Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Access to Archives, Classification, and the Freedom of Information Act

Adapted from the Organization of American Historians Newsletter for May 2005.

As former chairperson of the little known OAH Committee on Research and Access to Historical Documentation, and a state archivist/historian, I was asked to prepare a short essay on “access to archives, classification, and the Freedom of Information Act.” This is a daunting assignment, one which two major government commissions (one reporting to the president the last week of March, 2005) have generated volumes of opinion and documentation relevant to the question. To paraphrase Ed Ayers in a C-SPAN presentation on his view of the digital future of research and writing, like a fool, I raised my hand.

I first consulted with the members of our committee who were able to participate in a conference call on March 25, 2005 for what I thought would be a half-hour meeting, and which ended after an hour and a half, producing a transcript that far exceeded my proscribed word limit. We were fortunate to have Bruce Craig leading us. He kept us current with the lobbying efforts of the National Coalition for History (NCH)&emdash;a nonprofit organization that represents the historical and archival professions&emdash;while Nancy Berlage, Walter Hill, and I probed with him such fundamental questions as how the “need to know” standard of the courts should be defined, how the right to know is conditioned by security needs (especially after 9/11), how access should be balanced by personal privacy, how and when executive privilege should be permitted, and above all, how does a democracy based upon majority rule, assure the public at large that it is basing its actions on a reliable, accessible record.

Fortunately, we then had a new Archivist of the United States , Allen Weinstein, who articulated a deep commitment to finding answers to these questions. In an interview, Weinstein made it clear that there is a distinction between any scholarly debate that might arise from his own scholarly endeavors (he welcomes the scholarly discussion) and his devotion to access within the context of a dependable and dynamic archival program. As many of us know, he pioneered in seeking documents under the Freedom of Information Act. He worked diligently to bring all presidential libraries under one coherent and accepted policy of access, and will not release any materials now at College Park that are not covered by such a policy based upon a signed agreement. He embraced advocacy for the revival of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) as a necessary and integral component of what the National Archives is all about. In my opinion, he was the first archivist since the ‘R’ was added to the National Historical Publications Commission to view the Commission as an essential aspect of the total program of the National Archives and to openly advocate full funding for both the records and publications programs. He also made it clear that he seeks broader cooperation among the other keepers of the collective memory of the nation, including the state archives, where a fair degree of entrepreneurial and innovative work has been undertaken to cope with such fundamental issues of access as the creation of permanent electronic archives. Weinstein and at several state archivists openly advocate the management of the flow of permanent electronic information into the archives from the moment of creation&emdash;delegating the advice on who should have access and when&emdash;to thoughtful panels of experts selected by the archives, panels that encompass the broad spectrum of differences that will arise.

While some latitude will inevitably be given to the people we elect to office to make decisions concerning access for the period of time they are in office, we ought not to permit them to do so beyond a reasonably prescribed time limit once they are out of office. Neither presidents nor national security advisers should have the right to close indefinitely, or remove from public view altogether, the record of their work. In the world of HIPPA regulations, we have permitted those who govern to stumble badly in passing laws so poorly written as to ignore that what is private health information for the living ought to become public and freely accessible information at some defined point in the future. That, indeed, is the essential point of all access concerns. In a democracy such as ours, there needs to be a time, a persistently forward moving date, after which all that has been identified as permanently valuable information is totally free and accessible.

Of course, determining what should be retained permanently in the massive rush of information that is generated every day is an even more difficult stumbling block than setting a time for release. In the desire to know what is happening and why, some rush to judgment, and, in the case of some television anchors, find themselves pushed into retirement, obscuring the fact that the questions they raised could not be answered precisely because the records no longer exist for whatever reason, legitimate or otherwise. To have faithful, full, and accurate reporting as history or as current events, a concerted effort must be made to ensure that accurate and complete records are maintained in an archival setting from their inception.

It is worthwhile for historians and archivists to expend some of their energies helping to establish and enforce standards of what we keep and why. If our principal means of communication is currently by Iphone, Blackberry, IPAD and email, then some effort needs to be undertaken to see to it that phone logs and essential electronic communications are both managed well and permanently kept, going directly from the moment of creation to an archival setting that at some defined point is fully accessible to the public.

