A Summer in Italy, 1929 (Part 8)

Gestation of the Joint Committee

Doc. 370: Bob writes to Frances from New York, “Tuesday Oct. 15th or thereabouts”

In the middle of October Binkley took the train down to New York for a couple of days of research and meetings. This visit, as it turned out, would help to set in motion some of the projects that would dominate his life for the next few years. Before leaving Northampton he complained to Frances about all the tasks he had lined up, which would interfere with what he saw as the main business of the trip: research in the Miller Diary at Columbia, and writing a short article for the New Republic.

Dearest love: as the time is here for me to start for N.Y. I am simply overwhelmed with the confusion of the number of errands I have piled up for myself. I do not delude myself into thinking that I shall have better chances to work there – and I must keep in mind that my principal work is to use the Miller Diary. But I must also crack out something for the New Republic. I feel that the whole responsibility of starting right with a new system begins for me with this trip. Can I make the right connection between libraries there and libraries here, so that both are exploited to best advantage with minimum loss of time?

He listed his tasks and errands:

  • Italian article
  • Freedom of the Seas article
  • Contacts to get books to review
  • Arrangements to meet Saturnia on November 16th, and to get admission to boat.
  • Look into reason why Atlantic Transport Line has not made refund.
  • Arrange for having canoe shipped up here.
  • Phone Leach of Forum; see whether article has sold.
  • See Lydenberg; paper preservation
  • See Parker Moon: article on Miller Diary.1

The Saturnia was the ship on which Frances was to return (more on that next time); the canoe was one they had purchased the summer before for a vacation trip on the Hudson.

Binkley arrived in New York late on Saturday the 12th, and slept on the roof at 49 Morton St. (their old home in the West Village, where they still had friends). Sunday he spent in catching up with friends and reading for Social Science Abstracts. On Monday he started his errands. In the morning he called on Vanguard Press to pitch the idea of publishing the Miller Diary commercially, and also the project to work up Frances’ idea on prohibition into a book (the former failed when Miller refused absolutely to support it;2 the latter turned into Responsible Drinking, which was published a year later). At Appleton he learned that What Is Right with Marriage had sold 500 copies, and looked through the reviews (positive), and discussed plans for newspaper interviews after Frances’ arrival. After lunch he called on Bruce Bliven at the New Republic to discuss potential articles on Italy, and spoke to Canby of the Saturday Review on the phone to arrange more reviewing work for himself and Frances.

He then carried on up Fifth Avenue to the New York Public Library to see Lydenberg, where he met Robert S. Lynd, Permanent Secretary of the Social Science Research Council. From Lynd he heard important news:

And now for the piece de resistance. That campaign of a year ago with Lynd and the Social Science Research Council has born fruit. The policy of the Council has been broadened, it has been decided to appoint a committee, and a small sum for administrative expenses has been set aside. That means that the thing is actually going through, and in all probability I will be on it in some connection. Or even if I am not on it, I will get kudos for starting it. I am having lunch with Lynd to learn more about the state of affairs. My having gone to the World Congress will stand me in good stead. Oh how do you like your little Machiavelli.3

This is the first Binkley heard of the Joint Committee on Materials for Research, on which he would serve for the rest of his life, and which would give him the opportunity to write the two manuals on documentary reproduction for which he is best known today. It’s not clear whether this meeting had been arranged in advance (it isn’t mentioned in any of the letters leading up to the New York trip), or pulled together at the last minute by Lydenberg, or entirely fortuitous. Lynd was the co-author with his wife Helen of the famous Middletown studies, the first volume of which was published in 1929. Binkley, who somehow came away with the impression that Lynd’s first name was “John”, didn’t make the connection with Middletown until a few months later; he apologized in a letter addressed to “Middletown Lynd”.4 In November 1928 Binkley had written to Lynd as secretary of the SSRC during his campaign to put paper preservation on the agenda of the major funding agencies, and as a result had his proposal put before the Council in April.5 At that time the chair of the SSRC wrote to Binkley:

I believe that Mr. Lynd has told you of the possibility of joint action by the American Council of Learned Societies, The National Research Council, The Social Science Research Council and possibly other organizations interested in studying this general problem.6

The formation of the Joint Committee was the result of this collaboration of agencies, but more directly of a major shift in the strategic focus of the Social Science Research Council. The change was worked out at the SSRC’s Hanover Conference in August, 1929, and the annual report described it thus:

There was general agreement as to the desirability of viewing the facilitation of social research more widely; it was in fact felt that, while still keeping concrete research central, the Council might through a variety of activities actually do more to stimulate effective investigations through a program of planning and coordination including many supplementary, supporting aspects of the general problem of social research than if it confined itself more exclusively to planning and financing a series of investigations.7

An appendix to the annual report contained the new “Definition of Council Objectives”. Two of the seven “major methods by which the Council may best promote its ultimate objectives” cover the work that would eventually be undertaken by the Joint Committee. The third area provided the framework for the Joint Committee’s work: “III. By enlargement, improvement and preservation of materials”.8

