Blogs > Cliopatria > Noted Here and There ...

Jan 13, 2005 6:59 am

Noted Here and There ...

Our friends over at Rebunk are recruiting a few additional members of their group blog. If you enjoy discussing current events in historical perspective, think you know something about sports, and like butting heads a little harder than we usually do over here at Cliopatria, consider the possibility of becoming a Rebunker.

I'm a big fan of Caleb McDaniel's Mode for Caleb and I've been remiss in not linking to his blog enough recently. If it's not part of your regular fare, read his"Hint for Future Historians". Then scroll down. You'll come across Caleb's end of a wide-ranging and intelligent discussion of the problem of theodicy with Positive Liberty's Jason Kuznicki, Brandon Watson of Siris and others. At Cliopatria, Oscar Chamberlain entered the discussion, as well. The issue was recently made urgent by the earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean. Western monotheistic religions all want to affirm that: G_d is omnipotent, G_d is good, and evil is real. Put simply, those three propositions cannot all be true. You could write a history of Judaic, Christian, and Muslim thought by tracing the ways in which major intellectuals in each of those communities have grappled with the problem. Inevitably, the grapple means modifying one or the other of those three claims in some significant way. Our secular colleagues suggest that we cut to the chase by admitting that: G_d is not real.

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Maarja Krusten - 1/14/2005

PS Although I have posted many comments about Presidential records, I can't tell how many people on HNN have read them. (Some archivists and records managers, on the other hand, have gone out of their way to thank me for the way I articulate those issues, both in style and content. So I know I have been getting through to some of the the ARM community.) Dr. Graham's article discusses the PRA of 1978. The Nixon materials, with which I worked as a NARA employee, fell under a separate statute, the Presidential Recordings and Materials Act of 1974. The PRMPA applied to the Presidential records of the Nixon administration - only. Some Nixon records have been released to the public, others still remain to be screened for potential public disclosure by employees of the National Archives.

Maarja Krusten - 1/14/2005

The comments that I and others posted are at . The other link is correct for Dr. Graham's article.

Maarja Krusten - 1/14/2005

You write, "That's one of the dilemmas inherent in archival research: often we historians of the future decide we wish we had some piece of ephemera only to discover that the people of the past did not preserve it for us. But this does not always represent a failure on their part, a lack of willpower to preserve -- it may also reflect their determination that something was not worth preserving."

That actually refers more to a records management issue rather than an archival issue. Records management focuses on the use of schedules to judge which records are ephemeral and temporary in nature and which are historical and permanent in nature. From what I've observed, records management generally works pretty well as a process and has not been an area of concern in my postings. I think I've only alluded to it in one comment. My concerns focus on archival issues, especially concealed political pressure and the potential for surreptitious suppression of historical information.

I read your comment soon after you posted it but thought I would leave it up to Dr. Luker or the other bloggers to respond. I was interested to see how they would distill the various postings in which I've described my past experiences, including how I and my colleagues fought political pressure, as an employee of the National Archives. Absent such responses, I'm at a loss as to what to say. So, I looked to see if there was another author's to whose piece I could refer you.

If you have time, you might start by reading the comments I and others posted at . Although you express relief that the professional organizations are keeping track of archival issues, I did not find in the posted comments an acceptance by all the readers of those organizations. One of them blased AHA as being radical. So, I do not know which organization could speak credibly on behalf of all scholars (right, left, center), no more than I can any longer identify a news source in what some now call the mainstream media that people of different political persuasions would accept.

Please take a look also at Dr. Hugh Davis Graham's piece on HNN in 2001 on the Bush executive order and Presidential records, available at . It drew no comments from anyone on HNN (!!!) despite the troubling issues it raised. I do not know how to interpret that. In 2001, I was not aware of HNN. Had I been, I certainly would have added some affirmations of the potential dangers to which Dr. Graham referred, based on my perspective as a former National Archives isnider.

Jonathan Dresner - 1/14/2005

I guess I understand omnipotent differently than you do. You seem to mean that God's power is ever-present, always at work.

I have always understood it to mean that God's power to create and alter the world is unlimited except by God's own will which permits us to choose our path and to use our faculties to understand a world which functions by God-given natural law.

