Hoover’s untold treasures

Nov. 1, 2011, 3:02 a.m.
Hoover's untold treasures
(SERENITY NGUYEN/The Stanford Daily)

I stood there, mystified at what lay before me. Stacks upon stacks, boxes upon boxes of archives lay underneath the ground of the Hoover Institution Archives, just waiting to be read. Shelves packed with manila boxes lined both sides of the long, windowless room. A whooshing sound came from pipes that ran overhead.

NicholasSiekierski, assistant archivist for exhibits and outreach at Hoover, took a box from these shelves and lifted the worn blue box top. Inside, I detected x-ray sheets. As my eyes ran across the sheets, I gasped as I saw the words, “Hitler’s X-rays.”

Next to that box was a framed sheet of paper. It was dated Aug. 9, 1945 and labeled “Special.” After taking a closer look, I understood that this was the order for the nuclear strike of Nagasaki, Japan. I could hardly believe it. Arguably two of the most important articles from World War II sat before my eyes.

As Susan Wyle, a lecturer in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric (PWR), said, there are “some really creepy things to handle” in the Hoover Archives.

The archives are open to researchers, students and the general public. They mainly contain primary sources on the subject of war, revolution and peace in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Richard Sousa, senior assistant director at Hoover and director of the Hoover Library and Archives, said that the archives currently focus on China since 1949, Russia and the former Soviet Union and political and ideological movements in the United States.

“We like Hoover to be the go-to place for one-stop shopping,” Sousa said. “We try to get as much as we can in areas where we are strong.”

As assistant director, Sousa meets with the curators, who are in charge of soliciting new materials, and the director of the archives to discuss the future and focus of the institution.

“We have curators whose job it is to get on the road and meet people and contact people to just kind of make contacts and build a web of information,” Sousa said.

During his 20 years at the Hoover Institution, Sousa has ensured the institution’s focus on acquiring increasingly contemporary material.

He wants materials “that are relevant literally to yesterday,” he said. “We’ve become more relevant and we really do think much more research is being generated and more people are coming in.”

Siekierski said that technology has played a major role in this drive to have current materials. The Hoover Archives have seen an increase in demand, too, due to technological improvements and through their use of technology.

The archives started a Facebook page to highlight “quirky things,” not just the “traditional, blowing-dust-off materials,” Sousa said.

It is this exclusivity and richness in material that gives the Hoover Archives their value and prestige.

“You can’t find [a lot of what we have] any place else,” Sousa said.

Wyle understands this significance. She organizes tours of the archives for her PWR class and gives extra credit to students who conduct research at the archives.

“My favorite thing is when I get students who don’t want to do a research paper and were dreading the whole thing,” Wyle said. “They get hooked on actually seeing this wonderful material and seeing that they are in fact holding history in their hands, and it all gets very real to them…[they] actually want to share what [they] found.”

“The average undergraduate might not find materials that are relevant,” Siekierski said. “But people come in through classes, and that sticks with them in graduate school or further on.”

This excitement is not limited to students. Wyle, for example, continues to do research there. While conducting her research, she found an unopened envelope and asked the librarian if they could open it. Inside, she found beautiful silhouettes from a starving German man, who wanted Hoover to send materials to his family in return for his artwork.

“It had never even been opened,” Wyle said. “So it was just particularly touching what happened to this man. And no one ever saw it and I was the first one to open this envelope.”

Wyle’s treasure was only one of the many in the Hoover Archives and Library.

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