bring about this result is already taking form. Any scholar who wants to procure the text of a few hundred pages of some rare book or inaccessible periodical from Yale University Library, New York Public Library, or the Library of Congress can send for it by mail and get a micro-copy for $1.50 per hundred pages. By using a more efficient copying camera invented by Dr. R. H. Draeger, U.S. Navy, the Department of Agriculture Library is able to offer micro-copies at 10 cents for any one article of 10 pages or less, and 5 cents for each additional 10 pages. The Library of Congress is now about to install the Draeger machine. There is some prospect of even more efficient devices for copying. Some scholars will do their own copying with portable equipment. Micro-copying is a technique that will serve in the twentieth century to do what printing and publishing cannot always accomplish: give the reader exactly what he wants, and bring it to him wherever he wants to use it.
[Y13] The effect of the printing press upon writers was not so quickly felt as its effects upon readers. The first printed books were mainly not “new books” by new authors; they were editions of the Bible and the classics, educational and religious texts. Writers were able to increase their influence greatly by using the press, as Luther and Erasmus discovered, but a good copyright law and administration were necessary before they could make a good living from writing. In the eighteenth century, however, the writers were able to shift their sources of income from patrons to publishers. Writing became a profes[p.185]sion, and then writers found themselves subjected to the mechanics and accountancy of the printing press, which restrained their freedom perhaps even more than their previous masters, the patrons, had done. For authors discovered that it was useless to take pains to write anything that would not interest and attract the number of readers or buyers that the printer required in order to absorb and distribute his costs of composition and make-up. This minimum, in commercial publishing today, at average selling prices of $1.20 per hundred pages, is some two thousand copies. In this country when editions of less than that are printed, there is generally some form of subsidy, either from the publisher, using for them profits from other books, or from the author, or from some endowment, or from the purchaser in the form of an abnormally high price. The publishing industry, technologically and in its business organization, is keyed to the prospects of profits from sales in the hundreds of thousands.
[Y14] The effects of this system have long been operative in literature. The decline of letter writing (despite improved postal service) was doubtless connected with the tendency to regard “literature” as essentially printed matter addressed to a numerous anonymous and passive public. The effort made today by the Committee of International Intellectual Cooperation to revive letter writing by promoting exchanges of letters among literary notables is stultified by the avowed purpose of publication, which means, in effect, that the letter writers are not so much communicating with each other as collaborating in the production of another book. Poetry writing as a leisured accomplishment was an ornament to the social intercourse of the classical world and Renaissance Italy; it survived into the baroque era, and, in alliance with calligraphy (not printing), it continues to be a social grace in China and Japan; but Western civilization now expects even poetry to fit the Procrustean bed of the publishing industry.
[Y15] The art of conversation, with its counterpart the dialogue [p.186] as a literary form for presenting ideas, has also declined since the days of Galileo, while the art of advertising has advanced. Advertising is easily recognized as the literary form that most completely responds to the technique of the printing press, because it demands, above all else, a numerous and receptive “public” of readers. A great number of improvements in the graphic arts have been adaptations to the needs of advertisers. Yet, in its development of “direct mail” methods and circular letters, advertising seems to be more emancipated than literature from the printing press. One of the most curious recent developments in the graphic arts is the effort of the advertisers to make printed matter look like typescript, while the authors of books that are not in sufficient demand to warrant publication are seeking a typescript that will look like print.
[Y16] The effect of printing upon literary form has been indirect. Upon literary or scholarly activities it has been direct and decisive. An author can lay his book before reviewers and critics only by persuading some editor that it is marketable; a scholar can make only such contributions to knowledge as can be passed through the publishing process to enter the body of scientific truth. What, then, of the literary creations that do not promise to command a wide audience, or the specialized contributions to knowledge that can be utilized by only a few experts? Both these classes of intellectual products suffer one of two fates. Either they remain uncommunicated, and are as if they had never been, or they are carried to their “public” by means of a subsidy. It is true that a host of small magazines supported by special professional groups, and a number of direct or indirect subsidies to scholarly books amounting to over a million dollars a year help to relax, but cannot eliminate, the tension between the demands of culture and the exigencies of the publishing industry. If local literature lags behind local activities in music and the arts, and amateur scholarship continues to suffer from the paralysis that overtook it in the last century, these conditions can be traced in no small measure [p.187] to the functioning of our system of book and magazine publishing, with its resistance to issuing anything that will not attract a large number of buyers.