God does let bad things happen. Because to prevent them would violate the spirit of choice with which our souls are infused by God's will, and to prevent them would violate the natural laws which we are given to sustain us and challenge us. That does not mean that God is less than omnipotent, but rather that our omnipotent God is playing fair with us.

Ralph E. Luker - 1/14/2005

Julie/John: Look, if G_d is good and G_d is omnipotent, G_d just doesn't let bad things happen. Right?

Julie A Hofmann - 1/14/2005

I'm a believer in evil, but can't see how it fits in with natural disasters. It's one theological question that has always confused me. Not evil or free will, or any of the supposed 'omni-' things that God is supposed to be, but just why people assume that those things in some way require divine intervention or some kind of master plan. Seems to me that that is a bit limiting. Unless, of course we're talking about a superhero. Now them, I expect to try to intervene.

W. Caleb McDaniel - 1/13/2005

Thanks for the links, Ralph, and the kind words. I don't know if I'd call my post on the tsunami a real contribution to the theodicy debate: more of a non-statement than anything.

Sorry if the title of my "future historians" post was misleading. I'm not sure I'm comfortable making a generalization about whether historian bloggers pay enough attention to this issue, as I'm relatively new to the blogosphere myself. But it is good to know that our professional organizations do pay attention to matters of access.

If I wanted to bend over backwards to make my post relevant to the archival question, though, I could say that it does point out how large those questions are. Because a cultural historian's definition of an archive is so broad -- I'm imagining, for instance, that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind could one day be a source -- it is almost impossible to conceive of preserving the future historian's access to everything that he or she might find relevant.

That's one of the dilemmas inherent in archival research: often we historians of the future decide we wish we had some piece of ephemera only to discover that the people of the past did not preserve it for us. But this does not always represent a failure on their part, a lack of willpower to preserve -- it may also reflect their determination that something was not worth preserving. I'm not sure where I'm going with this point (I said I would have to bend over backwards), so I'll simply end, abruptly.

Derek Charles Catsam - 1/13/2005

Thanks, Ralph.

Maarja Krusten - 1/13/2005

I eagerly clicked on the link on "Hint for Future Historians," hoping it addressed some of the issues raised in and the comments posted there. But no, no such luck. Do any bloggers ever get into those issues, the real life stuff that is going to affect future historians? I don't have time to follow blogs closely enough to know whether they do or not. I only know they do not show much interest in those issues on HNN.

Here's why the silence is a problem. The archival community is split into two types of institutions, those where public access is set by law under the concept of public control and those where the donors set the rules for access under the older concept of personal control. The former largely are governmental, at least in the period after Watergate, the latter often involve universities, privately run historical institutions, etc.

Within the federal government, passage of the presidential records statutes represented an effort to move access to White House records from personal to public control. The way I read the tea leaves, there's a good chance that officials who are comfortable with the concept of personal control will rise to the top at the National Archives of the near future. That's based on my past experiences in being caught in the crossfire between two philosophies of access and conflicting approaches to political deference during my career at NARA. Of course, if these issues are litigated (there currently is a case before the courts involving the Bush executive order), the Archives will only be able to speak in court through lawyers reporting to the Attorney General.

Anyone looking at HNN would say, historians show little concern about these and other archival issues. I can understand that some of the history buffs posting on HNN may be comfortable with the concept of "father knows best," as witness the blasts against "radical" or "liberal" historians who seeks records declassification, blah blah blah. It's hard to believe that is a concensus view on HNN.

My generation of archivists and historians keenly felt stewardship obligations to future generations of scholars. I wonder where our successors will learn to look at issues the same way, and stick their necks out on behalf of historians? Ah well, maybe that approach is out of fashion now!

Jonathan Dresner - 1/13/2005

I have a bit of a problem with that last proposition, that evil is real. It has never been stressed in the Jewish tradition that I grew up in. There is sin and harm and error and tragedy, to be sure, but "evil" is not a concept which was part of my upbringing. So if I am "forced" to modify one of these statements, it would be that one.

I also don't see how omnipotence translates to divine plan without obviating natural law and free will, but that's another discussion.

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