If it isn't bad enough that it is increasingly difficult to find a publisher in European history, the Bushies, in their infinite wisdom, are going to make it more difficult to write European history too. It has just been brought to my attention that the work of European historians at the Library of Congress is to be interrupted indefinitely so that the Library can put up an exhibit on a Republican president who might perhaps divert us from thinking about the current one. Yes, we are about to have more Abraham Lincoln knowledge inflicted on us, courtesy of an administration whose only intellectual or political connection to Lincoln is the suspension of habeus corpus. As Michael Sizer of the Maryland Institute College of Art recently wrote for a post that did not make it onto H-France in its original form:
"I have just been informed that the Library of Congress has decided to close the European Reading Room. This is expected to happen quite soon - perhaps within a month, so that an exhibition on Abe Lincoln can be set up. They have made vague promises to reopen in the future, but this would be in a smaller space, and only after extensive renovations that may in fact not happen due to budget and logistical issues. So it is quite likely that the closure will be permanent, and even if it is not, it will only be after a long time that a new, reduced European Reading Room would be opened. The current space is set to be converted to another exhibition hall, which would bring in more visitors and revenue, but would continue to move the Library's institutional emphasis from assisting scholarly research to serving as a tourist destination.
"As someone who has done extensive research in the European Reading Room, and who has benefited from the excellent assistance of their dedicated staff (who fear that their jobs may also be cut), I consider this to be a very sad decision. Even if you haven't conducted research in the European Reading Room, I hope that you would agree that it is vitally important that our national repository of knowledge maintain a Reading Room dedicated to European Studies. The Library of Congress has more foreign-language materials than English ones, and the European Reading Room serves as an example for foreign visitors (who come through the room frequently on special tours, etc.) of the continuing interest that Americans have in learning about European culture and history. The French holdings at the Library are enormous, and include many titles difficult or impossible to find anywhere else in the United States. While they will still be accessible to readers in the Main Reading Room, the country-specific reference materials, databases, and, of course, the European specialist librarians will be less readily accessible.
"I would encourage members of the list to protest this decision to your congressperson, and also to James Billington, the Librarian of Congress. Previous efforts to close the African and Middle Eastern reading Room, which has fewer scholarly visitors, have been thwarted by protests from the scholarly community before. The Slavic studies folks (the most extensive users of the European Reading Room) are already organizing to express their displeasure. I urge French scholars to do the same!"
I, of course, imagine (wholly without evidence, which is to say it's Not True) that my old Oligarch college nemesis, Chicken Hawk and Bonesman Robert Kagan, having been irritated (but if I remember him correctly, probably not embarassed) by the failure of his lovely Middle Eastern war, is probably responsible for this. You know, he did write that mean book about Europe, also available in large print for elderly McCarthyite conservatives. But in the Wacky World of History, anything is possible, so let's not exclude the possibility! Thanks to Jack Norton, of Northwestern, for passing this story on: Jack tells us that you can click here to join a group of activists organizing to save the reading room.
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