[Y17] When printing leaves the writer of a work of limited circulation in the lurch, the typewriter comes to his rescue. The typewriter first made its way as a letter-writing machine, especially for business letters. If letter writing as a literary art had survived into the typewriter era, it might have blossomed to the touch of the new technique. The business culture of the nineteenth century took another road. Even the business letter in the year 1800 was more “literary,” less “business-like,” than in the year 1900. The typewriter saw business writing stripped of everything but the bare bones of communication. More recently, in connection with direct mail advertising, it implemented a return to the letter form. Meanwhile, the scholars and novelists learned to use the typewriter, but only as a step in the preparation of a manuscript for publication. The time arrived when editors refused to read anything but “typescript.” Unconsciously, writers came to associate the typescript form with the failure of a manuscript to please an editor, the printed form with success.
[Y18] The typewriter soon exhibited an ability to multiply copies by means of carbon paper, of which scholars and business men were quick to take advantage. This limited multiplying power was further extended by two devices: the mimeograph, which squeezes ink through a wax stencil that has been prepared on a typewriter, and the hectograph, which lays typescript letters formed of thick purple dye on a gelatin bed, from which copies can be made as long as the deposit of dye lasts—usually until about a hundred copies are taken off. The cost of the mimeograph process can be expected to fall sharply as soon as the patents on the wax stencil run out. Lately the hectograph process has been improved by a device which eliminates the need for a gelatin bed. The operating cost of the hectographing process is so low that it does not greatly exceed the cost of [p.188] making carbon copies, except as the paper costs mount with increasing size of edition.
[Y19] Mimeographing and hectographing, together with photo-offset from typescript copy, are the processes which we have come to call “near-print.” They have been widely applied to the internal documents of business, government, and education. Manuals and price lists in business, instruction material for classes in high school and college, and any number of letters of information, reports, and memoranda for groups of consultants in government and business are being multiplied by the near-print processes. At present thirty-five per cent of the documents issued by the federal government to the public are in near-print form. Some small literary magazines are using the process. Publishers have noticed a curious consequence of this use of near-print for the internal documents of business. If a book is written on some specialized business subject, it can sometimes be sold for twenty dollars a copy in mimeographed form, though it would be unsalable at three dollars a copy in print. The reason, of course, is that the near-print methods are now associated with internal, “confidential” uses, just as printing is associated with a public use.
[Y20] Owing doubtless to the system of endowment of institutions and institutional presses under which they work, scholars have been slow to explore the use of these near-print methods and products, even though they might well consider that much of their specialized research publishing corresponds in character to the “internal documents” of business rather than to the stock-in-trade of the commercial publishing industry. The system by which professional research workers draw their livelihood from institutions of learning has had a curious repercussion upon their system of communication, resulting in a kind of fetishism in the attitude of the professional scholar towards the printed page. Since contributions to knowledge become effective as contributions only when they are communicated, the amount of research labor is measured by employers at the [p.189]communicating point. A research scholar must “publish” or be regarded by his university as a drone. Just as tradition protected the use of parchment long after paper had become accessible, so it has protected the status of the printed book or article as the only vehicle for scholarly communication even when processes other than printing would be more appropriate. But the pressure of financial necessity is gradually forcing the scholars to accept near-print as the only means of taking up the slack between the requirements of their intellectual organization and those of the book trade. A more general use by them of near-print should relieve not only their financial situation but also that of the institutional presses, upon whose endowments too great a strain is now being placed.
[Y21] These three processes, photo-offset, micro-copying, and near-print, each important when considered by itself, offer an imposing prospect when they are considered together. The production of beautiful books, as physical objects, may be turned over more and more to calligraphers, the manuscripts to be multiplied by off-set. The duty of making reading matter accessible to the scholar may be assumed increasingly by the micro-copying process, and near-print may become the normal channel by which the creative worker, whether in literature or in scholarship, can be guaranteed communication with a limited group that shares his interests, leaving publication in printed form as the channel of communication with a larger public.
[Y22] It is evident that these three processes taken together offer also to the small town a better chance to escape the cultural monopoly of the metropolis, to the amateur in scholarship a more favorable opportunity to coöperate with the professional scholar, than either could expect under the regime of the printing press and publishing industry. It is not necessary to argue the case for protecting a local culture against metropolitan encroachment, or for vitalizing the cultural environment of the small town. Sinclair Lewis has shown how bare is the ground, how difficult to build upon. And yet young people in towns of [p.190] five thousand do learn to play the piano. There is some music, some art, some amateur theatrical enterprise, and a public library. When the C.W.A. Public Works of Art project was set up throughout the country, the result was a surprising revelation of the vigor of local art movements everywhere. There are great potential forces in our local culture. But a rounding out of the small community as an active cell in a living culture requires, in addition to art and music, a theatre and a library, something of creative literature and something of productive scholarship. These are precisely the activities which can be implemented by the recent innovations in the graphic arts.
[Y23] Creative literature and research scholarship can be expected to make somewhat different contributions to local culture. The reorganization of literary activities that might accompany the full use of near-print devices would involve, first of all, the extinction of the idea that a “writer” is a strange creature apart from the world, or that it is only with a view to becoming one of these creatures that an otherwise normal human being would write stories after leaving college. One reason why the public associates amateur literature with immature literature is that so many of the non-professional literary publications are high-school and college magazines, financed by means of browbeating local merchants into buying advertising space. If the principle should come to be accepted that literature of small circulation ought not to be printed, but ought rather to be distributed in near-print form, students who have developed a flair for writing will be more likely to develop it further after graduation. They will not feel that the only alternative before them is to become full-time professional writers or to put away their writing as a man puts away childish things.
[Y24] In research scholarship, a different situation now exists. The distribution of labor among professional scholars has not been arranged in a way that will easily make room for the contributions of amateur scholars. Our intellectual world witnessed in [p.191] the last century the passing of the amateur scholar. He had been on the scene since the time of the invention of printing, when the church was losing its monopoly of learning. He was usually, though not always, a man of leisure. He collected a library in which he worked diligently. He published a volume on the antiquities of Cornwall or the customs of the Parthians. He engaged in bitter pamphlet wars with his adversaries. At his worst, he was Mr. Casaubon of Middlemarch; at his best, he was Benjamin Franklin. His research was his hobby.
[Y25] The century of progress thrust this figure into the background and vested in the universities the monopoly that had once lain in the church. Classical scholarship was carried forward by the professors in tremendous strides, but the lay man no longer wrote about the classics and ceased even to quote Latin authors. Natural science moved from triumph to triumph, but the public became a passive spectator, taking on faith conclusions the exact meaning of which it could not follow, just as in literature people might read the popular poets but never try their hand at a sonnet. Research ceased to be an honored sport and became an exclusive profession.
[Y26] Why did the amateur scholar drop out? It was not because of the development of specialization in scholarship, for the more intensive division of labor should have made it easier rather than harder for the leisure-time amateur and the full-time professional worker to aid each other. The reason for his decline was partly material, partly psychological. From the material standpoint, the professionals soon monopolized all the available means of communication. The mushroom growth of specialized learned journals in the later nineteenth century was barely able to keep up with the professional scholars, and in the twentieth century it fell behind their needs. The scholarly publishing industry in the United States does annually a six-million-dollar business. Naturally, the professionals get the first chance at this fund, and it does not suffice even for them. The non-professional scholar who cannot afford to pay for printing [p.192] his own works can enter the charmed circle only by participating in the use of this publication fund. To participate in its use, he must do about the same things the professionals are doing, and in about the same way. This is the material obstacle to the development of amateur scholarship. Near-print devices offer a way around it.
