Jun 232012

New Tools, New Recruits, for the Republic of Letters, the first page, mimeographed on Joint Committee letterhead.

Binkley’s essay “New Tools for Men of Letters”, published in the Yale Review in 1935,1 is the work that has gained the most attention among digital humanities scholars today. The published version was based on a 32-page memorandum that Binkley wrote for the Joint Committee on Materials for Research in November, 1934, under the title “New Tools, New Recruits, for the Republic of Letters”. The Yale Review cut the memorandum from 8500 to 6000 words, and Binkley continued to consider the memorandum the better exposition of his ideas. It is therefore time to put the original memorandum out there. In particular, the lost conclusion makes clear that Binkley intended the document to serve not just the goals of academia or the New Deal, but had an anti-Fascist agenda as well.

I’ve contributed a digitized version of the memorandum to the Internet Archive: http://archive.org/details/NewToolsNewRecruitsForTheRepublicOfLetters. The full text of the memorandum and of the article are available on this site.


The memorandum was no doubt presented at the ninth meeting of the Joint Committee in New York on 23-24 November 1934. Binkley offered the memorandum to the Yale Review in December 1934 or early January 1935. The carbon copy of his covering letter, along with the rest of his correspondence to the Review, hasn’t turned up in the family files, and is probably in the files of the Joint Committee in the Library of Congress, while the letters from the Review to Binkley are in his personal files (this is not atypical of his filing practices). Managing editor Helen McAfee agreed to look at the memorandum on Jan. 9, and on Jan. 28 wrote to accept it, provided that it would not be publicized elsewhere in advance of its appearance in the Review. Binkley had nearly blown it by sending it to his friend Henry S. Canby, editor of the Saturday Review, which published an editorial based on it in the Jan. 26 issue.2

We may overlook the discussion in the Saturday Review (though ordinarily we do not do things of this kind) on the ground that we may persuade Mr. Canby to give us a note in his column saying that the article will appear in our pages — that is, if we can arrange on the basis mentioned above for its appearance with you. Will you kindly send me a wire saying whether you think the coast is clear for us on this basis? If you believe it is, we will immediately send you a typescript of what we should propose to print for The Yale Review. Our cuts would come mainly in the general discussion, our plan being to use nearly everything you have in the memorandum on the actual technique of the new processes, which interest us greatly.3

The typescript was duly sent, and things moved quickly: Binkley’s revisions and answers to questions were received by Feb. 6th, the galley proofs were sent on the 9th (with some inserted information from Claribel R. Barnett at the US Dept. of Agriculture Library, which Binkley was asked to check to see whether it required a change in his figures), and the issue appeared on March 15. Binkley was paid $75.

Binkley always considered the memorandum and not the published article as the authentic statement of his ideas, though he used the article to lend credibility to the memorandum. On Mar. 19th he sent copies of both to the President of Western Reserve University, W.G. Leutner, with the remark, “I would a little rather you would take time on the memorandum because it includes some things of importance for University policy which had to be left out of the article.”4 He called the article “something of an abstract” of the memorandum; the fact that he waited for the publication before he sent the memorandum to Leutner suggests that he felt the publication of the article added weight to it. He sent the memorandum but not the article to his friends, though, remarking to one: “It was published in part in the Yale Review but I am sending out the mimeographed copies because they contain more information.”5 A year later he sent a copy to Lambert Davis, the editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review, with whom he was discussing ideas for articles, as the possible basis for new work rather than as a potential publication:

The memorandum on New Tools, New Recruits for the Republic of Letters has been spoiled for direct use because the Yale Review rewrote it and cut it down to about half size and published it last spring, but I shall be glad to have you read the full memorandum.6

It is clear that Binkley considered the Yale Review article to be only a useful derivative of the memorandum, and that he wanted the memorandum to circulate among those who were interested in the application of his ideas. It therefore seems right that the memorandum should resume its place in the conversation. In the letter to Lambert, Binkley indicates there was still another version, the result of further revision after the Yale Review version was published: he says he is also including “a later edition in which I have changed the general terms of ‘amateur scholarship’ to ‘simplified research techniques’.” There’s no copy of this version among the family papers, but perhaps it’s in the Joint Committee papers.


