Stanford’s Hoover Institution Library & Archives is a major scholarly resource for understanding humanity’s hot-button topics over the past 100 years.

War, peace and revolution in the 20th and 21st centuries – serious issues, and exactly what the Library & Archives focuses upon. A treasure trove of original source materials and documents, it draws faculty, students and researchers for inquiries, book writing, exhibitions, and classroom and educational programs.

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Kurt Hickman

The Hoover Institution Library & Archives are dedicated to documenting war, revolution, and peace in the 20th and 21st centuries.

The extensive collections are crucial to interpreting recent world history and learning about how our societies came to be, said Eric Wakin, deputy director of the Hoover Institution and the Robert H. Malott Director of the Library & Archives.

“We began with the vision of one man – Stanford graduate Herbert Hoover – whose idea, in his famous 1919 telegram, was to ‘collect material on war,’ and we have since grown from that kernel,” Wakin said.

Hoover declared that it “must not be a mere library,” Wakin noted. Beyond books and periodicals alone, the Library & Archives include 7,000 archival collections in about 150 languages that include thousands of objects, ephemera and rare artifacts dating back to the early 20th century. The Library & Archives also encourage the study of history and intellectual dialogue, offering scholarly programs, fellowships, exhibits, conferences and publications.

Now well into the 21st century, the Library & Archives continue to follow Hoover’s original scope and purpose: to “recall the voice of experience” and “constantly and dynamically point the road to peace.”

Go to the web site to view the video.

Kurt Hickman

The Okhrana collection consists of once-secret files and photographs of many of the most wanted Russian revolutionaries of the early 20th century.

Hoover, who entered Stanford as a student in its inaugural year of 1891 and later served as the 31st president of the United States, launched the library and archives in 1919 with a $50,000 donation. That seed has sprouted a large tree of knowledge.

“There is no greater collection in America on global social, economic, and political change and the people who have shaped our times,” Wakin said.

Great breadth of topics

The Library & Archives have extensive holdings on the Cold War, the Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union, World Wars I and II, and political and ideological movements of the 20th century. Other collections exist on the Middle East, business and commerce, diplomacy, economics, education, intelligence services, journalists, Jewish history, law, literature, military affairs, Nazism and peace.

Other holdings cover a wide range of topics including propaganda, psychological warfare, radio and TV, relief and refugees, and science and technology. There are even 1,500 broadcasts of William F. Buckley’s Firing Line TV series of the 1960s; the New Left Collection, which documents radical student protest groups and peace movements in the 1960s and 1970s; and 40 terabytes of digitized material from Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party Archives. And that is only the tip of the iceberg.

Jennifer Burns, an assistant professor of history at Stanford, said the Library & Archives are invaluable for her research on economist Milton Friedman and philosopher Ayn Rand.

“It’s an amazing place,” Burns said. “The archives are my single most important source.” For example, for her current book project on Friedman, she discovered his lectures as a young professor in the 1930s, which showed he was contemplating free market economics much earlier than others have thought.

“You often find in these seemingly obscure collections exactly what you are looking for,” said Burns, who noted that scholars from around the world frequently contact her about their plans to visit the Library & Archives. In addition to her own scholarship, Burns organizes an annual workshop on capitalism and economics at the site.

In the collections, one will discover audio recordings, posters, photos, video, graphic materials, diaries, manuscript materials, oral histories and government records. All the material is invaluable for scholars working on dissertations, research papers, class projects, books and articles. Last year, more than 1,800 researchers visited the archives, and another 935 patronized the library at least once. There were also 21 class visits with 466 students; the website annually gets about 3.3 million page views.

Go to the web site to view the video.

Kurt Hickman

Great Love in the Great War, curated by Stanford student Alex Kelly, features letters, photographs, and ephemera from the Truman Smith Collection at Hoover Archives.

Wakin said that a revamped website includes digitized portions of the collections. Now, users can browse collections by geographic region, subject, format and language. A search box on every page allows visitors to find – quickly and efficiently – archival collections or library materials.

The Hoover increases its collections every year, he noted, and resources now include collections in 69 languages from 150-plus countries. The common thread through them all is that they pertain to war, revolution and peace in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Students explore the archives

The knowledge gained at the Hoover Library & Archives can prove highly formative for young people embarking on careers in the knowledge industries.

Stanford student Emilia Schrier worked as an archivist intern during the summer of 2015. She often began projects with little background in the subject matter.

“The most fascinating aspect of working in the archives is watching how the stories of individuals and organizations begin to take shape as I process the collections,” she said.

“But after many days of sifting through documents, finding out how they relate, uncovering a chronology, I start to get to know the creator and subject. It’s a bit like solving a mystery,” said Schrier, who is majoring in English and minoring in history.

Her favorite collection focuses on Percy Brown, a roller-skater-turned-photographer in World War I.

Schrier was so intrigued by the scenes Brown recorded that she joined the Stanford Overseas Seminar on the First World War, which included a three-week trip to other archives in London as well as battlefields in France.

Schrier said, “Through the tactile and visual qualities of an archive, students and scholars can study a collection through the eyes of the individual who created it and get to know him or her on a personal level that might be impossible through the lens of, say, a history textbook.”