[Y27] The psychological obstacle to the development of amateur scholarship is found partly in the encroachment upon quiet leisure of many modern activities and partly in the attitude of the professionals towards their craft. They have taken little trouble to divide the labor in their fields in such a way as to assign tasks to the amateurs and train them for their work. They teach creative scholarship only to aspirants for the academic career. They do not, as a rule, train “laymen” for part-time, avocational, amateur research. They have come habitually to envisage the army of research as a body organized like a Central American Army, with almost all its members above the rank of colonel, and they make no arrangements for recruiting, training, and utilizing a rank and file.
[Y28] The professional scholars cannot indefinitely continue indifference to the prospects of amateur scholarship, for they are facing a crisis themselves. The strain that is appearing in their system of recruiting and maintaining financially a professional personnel will force them to consider the redistribution of scholarly labor and the reorganization of scholarly communications.
[Y29] For two generations in America, the recruits brought into the academic profession have been trained in the graduate school to work in the environment of a great university centre. In the smaller colleges such recruits work at a disadvantage, and outside the college and university environment they are generally too heavily handicapped to work at all. Little serious effort has been made to inspire productive scholarship on the part of the high-school teachers.
[Y30] The new hordes of college students throughout the country [p.193] in the decade following the World War created a demand for more college instructors. In response to this demand, the graduate schools expanded like a machine-tool industry, turning out every year more Ph.D.’s. When the curve of college attendance began to level off in the depression, it was discovered that the production of apprentice scholars, keyed to an expanding market, went far beyond replacement needs. A turnover of about twenty per cent a year in the university teaching faculties would be necessary to give the new Ph.D.’s the kind of places they were prepared to fill. These young people trained for research could remain in the academic world only by going into the smaller colleges and academies, whose meager libraries give them little chance of continuing to do the kind of work they had been fitted to do. It seems inevitable that they will be lost to research scholarship unless the labor of this kind is redivided so that some of it can be performed away from the university setting, by people who are not university teachers.
[Y31] If that could be done, this supply of trained scholars need not be wasted; they could be fed into the secondary-school system, and then enabled and encouraged to continue, in the secondary-school environment, their scholarly interests. Of course, the heavier teaching schedules of these schools leave less time for reading and study than the university teacher has at his disposal. And yet the long vacations are common to both careers. Moreover, the internal conditions of secondary education are such that the development of research in local history, social and economic life, and even local botany and geology, is among the great needs of the present. If such local research could be reported into the present stream of culture and scientific information, the results would enrich scholarship. And the teaching career in the secondary schools would thereby be made more attractive than it now is to persons of vigorous mind and more productive for the community.
[Y32] To speak of an unemployment crisis among scholars is not [p.194] to speak merely of a probability that certain individuals, trained to do research, may be without jobs. The Ph.D.’s must take their chances with the rest so far as keeping away from the bread line is concerned. But the problem of the unemployed scholar, from the standpoint of the national culture, has another grave side. There is also the sad prospect that individuals trained to do research, and willing and able to do it, may be placed in situations in which their capacities are wasted. This kind of crisis now exists. Along with it there exists an unexplored opportunity in popular education; and at the same time the innovations in the graphic arts already mentioned are offering a way out. For micro-copying can bring the resources of the Library of Congress to the small-town high-school teacher, just as the radio brings the symphony orchestra. Near-print offers the scholar-teacher a means of communication not only with his pupils and their parents but also with his colleagues through the country; and the kind of interest and ability that it might help to develop in him would serve to stimulate the whole community.