Unlike the article, the memorandum is divided into numbered sections.

  • I. Revolutionary developments in the techniques of record and communication
  • II. Introduction of print, comparison of photo-offset printing
  • III. Effect on readers: role of libraries; role of micro-copying in making publication of large works in small quantities feasible; publication of the NRA and AAA hearings
  • IV. Effect on writers: economics of printing led to professionalization and narrowing of range of publications
  • V. Typewriter: multiplication of copies by carbon paper, mimeograph, hectograph; economics of “near-print” publication; resistance by scholars to use of near-print
  • VI. Combination of photo-offset, micro-copying and near-print in combination: would enable local culture to prosper by freeing it from tyranny of print; role of colleges in invigorating local culture
  • VII. Research scholarship and the disappearance of the amateur; a new division of labour is needed; career prospects for college graduates with research skills in high schools; proposed changes to curriculum
  • VIII. Fields of scholarship in which amateur could contribute: local studies; neglect of local archives, potential for use of relief labour; family history, local business history; preservation of present records depends on amateurs
  • IX. “Utopian” vision of effect of these ideas in operation; comparison with Germany, where the rigid separation of scholarship and common life has left academia helpless against anti-intellectualism of the Nazis: ideals must be rooted more broadly
  • Changes

    (References to the three versions: M = Memorandum, SP = reprint of Yale Review article in Selected Papers)

    What do we recover by restoring the memorandum? First, the title, “New Tools, New Recruits, for the Republic of Letters”. The equal emphasis on personnel and technology, and the rendering of service to the scholarly and cultural community instead of the individual scholar, better reflect the balance of Binkley’s ideas, particularly in view of the pre-WPA relief projects that were getting under way at the time. The Yale Review smoothed out the structure of the piece to fit the essay format, removing the numbered sections and replacing the footnotes and citations with discursive references (“an article on this subject by Dr. Julian P. Boyd”). The memorandum has a splendid little passage in praise of research libraries, which I am professionally pleased to recover:

    When the institutional library supplanted the individual’s collection of books as the normal depository of intellectual working material, it developed an administrative system of great efficiency. It learned to protect books without prohibiting their use, to let the user know quickly by means of a catalogue what books it possessed, and to find them for him on its shelves. The routine and techniques of the research library were developed by that great generation of librarians which is just now passing away. (M p.4)

    In returning to the memorandum we lose some updates of details that developed between November and March, in particular the information from Claribel Barnett that McAfee mentioned:

    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. (SP p.184)

    The Bibliofilm Service at the Department of Agriculture Library started about the time the memorandum was published: the first films shipped on 15 Nov. 1934, only ten days after Draeger and Claribel R. Barnett (director of the library) met at a Cosmos Club luncheon hosted by Watson Davis.7

    In exchange we gain a paragraph in which Binkley uses the memorandum itself as an example of the costs of publication by mimeographing:

    This memorandum can be used to illustrate the price levels of the near-print processes. It contains 7000 words. To make a single typescript copy of it would cost $1.60, and this would be the expense normally incurred by one submitting the manuscript to an editor for publication. By adding $3.00 to this necessary typing charge to cover paper, materials and labor, 50 hectographed copies could be made; 50 mimeographed copies would add $6.20 to the original typing charge. For an edition of 100, the cost by the hectograph process would be $5.20, by mimeograph $8.48. Contrast these costs with the $______ that would be necessary to publish the document as a printed pamphlet. An author who uses the hectograph can reach a narrow circle of readers and a few important libraries at a cost to himself not much greater than the cost of typing a copy. (M p.12)

    (The costing of the printed pamphlet evidently wasn’t available when the memorandum was typed.)

    A couple of specific references to relief projects were omitted by the Review, perhaps because they were thought to distract from the information about processes, or perhaps to minimize arousing any political sensitivities about the New Deal.

