Tuesday, June 21, 2011

NHPRC: What It Is and Why It Matters

This year, the Society of American Archivists has been having a year-long archival awareness campaign called “I Found It At The Archives!

Everybody – (and I mean in the genealogical community – and with the apparent exception of the good folks at Wikipedia) knows that primary source material is preferable to secondary source material.  That means, given the choice, an archival document – a first-hand account of the specific incident or event under study – is better than a “hearsay” account from years later.  

For those of you who haven’t been following the discussion closely, Wikipedia editors prefer secondary sources to primary sources since primary sources are “open to interpretation.”  Secondary sources – especially if found on the Internet – are in the view of Wikipedians – close to sacrosanct.

Which is, of course, why Wikipedia ought not to be a “Trusted Source” for genealogists.  If you haven’t figured out why primary sources are important, you need to spend more time learning about what you’re doing.

Nonetheless, Wikipedia notwithstanding, the Society of American Archivists has announced their six finalists in the “I Found It At The  Archives” writing competition.  Here’s the link to the six finalists: http://www2.archivists.org/initiatives/i-found-it-in-the-archives/i-found-it-in-the-archives-2011-national-competition

Read all of them, but specifically read the two with a genealogical focus: Archie Reson’s experience at the East Texas Research Center of the Stephen F. Austin State University and Linda Ejzak’s discoveries at the Ohio Historical Society. 

Of course, there was obviously an ulterior motive to my posting the above.

All of the above is interesting but doesn’t address the immediate issue.  How do archives pay for themselves?

Sure, lots of archives are state-funded; these days, that doesn’t mean much, as states cut back on their allocations.  Also, lots of archives rely on contributions from individuals for operating support.  These days, that’s an “iffy” source.   When was the last time you wrote a check to your favorite archives?

Frankly, we take our archives for granted and assume they will always be there for us.  That’s a very questionable position, considering the current world view.  Lots of folks view archives as a “luxury”… something that could easily be done away with.

On June 23rd, the folks in Congress who sit on the House Appropriations Committee will consider funding for NHPRC.   And, what is NHPRC, you ask?

NHPRC is the National Historical and Publications Records Commission.  In a word, it provides funding for archives all over the United States.  Not just state archives, but private archival institutions as well. 

This year, the House decided that the NHPRC could subsist on just 10% of its previous years’ funding.  After all, the Congress (and you know who’s in charge) has decided that there are things we can’t afford, since there are tax breaks for billionaires at stake.  History and archives that NHPRC supports is apparently one of those things that's just too expensive. 

To find out what archives in your area receive NHPRC funding and are therefore in jeopardy because of this drastic cut in funding, check out the following link: http://www2.archivists.org/news/2011/action-alert-stop-the-house-from-cutting-nhprc-funding-to-just-1-million

Surprisingly, not everything we need in our research can be found on Wikipedia.  We really need the real “primary source” records and finding aids that are found in real archives.

How else would we know the truth?

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