Historians do need to be sensitive to the fact that Freedom of Information Act requests can paralyze a government agency that is faithfully attempting to do its assigned tasks. Some archivists, including this one, are all too aware of this problem, especially with regard to those requests that appear to be put forward by, or on behalf of, particularly disgruntled individuals who are not necessarily concerned with the best interest of the public at large. It is important that in seeking more rapid and open access to government information that adequate resources are given to the Archives and government agencies to manage, record, and maintain government information in a readily accessible format. It is also important that independent review boards are established to both screen frivolous requests and to provide legitimate guidelines for the release of public information in whatever permanent form it may exist.

If you have a chance, log into C-SPAN’s presentation of Ed Ayers’ March 14, 2005 talk at the Library of Congress on “The Digital Future”. Ayers enthusiastically looks to the future of research in the digital age and the importance of digital archives. It is a thoughtful tour de force based upon his work with the Valley of the Shadow archives and the experiment he did with William G. Thomas III, in writing an article exclusively in electronic form for what Ayers believes is permanent reference on a perpetually authoritative web site (initially funded by the NEH). The problem is that there is currently no such thing as a permanent electronic reference on a perpetually authoritative web site. JSTOR, Google Books, and possibly probably come as close as any experiment in establishing a permanent electronic archives and our efforts to place all land records in Maryland online may prove a viable model. The truth is that the essential records of governance about which historians are rightfully clamoring for access have not been, and are not now, being created in the context of how to make them permanently accessible. To answer the most pressing questions of declassification and access to permanent records requires historians, archivists, librarians, and the public in general to focus on what we currently save and how to save it permanently in a sustainable electronic archives. When we do that, at least, the future of history will be secure. In the meantime we will battle to preserve and make accessible that which by luck and design survives of the archival record.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Celebrating Maryland Day: The Spirit of 1634

As we reflect on this 376th anniversary celebration of the landing on St. Clements Island of those first emigrants to the new colony of Maryland, you might wonder if there is anything new to be said about the lives, the courage, the determination of that first generation, in sum 'The Spirit of 1634.' Those first years have been carefully studied by genealogists, historians, archaeologists and anthropologists. They have been explored and celebrated in hundreds of books and articles. Yet there is always something new to learn, and even retracing the steps of what is known remains an exciting and inspiring adventure.

What is most engaging is the merger of several disciplines as we attempt to get to know and understand what that first generation did and why. Art, a closer look at the surviving documentary evidence, and the analysis of the physical remains in the ground,  coupled with a careful study of the word portraits of one of the best known chroniclers of those first years, Father Andrew White, lead in new directions and exciting new finds.

For example, until a short while ago, most scholars believed that we could never know what the first Governor, Leonard Calvert, looked like, although we have long known that he had returned to England long enough to have his portrait painted. Recently we have had two paintings brought to our attention, both of which are now in the State's collection. The first now hangs in the State House. The second we owe to, Mr. Truman Siemans, whose relative had made a copy early in the 20th century. He found the original on EBAY and bought it for the State's collection. Together they provide a face for Leonard Calvert that we once thought we would ever see.

portrait of Leonard Calvert, gift to the Friends of the Maryland
State Archives

Another new avenue of exploration is the possible architect of the Chapel whose work has been largely overlooked until recently when I began to catalog my books and found a treatise of his, that I had purchased at secondhand bookstore in New England for next to nothing. It is written by Guillielmi Hesi, a recognized Jesuit chapel architect,  and was published in 1636 as the Emblemata Sacra. It is devoted to poems and imagery that would have been familiar to that first generation. We have it available as images on line on the Maryland State Archives web site and when the Chapel is ready for exhibits, the Friends of the Maryland State Archives will be pleased to lend the original for display.

It is not far fetched to make the connection between Father William Hesius and the building of the Chapel at St. Mary's City. While no plans have survived, the paper they probably were drawn on has. The Jesuits brought paper with them that was made in their mllls near where Father Hesius lived and designed the church of St. Michel Leuven, Belgium, built ca. 1650. A number of examples of Jesuit paper with the watermark of a cross, a crown, IHS,and the word MARINAUD, are to be found throughout the Maryland records of the late 1660s and early 1670s when the Chapel was built, upon which are written the inventories of the estates of the Spirit of 1634 generation.

