05 June 2003

History Without Sources?

Fred Kaplan reports in Slate that many of today's major policy decisions (including when to go to war) are being made via email. These emails aren't being printed or saved anywhere systematically. Kaplan posits the "End of History"--it will be impossible to write, for example, the history of Gulf War II because none of the relevant sources that would give an historian insight into the process have been saved.

I greet this news with a mix of outrage and scepticism. Outrage because I cannot believe our leaders over the past fifteen years or so have been so irresponsible as to not make provisions for this sort of thing. And scepticism, because Will Crawford often tells me that any emails I send to him or vice versa wind up saved on some distant hard drive somewhere, even if both of us delete our copies. I find it hard to believe that with all this technology the emails of the Joint Chiefs aren't stored somewhere.

Either way, I don't like the idea of a wrinkle in the historical record. Hopefully some way can be worked out to preserve primary sources from this era so thirty years from now my graduate students (!) will have something to do.


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