    As Mr. Edward Bruce told a meeting of regional directors [of the CWA Public Works of Art project], ‘Artists who were considered as having only a moderate talent are producing work far beyond and better than they have ever produced before and artists whose talents were absolutely unknown are producing some of the best work on the project’. (M p.15)

    From Dr. Theodore C. Blegen’s report on “Some Aspects of Historical Work under the New Deal”* it is evident that much valuable work was done last winter by relief workers. (M p.26)

    Several passages dealing with the prospects for scholarly contributions from high school teachers and the relation of these ideas to university curricula were dropped by the Review, such as these:

    It is tragic to note that even while some university teachers (thinking perhaps of the mediocrity encountered in their summer school classes) would doubt the possibility of valuable contributions from high school teachers to “research”, at the same time some School of Education administrators are worried for fear they may educate their teaching personnel beyond the opportunities of their profession, thus causing discontent. Yet it seems not unreasonable that the teacher in a community should have spent somewhat more time in securing an education than the parents of the school children. As the number of communities increases in which a considerable proportion of the parents have gone through college, it will be reasonable to expect the standards of preparation for teaching in the high schools to be raised toward those now obtaining in the colleges, as those of the colleges are being raised toward those now obtaining in the universities. (M pp.21-22)

    The modification of academic policies necessary to meet this situation are [sic] very simple. At the present time, teaching in the graduate schools in preparation for an academic career is aimed at training students to work in universities, teaching subject matter to undergraduates and research technique to graduates, thus maintaining the continuity of the academic tradition. An alternative course of graduate study would be directed toward broadening the base of research. A graduate student would be taught methods of exploring local history, of gathering, arranging, and preserving local records, and interpreting the results of his local research to school children. He would look forward to discovering in his future place of work, not a group of brilliant graduate students who can be trained to become professors, but a circle of enlightened adults who can be led to do something worthwhile for the learning and culture of their time. An honored place in American education belongs to the graduate school that pioneers in offering training of this kind. (M. pp.22-23)

    Such passages as this were no doubt the parts that Binkley was anxious President Leutner should not miss. The reference to Schools of Education is particularly pointed, as the School at Western Reserve University had been in turmoil since the University’s financial crisis in 1932. It impinged on Binkley’s work as chair of the History Department at Mather College because of the issue of sharing of teaching resources: another letter to Leutner from later in 1935 outlines ways in which “content” courses still being taught within the School of Education could be replaced by regular courses offered in the various departments.8 It obviously suited Binkley’s agenda to see student teachers taking courses in the History Department, and the reference to “some School of Education administrators” who resisted the integration of liberal arts courses into the Education curriculum must have been a salvo in a local battle.

    The section on local and family history was shortened by the omission of a paragraph claiming a dignity for it equal to that of national history, and a long passage of extra details, including a reference to the new science of dendrochronology:

    There are no rubrics of national history that could not also become rubrics of local history, if the information could be dug out. The textbooks tell of the election of 1840, the “log cabin hard cider campaign”; is it not a part of the work of a teacher in a little Ohio town to find out, if possible, and tell the pupils how the town voted in 1840? Does the literature of American history or political science include any study of a hundred years of voting in any American town? I do not know of one. If railroads influenced American history, they influenced also the history of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, Tomkinsville, Kentucky, and Lewiston, Virginia, either by coming or by not coming to these places. The influence was something definite, coming at a particular time and place, and in a particular way. The facts are there, challenging the scholar with a wide knowledge of economic history to interpret them. The Domesday Book of America is unwritten, and cannot be written without the cooperation of a host of scholars, who, in separate communities, shall dig out the story of land tenure and the real estate business. The “industrial revolution” is a chapter in the textbook; how is it related to the ruined structure of an old mill near the community picnic ground? Local history problems are often more difficult to solve than problems in general history; it is easy to trace the impact of Darwinism on world culture, but when and where and how did this impact appear in Cleveland, Ohio? There is food in local studies for an intellect as broad as Goethe’s; the frontiers of scientific knowledge may be reached here as directly as at Boghas-keui or the headwaters of the Amazon. (M pp.24-25)

    The family album as a photograph album has been in existence now for four or five generations; is it not time to begin to examine its portraits by the thousand for light on human genetics? The automobile, by making it easier for families to foregather at reunions, prepares the way for the revival of family history. Left to itself, such a revived family history will follow the bare tracks of genealogy; guided by enlightened scholarship, it may lead to discoveries of value to social science. Who knows, for instance, how far the family has been operating during the depression as an unemployment insurance unit? Do we understand the ecology of the “poor relation” in the history of the American family? Various techniques have been developed, and applied either in work that is fundamentally social-pathological (as in relief work), or by questionnaire methods. Very seldom have the insiders of a group, with a knowledge of the intimate and essential facts, arranged them and fed them into the stream of sociological data. Family history, like local history, can reach to the furthest horizons. What a great cross section of society is personated by the thousand near relatives of the average American, what a vast sector of history by their background!

    Other problems suggest themselves. Who is there who has not at some time, in a tramp through the country, come upon some ruined trace of human enterprise — a cellar with a few rotting boards betraying the location of what was once a house in the midst of country that has gone back to nature; or the timbers of a ruined mill; or the rotting structures of an old canal suggest part of a story. Sometimes there will not be left resident in the whole community who will know the story. What do the relics themselves say? Perhaps it may be possible to tell when the trees that made the timber were cut down by using the method of measuring the variations in the widths of the rings and fitting them to the climatic history of the region. The presence of wooden pegs, square iron nails or wire nails, and the marks of the adz, the straight saw or the circular saw on the rotten boards will help to date the structure. How accurate a record of life in the slums of the large cities, in coal mines, in steel mills, on the farm could be produced by amateurs using cinema films.

    Business history offers another opportunity. How little we really know of the dynamics of business management, the reasons for the decisions that came out well or ill. Consider, for instance, a chain drug store that may still be in the hands of its founder. How far did the photographic industry provoke a change in drug store merchandising when it offered cameras and films in place of the raw chemicals used by the earlier photographers? How far did prohibition contribute to the ice-cream and lunch counter feature? What have been the relations of the business to the medical profession, to advertising, to the chemical industry? Is not the drug store record one of the most reliable sources of data on the degree in which the birth rate is affected by the use of contraceptives? Accountancy is one of the most rapidly changing and decisive instruments of modern business management, yet our literature on the history of accounting in the 15th century is much richer than our literature on its development in the 19th and 20th centuries. Scientific management has given business various processes by which all actions within the business becomes [sic] matters of record. These records are used in determining current policies, and then destroyed; thus impairing for the future the record of the evolution of management. Already much of the material that might have been saved in sample form to illustrate management practices before the NRA codes has been destroyed.

    Summerfield Baldwin, who helped in the Pennsylvania archives inventory, writes pertinently of these problems: “What is that branch of sphragistic to be called that deals with metal and rubber stamps? of diplomatic, which deals with blank forms? Are you familiar with any collections of student facsimiles of American chirography? The auxiliary science of ‘photographics’ is, so far as I know, in its infancy, not to say its embryo.” (M pp.26-29)

    (Summerfield Baldwin III had recently been hired in Binkley’s department). The discussion of business records tied in with Binkley’s work at WRU: he encouraged the library to collect Cleveland business records and established a graduate seminar on local business history that used them; and he also planned to write a history of accounting practices. The local history section in the memorandum ends with a concrete suggestion, which the Review cut: “Should not, therefore, a simple manual be prepared containing suggestions and instructions for the guidance of amateurs in local history work?” (M p.30). A manual for local history research was a project that Binkley promoted for the next few years, and it finally took form as Donald Dean Parker’s Local History: How to Gather It, Write It, and Publish It9 (which was edited by Binkley’s friend Bertha E. Josephson, former editorial associate at the Mississippi Valley Historical Review, published out of WRU’s graduate school; she and Binkley collaborated on some of the Cleveland WPA projects).

