Tuesday Treasures: Tiananmen Square, Part II

Last week, I posted some materials from and about scholars who were in China during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. This week, I’d like to expand on that post by showing you all two more items related to the protests – I just found so many interesting documents that I couldn’t confine them all to one blog post!

In the last post, I wrote about the importance of primary sources: they give us a glimpse into the past by allowing us to see first-hand accounts of it, and pull us into history by making it more human. They can give us stories, memories, and cultural insights. Likewise, they can pull us straight into the heart of an important event from the past, allowing us to see details that might otherwise have been lost forever.

If you’re interested in history, though, you can’t just think about the details. You also have to make an attempt to see the bigger picture – context is important! Some questions we could ask about the Tiananmen Square protests include (but are not limited to): What happened in the months or years leading up to June of 1989 that might have contributed to these protests and the government’s reaction to them? What types of people were protesting, and what were their reasons for doing so? How did the rest of the world view China at this time, and vice versa? Did any non-Chinese agents play a part in these protests? Were there similar movements happening elsewhere? How did the protests change things in China and the rest of the world, if at all? How did the government react to these actions in the long term? Did the lives of normal Chinese citizens change at all on a day-to-day basis as a result of these protests? Did the educational system in China change, due to these protests being student-led? Primary sources can help us answer these types of context-driven questions.

This first document is a memorandum from the Committee on Scholarly Communication with the People’s Republic of China (CSCPRC) to their National Program scholars who left China early because of the protests. In the memo, dated about a month and a half after the June 4th incident, the CSCPRC urges the scholars not to return to China before January of 1990:

In terms of context, this quote is of particular interest:

The current political crackdown by the present leadership is having a profound impact on the Chinese academic community in China. Students and faculty are being arrested, and it is not unlikely that ties with foreign scholars will be viewed suspiciously by the government in the coming months. At the same time, it is also clear that some Chinese scholars are under pressure to inform foreign friends that their institutions are open for business as usual, that nothing happened on June 4, and that everything is back to normal.

This next document is a trip report by previous ACLS President Stanley N. Katz written a year after the 1989 protests took place – the first page gives a general introduction as to why he took the trip in the first place, explaining that his Chinese colleagues very much wanted him to return in the aftermath of the protests:

Stanley N. Katz: American studies trip, page 1
Later in the report, President Katz makes note of what has happened to institutions of higher education, American studies, and scholarship in general as a result of the previous protests. I found this segment of the report (the end of page 20 through the beginning of page 22) particularly interesting:

If you don’t want to read all of that, here are a few quotes:

…individual programs…have been temporarily badly damaged by the political repression following June, 1989. (p. 20)

The faculty seem determined to settle in for the long haul not at all confident that anything positive will happen soon, but seemingly sure that in the long run more reasonable values and policies will win out. The graduate students, on the other hand, seem angry, openly defiant and quite aggressive in their pro-democratic values. Their comments after my lectures, refusing for the most part to pursue the discussion of American studies and insisting upon talking about rights and constitutionalism, showed just how unafraid they are. (p. 21)

On this trip I came to believe that the single most subversive thing the United States can do in China is to promote the study of American culture. (p. 21)

The ACLS American Studies Program, which ran from 1961 to 1992, aided foreign scholars studying the United States. In visiting China to ascertain the state of American studies there, President Katz made note of the bigger picture as well, offering a look at the context surrounding an important event in Chinese (and world) history. This is the type of material that keeps scholarship pushing forward, offering a better understanding of how events and people and places fit together and influence each other. These documents can’t answer all (or any, in full) of the questions I asked above, but they do give us a starting point from which we can ask more questions and start building a map of history.

Monday Marvels

Last week I promised to start posting interesting records from Part III, so that’s what I’m going to do today! In general, Part III has more recent materials than Parts I and II. This means I’ll be able to share some more contemporary ACLS activities with all of you, highlighting some programs and aspects of the organization that are very much still alive.

One of the things that makes the ACLS so special is the inclusion of constituent societies under its umbrella. Many of the records in this collection focus on these member societies, and one of the most important ways in which they are able to communicate with each other and the ACLS is through the Conference of Administrative Officers (CAO), which “holds semi-annual meetings to discuss substantive issues in the humanities as well as practical and organizational aspects of society management,” according to the ACLS website.

The CAO originally started as the Conference of Secretaries back in 1925. The title was changed in 1988, and the CAO continues to be an essential part of the ACLS mission to strengthen the relationships between its member societies. Before receiving Part III and beginning to process it, I was told that I would be seeing a lot more CAO files in this part than the previous two. This is already true! Three of the thirty boxes that arrived on the first pallet contained CAO materials, including many administrative files. Most of the files regarding the Conference of Secretaries / CAO in the first two parts pertain directly to the semi-annual meetings, with just one or two folders per meeting in general. The CAO files in Part III are rich with information, however, and I’m excited to see more of them as I make my way through this next stage of the project.

My reason for sharing so much about the CAO is simple: The document I’m highlighting this week is from a CAO meeting, and was written by ACLS Vice President Steven Wheatley (with the help of other ACLS staff), whose passion and knowledge are acutely expressed in this document titled “International Programs of the American Council of Learned Societies.” I’ve already waxed poetic about the prevalence of international programs and committees overseen by the ACLS, so you know that the organization has a strong international focus. For this November 1994 CAO retreat, constituent societies also wrote reports about how they had dealt with international matters throughout their histories – these files could be an excellent resource for someone doing a project on international affairs (hint, hint)! As an aside, the CAO spring meeting is happening this weekend, right at the tail end of the ACLS annual meeting, which I feel very honored to be attending (you’ll be hearing about it next week!).

This document begins by stating that the ACLS was founded “to represent American scholarship in international fora,” so indeed, the very creation of the organization was centered on opening up scholarly relationships around the world. To date, I have found materials in the ACLS collection representing every single continent except Antarctica, which is quite a feat. This document outlines the goals, activities, strengths, and problems of the ACLS’ international programs. I always love finding documents like this – they help me understand more about the ACLS and its history, which of course allows me to process the collection in a more straightforward and comprehensive way. Happy reading, everyone.

International Programs, page 1 International Programs, page 2International Programs, page 3International Programs, page 4International Programs, page 5

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