Exhibit described as a 'Hoover greatest hits' open to public
A history of the 20th century, revealed through a remarkable collection of material usually secreted away in the Hoover Institution's vast holdings, is told through a new exhibit titled, "A Wealth of Ideas: Revelations from the Hoover Institution Archives." For the first time ever, rare items such as an X-ray of Adolf Hitler's skull taken after the 1944 failed assassination attempt, a draft of Tsar Nicholas II's abdication letter and the first issue of Pravda, edited by Leon Trotsky, are brought together in one exhibit.
"This is a 'Hoover greatest hits,'" said Research Fellow Bertrand Patenaude, author of a richly illustrated 303-page book, also titled A Wealth of Ideas, that is being released in conjunction with the exhibit. "This has 'the best of the best,' and I do believe that people will come back to the exhibit because it has so many compelling, historical rarities."
Patenaude, an expert on modern Russian and European history, has been closely acquainted with Hoover's archives for a quarter-century. In 1992, Patenaude and history Professor Emeritus Terence Emmons jointly edited the diaries of Frank Golder, the founding curator of Hoover's Russian collections. A decade later, Patenaude used the archives to write The Big Show in Bololand, a history of the American relief expedition to Soviet Russia during the famine of 1921.
In an introduction to A Wealth of Ideas, Hoover Director John Raisian writes that Patenaude is "uniquely qualified" to provide an overview of Hoover's collections and to decide which of its estimated 65 million items should be included in the book and exhibit. "The resulting text and images both highlight interesting aspects of the holdings and demonstrate how a trained historian can use those primary sources to reconstruct an accurate account of political movements and historical turning points," Raisian wrote about the coffee-table-format book.
The result is highly engaging work that draws in lay readers interested in understanding many of the tumultuous events of the 20th century. "If you read the book or if you attend the exhibit you should, if we're doing our job, get a sense of why the Hoover archives became one of the leading such archives in the world," Patenaude said.
The book, published by Stanford University Press, is divided into eight thematic chapters: "Peace and War," "Revolutions," "The Tower," "Tyrannies," "Diplomats and Warriors," "Posters at War," "Philosophers of Freedom" and "The Economists." It begins with the movement for peace at the dawn of the 20th century and ends with the free-market consensus at the turn of the last, Patenaude wrote. "The way it worked out is that each chapter is roughly chronologically arranged," he said. "So what you have, by stealth, is a survey of the 20th century—leaders, political movements, wars and revolutions."
The book, itself a reflection of the archives, focuses closely on historic developments in the Soviet Union, modern China and Central Europe. These, in turn, are based on the personal interests of Herbert Hoover, the institution's founder and namesake, who began it as a collection of documents on World War I and gradually expanded its scope to become a major research library of 20th-century history.
In A Wealth of Ideas, Patenaude explains how the Hoover Institution's and Stanford University's histories are closely intertwined. The book discusses the role that David Starr Jordan, the university's founding president and an internationally renowned pacifist, played in trying to stop World War I. "This is a Stanford book," Patenaude said. "Contrary to what you'd think, [Hoover has] a very large collection of David Starr Jordan's papers."
In addition to revealing the archives' rich contents, Patenaude's book recounts how certain collections miraculously found their way from war zones, revolutions and famines to the safety of campus. For example, the Paris-based records of the Okhrana, the tsarist secret police, disappeared after the 1917 Revolution only to surface on campus 40 years later. They were saved by Basil Maklakoff, ambassador to France of the Russian Provisional Government in 1917. When France recognized the Soviet Union in 1924, it was obliged by international law to turn over the former Russian Embassy building and all its contents to the Soviets, Patenaude explained. However, Maklakoff secretly arranged for the files, covering the period from 1883 to 1917, to be shipped to the Hoover Library. To get the Soviets off his trail, he signed a statement stating that he had burned everything.
In 1926, 17 large wooden packing cases containing the Okhrana files arrived on campus, but Maklakoff stipulated that they remain sealed for 30 years. The boxes were kept first in the basement of the Stanford Museum and, later, on the top floor of the Hoover Tower after it was built. In 1956, Maklakoff—who may not have counted on living a long life and who feared assassination if the files were revealed—asked for the crates to remain sealed until three months after his death. He passed away the following year. On Oct. 28, 1957, a press conference announced the existence of the Okhrana archives. "It created a sensation on campus," Patenaude said.
A Wealth of Ideas also tells the story of how the Hoover Library and Tower came to be built and the controversy its design generated on campus. In 1938, President Ray Lyman Wilbur publicly unveiled the plan for the building. In response, the Stanford Daily editorialized that the new structure would violate Stanford's aesthetic integrity in "an apparent purposeless departure from traditional Quad architecture." Letters to the newspaper's editor called it a "tower of Babel" and "a monument to wounded vanity."
When the library was formally dedicated on June 20, 1941, as part of the university's 50th anniversary celebrations, Herbert Hoover declared, "The purpose of this institution is to promote peace. Its records stand as a challenge to those who promote war." Two days later, Patenaude wrote, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union; six months after that came Pearl Harbor and America's entry into World War II
Over time, Patenaude explained, the source of friction between Stanford and the Hoover Institution was "not architecture but politics." Much in the public eye was the controversy over Cold War politics, especially after 1959, when Herbert Hoover rededicated his institution to the struggle against "the evils of the doctrines of Karl Marx." The Stanford-Hoover cold war largely ended with the collapse of communism in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Patenaude wrote. Despite this friction, he continued, "throughout troubled times, the library and archives, uninfluenced by politics, have continued to amass books and documents on political and social ideas and movements across the political spectrum."
The book ends with a World War I poster, Knowledge Wins. It shows an American doughboy laying down his rifle and climbing a stack of books leading to a city in the sky. The poster declares, "Public Library Books are Free." "That's what the book is all about," Patenaude said. "Knowledge wins."
The exhibit at the Herbert Hoover Memorial Exhibit Pavilion is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., through May 6. It is free and open to the public.