Reading Archives

With this blog, I am planning to offer, as regularly as possible, critical observations on the scholarly and popular literature analyzing the nature of archives or contributing to our understanding of archives in society. I hope this blog will be of assistance to anyone, especially faculty and graduate students, interested in understanding archives and their importance to society.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Straddling Worlds

Steven J. Harper, Straddling Worlds (Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 2007).

Peter Bess, MLIS student, University of Pittsburgh

Steven J. Harper’s, Straddling Worlds (Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 2007) peers into the life of Northwestern Professor and historian of American diplomacy, Richard W. Leopold. Harper, a former student of Leopold’s, delves into the life of his late professor by focusing on the struggles Leopold, a self-proclaimed non-practicing Jew, faced and overcame in the academic world of the early to mid-1900s that saw him plainly as a Jew. Harper garnishes Leopold’s story with facts about the World Wars, presidential races, Vietnam War protests, and more, all of which played a pivotal role in the shaping of his life and work.

Among the stories in this biography is how Richard Leopold took part in the committee that headed up the investigation into Professor Francis L. Loewenheim’s charges against the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library in 1969. Through Harper’s narrative we see a man who tentatively accepts the responsibility of leading an investigation but who leads the investigation with integrity and conviction. This case still stands as one of the more pivotal cases of archival ethics in the history of presidential libraries.

As strong as the narrative is in this book it is carried by the dialogue between Harper and Leopold. The interview portions allow the reader to hear straight from the subject’s mouth about his life. The talk is straight forward and engrossing. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in academic life in the early 1900s, the life of Jewish men in the early 1900s, American history, or someone who just loves a great story. This is one of the few biographies I have read that was tough to put down and bittersweet to finish.