A cherub contemplating his shadow from Emblemata (1636)

For the Chapel walls, there is a recently identified candidate for the alter, based upon the Peter Paul Rubens painting of the crucifixion that we now know George Calvert had hanging in his private chapel before it was given to Queen Henrietta Maria to hang over the alter in hers. While the original was lost during the English Civil Wars there is a lovely engraving of it that could be used for a suitable reproduction:

In these times of economic turmoil and uncertainty, the Spirit of 1634 well deserves a holiday of its own, yet Maryland Day, with a few exceptions like today, has been slipping from public view. Clearly Maryland Day is worth celebrating, not only for what we know about the Spirit of 1634, but also about the adventure ahead in learning more. Yet, with the recent emphasis on long weekends and rolling several holidays into one, most people seem not to be aware that there is an official State Holiday called Maryland Day. The Baltimore Sun, while publicizing this event in its March 26th edition, following Sue Wilkinson's unflagging efforts to get their attention, failed to mention the day at all on the 25th itself. Recently you could only find scattered references to Maryland Day on the web. Two of the most popular returns from Google and Bing, either missed the day altogether, or were celebrating something else.

There is much to remember and much more to learn from the lives of those who stepped ashore on March 25, 1634, having come nearly 6,000 miles over rough seas to start a new life. 

The replica of the Dove under full sail.  Visit the Dove at St. Mary's City

Their journey began on St. Cecilia's Day, November 22, 1633. Driven out by wars and religious intolerance, and drawn by the prospects of prosperity in a new land of abundance, approximately 150 brave souls set forth from Cowes on the Isle of Wight. They disembarked at an island they named St. Clements on March 25, 1634, a day that was sacred to all who landed that day, whether Catholic or Protestant, as the feast of the annunciation. It also signaled the end of the old year and the beginning of the new on a calendar, that would not be changed to ours for another 118 years.  Their purpose, after having successfully negotiated an accord with the natives and exploring the lower reaches of the Potomac for some time previously, was to celebrate a mass of thanksgiving that special day in anticipation of beginning a permanent settlement in the new year.

Journey of the Ark and the Dove, 1633-1634

The 150 or so who launched the new colony of Maryland had little but hard work ahead of them with no assurance that they would succeed. They came with cultural baggage of closely held and antagonistic religious views, to be governed by a Charter that carried a hint of representative government, the details of which were read to them for the first time that day. They came with specific instructions on what to do and how to behave which in large measure they would ignore in favor of new ways of living which included adapting to and incorporating the knowledge and skills of the natives they found already living here. Indeed when commanded to build an English town from which they were to go out to work their fields, they instead inhabited an abandoned Indian village, and soon sought scattered farms and plantations along the manifold creeks and rivers that penetrated the interior. It proved to be a hard life in which large numbers would not survive, leaving few heirs to perpetuate their memory.

Still those that did survive labored on, joined by succeeding waves of immigrants until there was a large enough population in which native born would out number newcomers. Fortunately there was a well-educated priest among them who has left more than one version of his account of this migration of English men and women to Maryland. Father Andrew White would go on to translate the bible and familiar prayers into Piscataway, and probably wrote the draft of the 1649 Act Concerning Religion which we refer to today as the act of toleration.

All but a fragment of his translations are lost, but the concept of religious toleration which he wove into an Elizabethan Statute on Blasphemy pointed the way to the much broader concept of the separation of church and state, and religious freedom on which our civil government is based. Father White writes eloquently of the voyage and the landing. His Briefe Relation contains less of his religious piety than later versions, but all present a vivid word picture of the Spirit of 1634. A sample of excerpts from the most recent translation from the latin of what he sent to Rome is typical of his style:

“On the 22nd of November, 1633, St. Cecilia's day, with a southeast wind softly blowing, we sailed from Cowes, which is a port on the Isle of Wight. ….When the wind was failing us, we cast anchor opposite Yarmouth Castle, which is situated toward the northwest of the same island. Here we were received with public cannon salutes; and yet fear was not absent. For the sailors were muttering among themselves that they were expecting a messenger and a letter form London, and for that reason they also seemed to be devising delays. But God destroyed their evil plans. Indeed that very night , when a favorable wind was blowing … our pinnace [the Dove] … hurried out to sea. And so., lest we might lose sight of our pinnace, we decided to follow. In this way the plans that the sailor considered against us were foiled. This happened on the 23rd of November, the feast of St. Clement, who obtained the crown of martyrdom when he was tied to an anchor and plunged into the sea ….”

The voyage to the Caribbean islands was uneventful and the only lives lost were to partying too heavily on Christmas.

“Wine was consumed in order that this day might be better celebrated,”

Father White wrote,

“and those who enjoyed it too intemperately were seized by fever the following day; they were thirty in number, and from those about 12 died not very much later, including two Catholics...”

This is our only solid evidence that the majority on board may have been protestant, assuming that drinking was indiscriminate as to religion. 1/6th of those aboard by this calculation would have been Roman Catholic, and helps to explain why Lord Baltimore's instructions to his brother Leonard who led the expedition so explicitly required all the passengers not to discuss or debate matters of religion.

When they at least reached the Potomac River they found the native population up in arms:

“At the mouth of the river itself we perceived armed natives. That night fires were burning in the entire region, and since such a big ship had never been seen by them, messengers sent from this side and from that were reporting that a canoe similar to an island had come near, and that it held as many men as there are trees in the woods. We, however continued to the Heron Islands, so called from the unheard of throngs of this kind of bird. The first one in our way we named after St. Clement; the second after St. Catherine, the third after St. Cecilia. We first left the ship at St. Clement's Island, to which no access lay open except through a shallow because of the sloping shore. Here the maids, who had left the ship to wash the laundry, almost drowned, when the skiff turned over, and a great part of my linen clothes were lost, no small loss in these parts. This island abounds in cedar, sassafras, herbs and flowers to make all kinds of salads, also in a wild nut tree which bears a very hard nut, with a thick shell and a small but wonderfully tasty kernel. However, since it is only four hundred acres wide, it did not seem spacious enough as a location for the new settlement.”

Instead, Governor Leonard Calvert, with the assistance of Captain Henry Fleet from Virginia who was fluent in the language of the natives, purchased

“such a charming place for a settlement that Europe can hardly afford a better one. Thus, when we had advanced from St. Clement's about nine leagues, we sailed into the mouth of a river ...[that] runs forward from south to north about twenty miles before it is absorbed by the salt water from the sea, not unlike the Thames. In its mouth one can see two bays, able to hold 300 ships of huge size. One bay we dedicated to St. George, the other one, more inward to the Most Blessed Virgin Mary. ...We went up from coast inland on the right side, and about a thousand paces removed from the shore, we gave the name of St. Mary to the designated city. order to prevent any pretext for injury or occasion for enmity, we bought thirty miles of that land from the chieftain in exchange for
hatchets, axes, hoes, and some amount of cloth. ...”

“Is not this miraculous, that a nation a few daies before in generall
armes against us and our enterprise should like lambes yeeld themselves, glad of our company, giving us houses, land, and liveings for a trifle...”

The great adventure had begun with housing and a marketable crop already in place. In fact there was such an abundance of corn that the surplus would be sent to market in Massachusetts, where Marylanders would initiate a reputation for exuberant behavior and found themselves banned from Boston. John Winthrop recorded the encounter in his journal:

“ The Dove, a pinnace of about fifty tons, came from Maryland upon Patomack river, with corn to exchange for fish and other commodities. ...some of our people being aboard the bark of Maryland, the sailors did revile them, calling them holy brethren, … and with all did curse and swear most horribly, and use threatening speeches against us. ...The next day (the governor not being well) we examined the witnesses, and found them fall[ing] short of the matter of threatening, and not to agree about the reviling speeches, and, beside, not able to design certainly the men that had so offended. Whereupon .. a letter [was] written to the master, that, in regard such disorders were committed aboard his ship, it was his duty to inquire out the offenders and punish them; and withal to desire him to bring no more such disordered persons among us.”

For the infant colony of Maryland there would be many years of struggle and near defeat ahead. Many good works have been written about those early years by a distinguished group of scholars including Lois Carr, Henry Miller, Julie King, Silas Hurry, and Tim Riordan, to mention a few. They have documented the determination in the face of uncertainty and economic upheaval that is so characteristic of that Spirit of 1634.

Indeed it has been in the blending of the disciplines of historical research, art, archaeology, and forensic anthropology, that we are continuing to learn more about what the reality of life was like for those who struggled to make a home for themselves and their hoped for posterity in Maryland.

If you have not yet experienced it, be sure to read about the Written in Bone exhibit at the Smithsonian in which the findings in Maryland play such a large part. Under the leadership of Doug Owsley, that exhibit took us on a journey into the lives and deaths of the full spectrum of society, rich and poor, black, white and native American.

One particularly absorbing story in the exhibit is that of Anne Wolseley Calvert, wife of Chancellor Philip Calvert, uncle of the Third Lord Baltimore, whose mansion was one of the largest ever built in Maryland in colonial times.

On December 5, 1990, James Bock reported in the Sun that a team of scientists,
archaeologists, and historians had begun to interpret the remains of three people buried in lead coffins within the foundations of probably the first brick Catholic Chapel in English-speaking North America, one which only recently has been reconstructed on the foundations of the original at St. Mary's City.

The middle of the three coffins contained a woman of 55 or 60 years whose suffering
at the last must have been enormous. She was malnourished and had few teeth. She had been in considerable and constant pain from a spiral fracture of one leg that had only partially healed allowing her to walk with a pronounced limp, but leaving her with two open abscesses that surely made the last two or three years of her life perfectly miserable.

Who was this woman buried with such tender loving care- arms folded and tied with silk ribbon, rosemary, the herb of remembrance sprinkled lovingly over her body? All of the evidence points to Anne Wolseley Calvert, the wife of Chancellor Philip Calvert who lay next to her in the largest of the three coffins. She came with her husband in 1657 and died in St. Mary's City two years before him, in about 1679 or 1680.

We now know that she suffered greatly and we know much about her state of health, but can we also put a face to her memory? From her skull, a forensic pathologist reconstructed the facial muscles and overlaying tissues to produce a striking likeness of a young woman. For the Smithsonian exhibition, Written in Bone, it was decided to reconstruct her face again, this time older, as she may have been at the time of her death. How close these two reconstructions came to capturing the real Anne Wolsely we will never know for certain without a contemporary image.

We do have a clue however, the story of which is interesting in itself. In the
1750s a relative of the Wolseleys came to Annapolis to live. She brought with her a painting of her grandmother the neice and namesake of Anne Wolseley, Anne Wolseley Knipe. When she died the painting passed to her daughter and then to her granddaughter. It then skipped a generation, passing to her great-great granddaughter, the wife of the Honorable George Hunt Pendleton. Pendleton served in Congress, ran as George McClellan's running mate against Abraham Lincoln in 1864, authored the Pendelton Civil Service Act and was rewarded with an Ambassadorship to Germany. Mrs. Pendleton took the painting with her to Germany, removing it from Annapolis where it had been on display for about 150 years.

By 1929 Anne Wolseley Knipe's portrait had disappeared from sight. Because it was of a close blood relative to Anne Wolseley, and might be useful in the reconstruction her image as well as in the hunt for family DNA, two consumate researchers, Jane McWilliams and Elaine Rice Bachmann, were assigned the task of tracking it down. They managed to sort out the innumerable relatives that to whom it could have descended, knowing that in all probability the family tradition of bequeathing it to daughters would have continued. Unfortunately there were a large number of candidates for whom there were no addresses and the hunt ground to a halt.

Then by chance, in the lunch room of the State Archives, Jane and Elaine happened to be talking with a senior member of the staff who had spent her childhood in a small town in Pennsylvania. When Jane mentioned that one of the possible heirs was named Joline and had come from Pennsylvania, the staff person mentioned that her childhood neighbors had had that name and offered to give them a call. They proved to be none other than the descendants of Anne Wolseley's niece. They didn't own the painting, but thought they knew who did, providing the telephone number of relatives in California. The family was so delighted to receive Jane's call and to learn about the interest in the painting that they donated it to the State Archives, returning it again to Annapolis.

From generation to generation the women descendants and close relatives of Anne Wolseley Knipe had carefully preserved both the memory and the artistic rendition of Anne Wolseley Knipe. Now it has a home among the collective memories of our colonial past at the Archives where it joins a revived interest in the role of women who helped formulate what was, and what is Maryland.

Although genetically linked to her name-sake there still remained the question of how much Anne Wolseley Knipe resembled her Aunt? I leave that for you to ponder from two forensic reconstructions and the image of the painting below, but to my eyes there are some striking resemblances, especially given the fact that the portrait was probably a marriage portrait designed to show off the best qualities of the sitter, while the reconstructions were not an artistic embellishment of fact. To put it bluntly, as a contemporary member of the English branch of the Wolseley family explained to Elaine Rice Bachmann, the Wolseleys were known for their big noses.
Anne Wolseley Knipe, niece of Anne Wolseley

First Forensic Reconstruction of the skull thought to be of Anne Wolseley, followed by the second reconstruction of the skull which appears in

In many respects, Anne Wolseley Calvert, whose own family had suffered persecution in England for their adherence to Catholicism, represents every-woman of 17th Century Maryland with her strong determination to make her way in a forbidding world filled with travails not unlike those of  Maryland's neglected patron saint, St. Cecilia. While the records are for the most part silent about the example Anne Wolseley Calvert set for those about her, we are left with one tantalizing piece of evidence that suggests the devotion she could inspire.

Her husband Phillip spent his life attempting to make the colony of Maryland a reasonably safe and secure place to live, a place where men, who died young and often with minor children, could be assured that the state would properly administer their estates for the benefit of their widows and their children. He did so with the help of a number of devoted clerks, the bureaucrats of their day, often
providing them with lodgings in his own home. When his longtime bachelor clerk, Michael Rochford died in 1679, Rochford chose not to honor his employer, but his employer's wife, Anne Wolseley. Out of a meager estate, he left his most precious possession, his silver watch to Ann, a touching tribute to a woman who had suffered much but who also seems to have been able to have shown kindness to others.

Not everyone agrees that we should go to such lengths as peering into coffins to reconstruct the past. Indeed an individual who may be a Calvert descendant felt compelled to write expressing his concern over what he perceived of as a desecration of a grave. He closed his letter with the familiar blessing "Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord. Let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in Peace."

I tried to explain in reply that until we did the historical research there was no connection with the Calverts and that from the remains alone their could not be. Only by linking the scientific evidence secured from many different disciplines with the fragmentary written evidence that survives could identification of the remains be nearly certain. I said nearly, because so much of the literary evidence has been lost. Nowhere in the records available today, for example, is there reference to these graves as being those of Anne, Philip, and an unnamed female child.

Should we engage in such reconstruction of the past from actual human remains? That is a philosophical question which in my opinion is best answered yes. If we had put as much into life for the benefit of others as Philip and Anne did, if we had suffered as much as Anne and that five month old girl did, I think I would like the world to know it and not be forever forgotten in a lead coffin under an oft-plowed corn field.

When Hamlet contemplated the skull of his friend Yorick, he did so for good reason. When with care and good taste we examine the remains of those who gave so much so that we could live the good lives we do, we do so for good reason as well. "Alas Poor Philip" and Ann, we should. Indeed in many respects Anne and the young girl in the coffin beside her represent every-woman and every-child. We owe it to them and to ourselves to pay them respectful tribute, not to ignore them. It is not a desecration so to do, it is a celebration, the final act of which should be a respectful re-interment in the crypt of the newly reconstructed chapel on the site of the earliest Catholic chapel in English speaking North America. But to celebrate we need to understand why, who and how, with whatever evidence remains for us to examine. Only then can perpetual light shine upon them and only then can they truly rest in peace.

In doing so, through ongoing research and interpretation, we also will know even better why we should remember the Spirit of 1634, and pause to celebrate Maryland Day every March.

Explore more of Maryland History at:

The images of the Anne Wolseley Knipe portrait and the first forensic reconstruction are courtesy of the Maryland State Archives. The image of the second reconstruction is taken from Douglas Owsley and Karin Bruwelheide, Written in Bone, Minneapolis: LeantoPress, 2009, p. 59. 

The quotes from Father Andrew White are  taken from White, Andrew, Barbara
Lawatsch-Boomgaarden, and J. IJsewijn. 1995. Voyage to Maryland (1633) = Relatio itineris in Marilandiam. Wauconda, Ill: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers and Narratives of early Maryland 1633-1684: Ed. by Clayton Colman Hall. 1910. Narratives, Original, of early American history, 11. 1910.