    The conclusion was also shortened drastically. Binkley led into it with a vision of the benefits for local culture that he hoped would follow from his proposals.

    The Utopian style of writing is a valuable expository device, not because of the element of fantasy that inevitably goes with it, but because it can suggest briefly comprehensive interrelationships. Having recourse to this method, it is not out of place to imagine a tourist stopping in a strange town at a time when all the possibilities of the new graphic arts techniques shall have been as fully exploited as the printing press has been in our day. He may find a bookstore, or in the drug store, a rack of rental books, and national magazines near the stationery counter just as he finds them today. Along with these, there are to be seen two or three shelves of different character, to which the tourist directs his attention, knowing that once in a while a real discovery can be made there. On these shelves are some of the products of local literary and scholarly effort. There are a few near-print copies of some satirical sketches which have just created quite a furor because of the thinly veiled personal allusions; also in near-print are to be seen the usual array of historical works on the town, two or three biographies, and a diary. Most of the poetry is in near-print, and rather unattractive, but there are a few beautiful leather-bound volumes of illustrated manuscript, done in a strong, modernistic hand, and printed, of course, by photo-offset. This is all that seems to be available on sale, although the tourist knows that there are probably a few erotica kept behind the counter. For the real exploration of the town’s resources, he walks down to the public library, where the full file of both local literary magazines and copies of most of the circular letters contributed by scholars in the town to their respective groups of correspondents throughout the country and abroad are kept. In the library, one of these town scholars is hard at work. A film roll with micro-copies of fifty-two 17th century political pamphlets has arrived from the British Museum, and he is coming up every day after work to go through them. He is, perhaps, the country’s foremost authority on political propaganda under James I.

    This Utopian fantasy is after all nothing but the logic of democracy applied to the intellectual program that was already fully stated by Francis Bacon. It is just as properly a part of an American ideal — and perhaps just as unattainable — as the Utopia portrayed by educational prophets such as Flexner, who would emphasize the height rather than the breadth of the “higher studies” that universities are to promote. The Flexner ideal comes from Germany, which more than any other national culture cut off scholarship from popular roots, and segregated everything that was learned, wissenschaftlich, from everything that was common to the masses. Who will say that this course was well taken when it is considered how little resistance the tradition of academic freedom could make to a mass movement that had not participated in the enjoyment of that tradition? (M pp.30-32)

    This last passage leads directly into the final paragraph printed in the Review, with which it forms a single paragraph in the memorandum (M p.32; SP pp.196-197). Binkley refers to the Flexner Report (1910), which reformed and standardized American medical education.10 The reference to National Socialism, and the characterization of the Nazis as an anti-intellectual movement which the universities should have resisted, makes sense of the reference to Germany in the printed conclusion: “From Germany today comes the lesson of what things may be possible when cultural centralization is too great and its apparatus is ruthlessly used” (somewhat clumsily expanded from the memorandum, which simply has “when the apparatus of cultural centralization is ruthlessly used.”) Writing weeks after Hitler’s consolidation of power following Hindenburg’s death, Binkley is suggesting that a revival of local history and the strengthening of regional cultures will provide a bulwark against the centralizing tendencies of totalitarianism. This is of a piece with his historical writing, particularly Realism and Nationalism (1935), which was taking shape at this time. He traced in 19th-century European history a theme of political federation (in entities such as the German Confederation and the Holy Roman Empire) as an alternative to the narratives of nationalism and ethnic identity which the Nazis exploited. He made this explicit in a letter to Lambert Davis a couple of years later, when the Virginia Quarterly Review was publishing his article “Peace in Our Time”11:

    One of the principal things I have accomplished so far in this course [a graduate course on federalism that he was teaching at Columbia that year] has been to pick the Holy Roman Empire out of the dust bin, shake it off, and stand it on its feet; and to prepare an argument to indicate that the later Holy Roman Empire was the ancestor of most that is of any value in the contemporary international world. … The strategic importance of bringing up the Holy Roman Empire in this way is that it is, I believe, the only counter myth that can be set effectively against the race mythologies that are devastating Central Europe.”12

    The conclusion to the memorandum explains what the article obscures: that the context for Binkley’s ideas about developing an inclusive collaboration between scholars and laymen was not just academia or America in the Depression but the international community and the stresses of the inter-war years as well.

