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Major archival program announced by Hoover Institution and Roskomarkhiv

The Hoover Institution at Stanford and Russian officials will join in a $3 million, comprehensive program to preserve on microfilm the archives of the former Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Soviet State Archives, the two groups announced Tuesday, March 10.

Rudolf G. Pikhoia, chairman of the Committee on Archival Affairs of the Russian Federation (Roskomarkhiv), and John Raisian, director of the Hoover Institution, said filming would begin this summer, with the goal of making the microfilms broadly accessible to the Russian people and the world community of scholars.

The archives involved are "probably the largest untapped body of knowledge of the 20th century," said Charles Palm, deputy director of the Hoover Institution. It includes the Communist Party's Politburo Archives as well as local party records and state records back to 1917, all of which are under Roskomarkhiv jurisdiction. It does not include the files of the KGB - the Soviet secret police and intelligence agency - which Roskomarkhiv does not yet control, Palm said.

Hoover scholar Robert Conquest, an expert on Stalinist Russia, said there will be quick payoff, especially from the Communist Party files.

"There is material on the discussions of the Central Committee which haven't been made public," he said. "They didn't keep minutes but they had summaries.

"I expect the archives to give us striking, interesting surprises almost within months. Others will take years."

All microfilms will be opened for research in Moscow at Roskomarkhiv and in the United States at the Hoover Institution. An editorial board, chaired by Pikhoia and composed of prominent international scholars, will select the materials to be filmed.

As part of the agreement, the Hoover Institution will provide financial support for the project, and will establish a fund to support a scholarly and archival exchange program in the field of Russian studies.

Hoover also will transmit microfilms of its Russian archival holdings to Roskomarkhiv. The Hoover Institution currently holds one of the world's largest and richest collections of materials on 20th-century Russian history outside of Russia.

In addition, Roskomarkhiv and the Hoover Institution - in association with the International Committee of Scholarly Advisers chaired by the U.S. Librarian of Congress, James H. Billington - will publish sets of selected microfilms from the Russian holdings covering record groups of greatest interest to scholars. Copies of the published microfilms will be deposited at the Russian National Library and the Library of Congress.

Distribution outside Russia will be through the publishing firm of Chadwyck-Healey Ltd. of Cambridge, England. Chadwyck-Healey signed a separate microfilm publishing agreement with Roskomarkhiv last December. Creation of those microfilm sets is already under way and will continue in parallel with this new, more comprehensive program.

One of the first tasks will be to assemble the editorial board who will review the numerous guides and catalogs to the material in order to decide what to film.

"From what I've seen, the archives are in good physical condition, and there are guides to much of it," Palm said, but the editorial board will still spend quite a bit of time deciding what to film.

"We expect the cameras to be in place by July and the filming to begin shortly thereafter."

The project is expected to take four to five years, but some material should be accessible here by the end of the year, he said.

Seven subject areas have been identified as of the most interest to scholars, he said. They are:

  • The mechanisms of power within the Soviet Union.
  • The end of the so-called new economic policy of the 1920s and the emergence of the Stalinist system.
  • The 20th-century demography of the Soviet Union.
  • The Soviet Union's administrative control system, including terror and the technology of totalitarianism, and economic decisions and policy.
  • Public expectations and state responses.
  • Foreign operations and policy, including international communism.
  • Religion in the Soviet Union.

Until recently, studying the Stalin period has been "rather like studying the ancient world, " Conquest said, with just a few documents as clues.

Now, he said, scholars of the Soviet Union or Russia face the converse problem of too much unedited material. The Roskomarkhiv archives have been estimated to include 30 million files with another 30 million files still under the control of the state police.

"I've seen figures that estimate the number of pages at 6 billion," said Conquest, who is a member of the International Committee of Scholarly Advisers chaired by Billington.

"A friend of mine from Cambridge said he recently spent a few weeks in Moscow and was only able to get through two weeks of 1938, and that's in one set of files," Conquest said.

"One thinks of ants removing piles of sand for the the next few years, but eventually it gets done."

Stanford history Prof. Norman Naimark, director of the Center for Russian and East European Studies, agreed.

"It will take a very long time to exhaust the possibility for historians," he said. "It's great for Stanford and particularly for our graduate students, who will be able to do firsthand research on Communist Party sources right here.

"If you did work on the 19th or early 20th century, it was possible to use the state archives in the Soviet Union, but up until recently you could only use very selective archives on the 1920s and 1930s."

Naimark has his eye on particular parts of the archives.

"I'm interested in Soviet policy in Eastern Europe after the Second World War, and part of that was dictated by party issues, so I should be able to find out some stuff," he said.

Hoover's existing archives on the Soviet Union and Russia are used extensively by his graduate students, Naimark said.

"If you filmed all the Russian archives at Hoover now, you would have 20,000 reels of microfilm," Palm said. "We currently have 4,000 reels, and we will make a commitment to [Roskomarkhiv] that they will receive microfilm of all our Russian microfilm. It's a way of completing the history on both sides of the ocean."

The Library of Congress, meanwhile, is considering other types of projects related to the Russian archives, including press, computer and guide projects, Palm said.



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