[Y33] What are the fields of scholarship that lie most open to the schoolteacher trained for research in his own community, or to the amateur? Where is this intellectual vineyard in which the harvest is so great, and the laborers so few? To give it a comprehensive name, including many different things, it could be called the field of local studies. The development and significance of local historical societies have been well described in an article on this subject by Dr. Julian P. Boyd. The object of such studies is to turn the methods of specialized research upon the immediate environment—its linguistic characteristics, for example, with the word usages, slang and colloquial; the annals or the soil or the flora and fauna of a neighborhood. All such local studies, whether in natural science or history or social organization or cultural background, require long, close, and patient observation. Many of them, like the observation of variable stars, of meteors, and of insect [p.195] life cycles, are scientific tasks that call for an unlimited number of helpers cooperating by exchange and contribution of detailed facts.
[Y34] Throughout all local studies there runs a double thread. First, there should result from this activity a vitalizing of education and an increase of critical self-consciousness in the community, which should bring about a wholesome attachment to it, a sense of participation in it, offsetting the overshadowing attraction of the big city. Second, there should result from these studies a record of some kind, duly entered in the records of learning, duly made available to all who may wish to use it, and safely preserved for the future.
[Y35] That opportunities for studies of this kind have been neglected in America even in the larger units is evidenced by the condition of our local archives, described in a recent article by Dr. A. R. Newsome. In many states, they have been barbarously neglected. Only one state, Connecticut, has reached in its administration of local archives a standard of which the country can be proud. In most states, the country records have never been inventoried, and the preservation of the archives of towns or semi-public bodies has been left to the play of accident. Towards this end, valuable work was done last winter by persons on the unemployment relief rolls. This winter the historical division of the National Park Service has been making an effort to bring about inventories of public records throughout the country as a relief project under the F.E.R.A. Pennsylvania has been exceptionally successful in organizing work of this kind, and the survey of historical materials in Virginia has been ably conducted. Similar undertakings designed to develop the care of local records and to stimulate public interest in them are being launched elsewhere.
[Y36] The development of valuable local studies will call for new methods of work and their application to old fields. Such a field, for example, is family history. Here an enormous amount of time has been spent by genealogists, and a good deal of it [p.196] wasted through too narrow a conception of its possibilities and through lack of trained skill in organizing the materials unearthed. Left to itself, the pursuit of family history will follow the bare tracks of genealogy; guided by an enlightened scholarship, it may lead to discoveries of value to government and social science.
[Y37] It is not easy to foresee how far projects of local studies must depend for successful execution upon scholars with that degree of ability and training which has previously led to university positions, and how far they can be worked out in leisure time by intelligent and college-bred men and women, who, because they make no money from their intellectual pursuits, may be deemed amateurs. There is always much shaking of heads in the universities over any suggestion of “serious” work from the amateur. Yet even if he cannot be counted on to produce a great deal of good work, the amateur can be taught at the very least to refrain from doing harm to local studies. He can learn not to disperse a collection of Mazzini letters into a dozen autograph collections, not to burn up old family papers without considering their possible value as historical documents, and not to hold himself indifferent to the preservation of other records—those of his business or of a public body—over which he may exercise control. He can certainly learn that when he finds an Indian relic, it is a good idea to take note of the place in which he found it, and keep that notation with it. Beyond this, he can doubtless learn how to arrange and calendar his own family papers, or old business records and report his holdings to an appropriate group or society. The care of the records of contemporary civilization is a task so vast that neither the personnel nor the funds of our institutions of research can shoulder the burden. Many records will be preserved by amateurs or they will not be preserved at all.
[Y38] From the moment when the social sciences undertake to help pilot a democracy, it becomes increasingly important that [p.197] the people shall have towards science and scholarship and the intellectual ideal not a doctrinaire respect but a participant’s interest. From Germany today comes the lesson of what things may be possible when cultural centralization is too great and its apparatus is ruthlessly used. When the program for America is laid down and the high strategy of American policies defined, let there be included among our objectives not only a bathroom in every home and a car in every garage but a scholar in every schoolhouse and a man of letters in every town. Towards this end technology offers new devices and points the way.