Where all this is leading

Now that I’m almost finished writing about the summer of 1929 (Bob’s annus mirabilis), and I’m pressing ahead with scanning Binkley’s papers from the early ’30s, I’m getting a clearer idea of where I want to take my research. My big question is: how did Binkley develop the ideas about research, publishing, and amateur scholarship that he expressed in “New Tools for Men of Letters” in 1935? He was well ahead of the curve in seeing the possibilities of the new technologies for reproducing documents (especially microfilm), but he was not alone: Watson Davis at the Science Service, Paul Otlet and Emmanuel Goldberg in Europe, and by the mid-1930s Vannevar Bush were all working the same field in different ways. I would like to work out what were the influences on Binkley, what influence did he have on others, and what were his original contributions to the synthesis. I also want to keep his personal life in view, and in particular to trace the input of his wife Frances to the ideas that were published under his name.

The ideas I’m tracing in his work and letters flow something like this:

  • preservation of paper: how to preserve the crumbling newspapers from the First World War period and 19th and 20th century books printed on cheap paper
  • photographic reproduction: how to preserve texts whose paper support is hopeless by photographing them
  • access to rare and distant texts: how to use photographic reproduction to give scholars easy access to texts that would otherwise be inaccessible
  • publication: how to increase the ability of scholars to publish specialist literature using new technologies, where the number of copies needed is too small to make conventional printing economically viable
  • implications for libraries of all these developments
  • broader cultural consequences of these developments: what cultural possibilities do these technological developments open up, especially in New Deal America

These strands run through the phases of Binkley’s career from 1919 to 1934. The flow is roughly like this:

  • 1919: After his discharge from the army, he works for Prof. E.D. Adams collecting ephemeral materials at the Peace Conference and in England for the Hoover War Library at Stanford.
  • Mid ’20s: During his graduate work at Stanford he is employed at the Hoover War Library and works with decaying Russian newspapers and photostatted documents.
  • 1925-27: Still working in the Hoover War Library, he develops a project for a microfilm reader (one of the first) with his brothers Thad and Charles and his cousin Karl Lutz; he and his army friend Dale Van Every try to launch a large-scale project to publish a documentary history of the war under Binkley’s editorship
  • 1928-29: Now in New York City, Binkley collaborates with Henry Lydenberg of New York Public Library on various grant proposals for research on paper preservation; he writes a memorandum on paper preservation and one on photographic reproduction for the National Research Council and circulates them among his collaborators, but unfortunately they haven’t turned up in his papers; this work leads to his Scientific American article and his paper at the Bibliographic Congress in Rome; he also evaluates the Joseph Broadman collection both for its content and for its preservation requirements. The emphasis is on chemical research into the properties of paper, but he continues the idea of photographic reproduction as a means of preservation.
  • 1929-30: Binkley’s work on paper preservation earns him a seat on the new Joint Committee on Materials for Research of the Social Science Research Council and the American Council of Learned Societies, of which he becomes the secretary; continuing his Peace Conference research, he struggles to get access to David Hunter Miller’s important 21-volume diary, printed in 40 copies in 1924 and distributed under tight control by the Carnegie Institution for International Peace; he moves away from the research collections of New York, first to Smith College and then to Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
  • 1931: The Joint Committee publishes the first edition of Binkley’s Methods of reproducing research materials, a survey of the current state of technology and practice; he makes contact with Watson Davis; still on the Peace Conference topic, he works to develop a donation of photostats of Parker Moon’s papers to Stanford into a broader library collaboration with copies going to Columbia and NYPL.
  • 1932-33: Assumes the chair of the Joint Committee; during a year at Harvard, he and Frances (under the aegis of the Joint Committee and the Carnegie Institution and in cooperation with James Shotwell) carry out the microfilming of the papers of Col. House at Yale and John Foster Dulles at Columbia. This project seems to be unknown in the historical literature on microfilm: a rather exciting discovery! Frances plans to write a manual of best practices for photographing text. The emphasis now is on microphotography for access rather than for preservation.
  • 1933: From here on my sense of the path is sketchy: I haven’t worked through the correspondence properly yet. By 1933 Bob and Frances have cameras and a darkroom in their basement, and are microfilming books for home use.
  • 1934: The Joint Committee sponsors the microfilming of the transcripts of hearings of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration and the National Industrial Recovery Administration: the first large-scale microfilming project intended for publication in multiple copies for libraries, running to tens of thousands of pages.
  • 1935: “New Tools for Men of Letters” is published, first as a mimeographed discussion paper for the Joint Committee and then in the Yale Review.

To flesh out this flow, I plan to continue posting a few times a year, with posts on:

  • The summer of 1929: one last posting, which will include the establishment of the Joint Committee
  • Binkley’s work for Adams in 1919
  • The microfilm reader project in the mid-’20s
  • The Miller Diary
  • The Parker Moon project
  • The Joint Committee and the Manual
  • The microfilming of the papers of Col. House and John Foster Dulles (what I’m tentatively calling the “Shotwell Project”)
  • The writing of “New Tools for Men of Letters”
  • The Committee on Private Research at WRU in the late ’30s

Interspersed among these will be postings on other topics. At the moment I have in mind:

  • Binkley’s service in the First World War
  • Bob and Frances at Stanford
  • The Binkleys’ attitudes to contraception
  • The circle of friends they formed at Stanford, with whom they remained close for many years; in particular, the overlap between their circle and John Steinbeck’s
  • Binkley’s service on the planning committee for FDR’s presidential library
  • Response to the rise of Fascism

I won’t be doing much on Binkley’s copyright work, which has been well surveyed by a couple of recent articles: