Lest we forget: The Library of Congress's Veterans History Project and “radical trust”
This dissertation examines the Veterans History Project (VHP), an official U.S. government project created under a bill signed into law by President William J. Clinton on October 27, 2000 to document the experiences of American veterans and their supporters in time of war. It explores the intersections between, cultural, social, public, and military history and addresses the following questions: Who created the VHP, what were the motivations, and what resources did Congress allocate the Library of Congress, the federal agency selected to fulfill the mandate? Who was charged with implementing the VHP, why, and what resources did they employ? In terms of the collection, what are the results? Primary sources used to reconstruct this history include oral history interviews, congressional reports, and veteran testimonies housed in its on-line archival and digital collection.
This study asserts that the VHP model was adopted based on the Library of Congress/American Folklife Center antecedents (previous oral history projects) that began with the Works Progress Administration's Federal Writer's Project (FWP) a lasted when the democratization of U.S. history and a shift in professional research practices, ethics, and goals led to “radical trust,” a decline in expert and curatorial authority towards a more egalitarian approach, where everyone regardless of professional status shares authority. This participatory approach adopted for the VHP differs from an earlier LOC approach utilized in the WPA and 1970s projects. It is now witnessed in how the VHP grants untrained, amateur historians the authority to contribute on equal basis with trained scholars. It has largely kept with the “spirit of legislation,” inspiring numerous national partner groups, historians, educators, students, and veterans to participate. However, the VHP is politically charged and represents more of a celebratory endeavor than a serious professional scholarly effort to document veteran's experiences. It suggests that Congress is not concerned about creating an accurate/complete historical record of wartime experiences. Therefore, the concept of “radical trust” is limited and the VHP will continue to collect materials in vast numbers and remain wildly uneven in quality of interview and coverage of diverse veteran groups across gender, race, and ethnic lines.
0722: Military history
0750: Military studies