Get Smart: Political Advocacy and the US Government

In the past few weeks, news stories about Congress’ decisions regarding the federal budget have permeated the wires. In Washington, DC, I’m probably susceptible to a higher rate of these conversations. I don’t think I’ve ever used the term sequestration in my life. And these days, I find myself saying it casually over coffee, or on the way to the post office. I’ve learned the procedures associated with agency-wide budget cuts and I’ve listened to the outcry from other government agencies on the difficulties of operating under these circumstances. But, I’m not here to discuss the pitfalls of our economic status.

I deal in archives, so let’s get to it!

I always say that collections speak to archivists. Materials tell us stories, they maintain an order and a sequence. We just have to listen to them. More accurately, we have to survey the materials and consider the following questions: how were they used, why were they arranged in this manner, what’s missing, what kind of connections can be made, where are the ‘like’ materials? In my few years of experience, it has become clear that rare manuscripts are coded with information that guide archivists in the arrangement and description process. It’s like DNA, but without the double-helix, the hard science or the biological implications for humanity. So, I guess it’s actually not at all like DNA.

And sometimes, materials pop up at the perfect time!

So, it didn’t come as a surprise when I opened a frayed box this week to reveal materials documenting ACLS’s relationship with Congress. In fact, most of the correspondence stuffed in these folders included positive exchanges among elected officials, members of ACLS and other community groups. Essentially, these folders are evidence of the government…working…well! Which felt like a breath of air albeit stale air from the 1960s, but air nonetheless!

During Dr. Frederick Burhardt’s tenure as President, ACLS was involved in several projects that informed bills authored by elected officials and brought to vote. In 1961, Charles Blitzer, the Executive Associate of ACLS, also communicated on behalf of the organization. Surveying the letterhead alone provides some understanding of the breadth of influence ACLS had on current political decisions. In the early 1960s alone, Burkhardt and Blitzer had consistent communication with:

  • Committee on Foreign Relations
  • Committee on Labor and Public Welfare
  • Committee on the Judiciary
  • Committee on Education and Labor
  • SubCommittee on Arts and Humanities

In this time period, ACLS’s advocacy can be seen most clearly in their strong voice for raising educational standards in this country and opening the doors to international studies.

Higher Education Act 

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A prime illustration of the important and unique voice that ACLS brought to the political arena can be seen in the authoring, lobbying and eventual passage of the Higher Education Act intended to “strengthen the educational resources of our colleges and universities and to provide financial assistance for students in post-secondary and higher education” with a special consideration to international studies. It’s this last part, broadening the educational scope globally, that Burkhardt and Blitzer were most interested in shepherding into law.

In 1961, Blitzer began the process of reaching out to elected officials in the House to express his concern for a “lack of any new higher education legislation of the 87th Congress. In his statement, above, he urges the academic community to “do a more effective job” in getting the attention of Congress as a way to garner support.

Four years later, in 1965, Burkhardt worked with several members of the Committee on Education and Labor, Special Subcommittee on Education to provide information on the Higher Education Bill [H.R. 9567, you can read more about the Bill and the voting records of those elected officials in the House here and the Senate here. And, if you are so inclined, here is the Bill itself.]

International Education Act

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The manuscript folders also contain a flurry of materials dealing with the International Educational Act of 1966, a bill with “strong bipartisan support” that represents the first major funding for international education. The Johnson Administration can be credited with adding a “world dimension to our quickening national effort on education (Gerald Read, 406).” The bill’s features including “stimulating exchanges of students and teachers overseas and include school-to-school partnerships, a reciprocal Peace Corps, and assistance to potential leaders from abroad studying in this country (AAA, 1966).” You can read the bill here.

On April 4 of that same year, Burkhardt spoke before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor. His 5-page testimony included some prescient remarks. He noted,

The strengthened undergraduate programs will provide better prepared graduates and eventually will strengthen the corps of expertise needed by our universities and colleges and by government and industry.


Not the least educational effect of studying other cultures is the new perspectives and insights furnished into our own.


We have the illusion that we are familiar with Europe because the European tradition appeals in so much of our liberal arts programs as part of our own heritage, but we may be living in the past–the new Europe now emerging will well repay study as a unitary cultural region, using the methods which work in other area studies.

Considering recent articles like this one force us to consider the state of higher education today, Burkhardt’s and Blitzer’s voices in these discussions proved important in shaping the landscape of knowledge in the US and abroad and helped to crystallize global exchange programs from which we continue to benefit.


American Anthropological Association, Fellows Newsletter. Vol. 7, No. 6 (June 1966).

Thanks to Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division for use of “Historic American Buildings Survey…” photograph used in this post. You can find it here.

Gerald Read. “The International Educational Act of 1966.” The Phi Delta Kappan , Vol. 47, No. 8 (Apr., 1966), pp. 406-409. Published by: Phi Delta Kappa International

2 thoughts on “Get Smart: Political Advocacy and the US Government

  1. Gerald Eugene Read, Arthur Lee Daniels, and Richard Michael Ridgell became heroes on September 16, 2013 in Building 197. This building became the Joshua Humphreys Building!

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