    One final change in that last paragraph, with a personal connection: where the Review printed “a man of letters in every town”, Binkley wrote “a poet in every town”. No doubt he had in mind his father, Christian K. Binkley, who described the life of the rancher in the California hills in (mostly unpublished) verse.

    Binkley had the memorandum mimeographed on the Joint Committee’s letterhead, without a copyright notice. What rights are still attached to the document? The first question is who owned the original copyright: Binkley or the Joint Committee as work for hire (on behalf of its parent organizations, the Social Science Research Council and the American Council of Learned Societies); the second question is whether it counts as published or unpublished. Here are the options, based on Peter B. Hirtle’s Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States:

  • Binkley, Published: has always been in the public domain due to failure to comply with formalities (no copyright notice)
  • Binkley, Unpublished: in the public domain since 1 Jan. 2011, due to the expiry of Binkley’s copyright on the 70th anniversary of his death in 1940
  • Joint Committee, Published: has always been in the public domain due to failure to comply with formalities
  • Joint Committee, Unpublished: under copyright until 120 years after the date of publication: will enter the public domain on 1 Jan. 2055

I suppose the question is further complicated by the question whether the Yale Review version constituted publication of the original memorandum. I believe that in fact the copyright was always Binkley’s personal property: he was not paid for his work on the Joint Committee, and the copyright notices on the two manuals he published on the Joint Committee’ imprint bear his personal copyright notice. The memorandum is therefore in the public domain, as it was the day it came off the mimeograph machine in November, 1934.

Works Cited in the Memorandum

Blegen, Theodore C. “Some Aspects of Historical Work Under the New Deal.” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 21, no. 2 (1934): 195–206.

Boyd, Julian P. “State and Local Historical Societies in the United States.” The American Historical Review 40, no. 1 (October, 1934): 10–37.

Newsome, A. R. “Unprinted Public Archives of the Post-Colonial Period: Their Availability.” The American Historical Review 39, no. 4 (July, 1934): 682–689.



  1. Robert C. Binkley, “New Tools for Men of Letters,” Yale Review n.s. 24 (Spring 1935): 519–537, reprinted in Selected Papers of Robert C. Binkley, ed. Max H. Fisch (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1948), pp. 179-197. []
  2. “Near-Print,” The Saturday Review, January 26, 1935. []
  3. Doc. 7186: Helen A. McAfee to RCB, 1935-01-28. []
  4. Doc. 6081: RCB to W.G. Leutner, 1935-03-19. []
  5. Doc. 6998: RCB to Richard Van Alstyne, 1935-04-01. []
  6. Doc. 5364: RCB to Lambert Davis, 1936-01-14. []
  7. Irene Sekely Farkas-Conn, From Documentation to Information Science: The Beginnings and Early Development of the American Documentation Institute-American Society for Information Science, Contributions in Librarianship and Information Science 67 (New York: Greenwood Press, 1990), pp. 41-42. []
  8. Doc. 6038: RCB to W.G. Leutner, 1935-12-03. []
  9. New York: Social Science Research Council, 1944. []
  10. A. H. Beck, “The Flexner Report and the Standardization of American Medical Education.” JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association 291, no. 17 (May 5, 2004): 2139–2140. []
  11. The Virginia Quarterly Review (Autumn 1938): 551–564, reprinted in Selected Papers, pp. 368-81. The title, incidentally, was fortuitously chosen before Chamberlain spoke of “peace for our time” on his return from Munich. []
  12. Doc. 5355: RCB to Lambert Davis, 1938-02-08. []

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