Binkley’s approach to the SSRC in late 1928 was therefore well-timed. It is interesting though to see how indirect was his involvement with the Joint Committee at the beginning. He had helped to launch the idea up into the administrative layers of the funding agencies months earlier, and knew nothing of its progress until it floated back down to him in a form still so indefinite that it was not clear whether he would even be a member. His standing, however, was strengthened by the breadth of his engagement with the problems of materials for research. As well as the technical issues with the preservation of paper (for which he was known from his Scientific American article and his paper at the Bibliographic Congress), he brought a scholarly project for the publication of the records of the Peace Conference as well as a practical understanding of the political obstacles to their publication and ideas for circumventing those obstacles (described in the previous installment in this series). He pulled these themes together in his discussion with Lynd the next day:

Then I met John [sic] Lynd of the Soc. Sci. Research Council for lunch, & we mapped out a Napoleonic plan of campaign – and what I mean to say is, this is practical – practical to the extent that they will pay my expenses to N.Y. to attend the intimate meeting of the few who are to arrange the agenda of the organization. Then we discussed the general scope of the organization, and I brought my project of peace conference document publication into focus with it.9

(His use of a photographic metaphor here is interesting; it must have had a fresher, more vivid connotation then than it does now. Something to look into.)

I can’t find evidence of Binkley’s attendance at any planning meetings (they may have happened when he was in New York in early November to meet Frances, or on the way to or from the AHA conference in Durham after Christmas), and he was not one of the founding members of the Joint Committee. He was, however, added immediately after the first meeting in February, 1930,10 and elected secretary of the committee at the first meeting he attended in September.

In the course of his four days in New York Binkley also spent a morning with his old friends at NYU Washington Square and an afternoon at Columbia, where he met the Social Science Abstracts group and petitioned the librarian C.C. Williamson for a copy of the Miller Diary for Smith College. At some point he met with Parker Moon to revive their discussions of the previous spring about photostatting Moon’s Peace Conference papers, which Binkley now tied to the agenda of the Joint Committee. Moon also offered to use his influence to help obtain a copy of the Miller Diary for Smith College.

The synthesis of ideas that Binkley presented to Lynd had been developing for some time. He had presented this line of argument a few days before his trip to New York in a letter to President Neilson, justifying his efforts to obtain a copy of the Miller Diary:

In view of these facts, a campaign to bring about the opening of more complete Peace Conference documentation may well begin at once. There is every reason to avoid postponement. Many of those who took part in the Conference are now well along in years, and some have died without leaving information which they might have given had someone known what questions to ask them. The newspapers of the time were printed upon highly perishable paper which threatens to disintegrate before the study of the interrelations of diplomacy and public opinion is completed.11

It is striking how the Peace Conference brought the different strands in Binkley’s thought together: the opening of collections of privately-held archival documents, the gathering of oral history as Bernadotte Schmitt had done a few years earlier for the origin of the war, and the preservation of crumbling newspapers all fit into a single program. It was this comprehensive vision of the problems of Peace Conference research and documents that must have impressed Lynd and led to Binkley’s appointment to the Joint Committee on Materials for Research.

Binkley was back in Northampton by Thursday the 17th, apparently exhausted. He wrote to Frances on the 18th: “I slipped a cog yesterday: had one of my ‘attacks’, and with the best care in the world it ruined my afternoon.”12 He seems to have attributed the attack to bad diet, and promised Frances to eat in restaurants.13

My last four installments have followed Bob from Italy to Northampton to New York; but all this time, Frances was still in Rome with the newborn baby. In the next posting I’ll get back to her life without Bob, and her return to the U.S.

  1. Doc. 368: 1929-10-11.↩︎

  2. Doc. 290: David Hunter Miller to RCB, 1929-11-09. “So far as any commercial publication is concerned I would be wholly unwilling to be interested in it or even to consent to it so far as such consent were mine to give.”↩︎

  3. Doc. 367: 1929-10-14.↩︎

  4. Doc. 1525: 1930-02-09.↩︎

  5. Doc. 1571: RCB to Robert S. Lynd, 1928-11-05.↩︎

  6. Doc. 1912: Wesley C. Mitchell to RCB, 1929-04-10.↩︎

  7. Social Science Research Council, Fifth Annual Report (New York, 1930), p.2.↩︎

  8. Fifth Annual Report, p. 42.↩︎

  9. Doc. 370 1929-10-15.↩︎

  10. Hirtle, Peter B. “Research, Libraries, and Fair Use: The Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1935.” Journal of the Copyright Society of the USA 53.3-4 (2006): 545–601, preprint, p.5 n.26.↩︎

  11. Doc. 1719: RCB to William A. Neilson, 1929-10-03.↩︎

  12. Doc. 363: 1929-10-18.↩︎

  13. Doc. 356: 1929-10-19. “I have been eating at the restaurants ever since my bad afternoon, and trying to eat well and regularly.”↩︎


1 response to "A Summer in Italy, 1929 (Part 8)"

  • judi binkley wrote:

    Thanks for sharing this fascinating chapter of family history Peter. I love reading about the day to day endeavors of previous generations of our family--mine certainly pale in comparison. judi