Archives and Memories: Case Studies
by Elizabeth Sherman Swing, CIES Historian
Much of our documented past may be found in the Kent State University Special Collections, where the CIES presidential papers at stored. Most of the CIES Collection at Kent State has been inventoried, and the Inventory is available on the Internet (http://speccoll.library.kent.edu/education/cies.html) -- an immensely valuable resource for all of us. Nevertheless, locating particular records is not always simple. To find a particular document requires navigation of the Inventory, a labor-intensive activity slightly different from use of a more familiar library index. One needs finely honed detective skills -- and luck, a process familiar to all researchers. In addition to telephone calls and email inquiries to the Special Collections staff, each year I make one, and sometimes two, visits to Kent, Ohio, to look for not-yet-processed documents, or seemingly minor documents that may not be inventoried. Fortunately, I have had the assistance of CIES member, Kim Sebaly, the Hercule Poirot of Kent State, who knows the collection well.
In addition to the written record, I make use of another resource, an ephemeral resource - the collective memory of CIES members, particularly senior members - a resource, available only as long as relevant CIES members are alive and are blessed with good recall. The panel in San Antonio, "Looking Backwards into the Future - Reflections and Reflexivities," tapped into this memory pool when five past presidents shared insights and contexts far more valuable than those found in documents. For those present, it was an extraordinary event. A formal plan for utilizing this resource is the Presidents' Project initiated by Gary Theisen, whereby interviews with past presidents are videotaped. For the Historian, however, a continuing question is the interaction between memory and the written record. Let me illustrate the practical implications of this interaction with four seemingly simple situations I have encountered in my search for "matters of historical fact."
1. Omissions in the Written Record: Gender Ratios
2. Mistakes in the Written Record: Eggertsen Lecturers
3. Ambiguities in the Written Record: A Posthumous Honorary Fellow?
A postscript to this research emerged when Erwin Epstein emailed me after the annual meeting at which the list was published. Erwin pointed out that the list I had assembled was incomplete, that George Bereday had been awarded the title, Honorary Fellow, posthumously, and that Erwin had been present at the Board meeting when this award took place. Erwin wrote, "Bereday was the only person to have been given that honor after his death, and I believe the feeling was that posthumous action in his case should not be a precedent. You might wish to verify issues with someone who headed the committee in the early days."
I checked with Vandra Masemann, who as chair of the Awards Committe had written a report dated March 1985 which states: "It was decided after some debate that the category of Posthumous Honorary Fellow not be established. It leads to some difficulties in terms of limiting numbers, and it might not be the most appropriate way of paying homage to deceased members. The Committee suggests that the Society Executive think seriously about alternative means of honoring the memory of people like George Bereday." This decision notwithstanding, I have no reason to doubt Erwin's recollection. The CIES Board of Directors could have voted to make Bereday a posthumous Honorary Fellow before the Business Meeting at which the "fifteen living members" rule was adopted. If so, and if the action of that Board of Directors was definitive, George Bereday is the only posthumous CIES Honorary Fellow. It is also possible that because the Bereday Posthumous Honorary Fellow award did not survive scrutiny at the Business Meeting that this category does not exist. It is, in a curious way, possible that both Erwin and Vandra are right. But what is knowing in a situation like this? Would Plato accept this level of knowledge?
4. Gaps in the Record: The Legal Status of the Society
As the search progressed, I emailed a variant of the following message to several past presidents of CIES: "Do you have any memory of obtaining a document entitled Articles of Incorporation at the time the tax situation was solved? It seems to me that such a document (if it exists) should be in the Secretariat, but Hey Kyung tells me it is not! If it exists, a copy could be in the Archives, but I have not turned it up so far, nor is it in the Inventory of the archives, nor is it among the photocopies of papers from the archives I have on file at home. It could, of course, be among uninventoried papers." Subsequently several former Presidents communicated with me, each certain the Society had been incorporated and that the document must be somewhere. One former president stated, "I'm puzzled by this correspondence . . . I am sure that I personally took care of the incorporation of CIES, the tax-exempt status, etc, when I was president . . . I was facilitated by Erwin Epstein's finding the original constitution in the 1959 journal publication. I worked with the IRS office in Cincinnati, Ohio (probably because that was the state in which the secretariat was located at that time)."
While this correspondence was going on, I described my search for our Articles of Incorporation to an accountant friend, who pointed out that it was not unusual: 1) for a non-profit organization to neglect to obtain tax-exempt status for a number of years, 2) for a non-profit organization to neglect to become incorporated when the tax exempt status is obtained. Could CIES be in that category? It would appear so. Hey Kyung, while in the former Secretariat, eventually proved this negative when Citibank, with which CIES had done business, could not find a copy of Articles of Incorporation but reported the existence in their files on CIES of a form with the words, "Unincorporated Status." CIES has since accepted this reality and has begun the process of becoming incorporated. Is there a moral here about the fallibility of memory? Is there also a moral about where original legal documents should be kept? Perhaps not in an archive if needed on short notice. Meanwhile, how does the Historian prove the non-existence of a document?
This point notwithstanding, as CIES Historian I find myself weighing the relative value of documents versus memory. There is a razor's edge between them. Which memories establish reality? Which written documents? How do we construct what really happened in the past? How do we construct knowledge? Archives and memory are complementary, but when those whose memory we rely on are no longer around, the archives will remain. The Comparative and International Education Society is not yet fifty years old, yet understanding its past leads to an epistemological tangle