I spent a few days in the Manuscripts Reading Room of the Library of Congress, which really is one of my favorite places to be, and a wonderful place to do research.
That is kind of an occupational hazards of being a historian.
The LOC is one of the best things the Federal government has created, it really is such a marvgelous thing to have that kind of access to the materials. And contrasted with the very difficult experience of trying to use government archives in other countries that my friends have told me about it is a reminder just how forward thinking the Founders really were.
In the manuscripts division they bring you a cart filled with old letters and papers and you are free to rummage through it as you wish. Kind of amazing, really.
I was reading the papers of Elihu Root, who was McKinley's Secretary of War, a Senator, among other several other important posts. His boxes are filled with letters from virtually everyone of significance from his era at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. I am studying his approach to questions of international law and US power.
Here he is:
You find some amazing stuff in these boxes. Here is a photo of a note written to Teddy Roosevelt while he was newly President, and then forwarded by TR to Root:
The letter says "T. Roosevelt, President, You and that crooked fellow Root have wrecked this administration"
Below that, TR had written: "Root, Ha! Ha! you are exposed! TR"
Anyway, that kind of thing is fun to stumble across.
It is really quite remarkable that every citizen has this kind of access to the papers of so many historical figures. Just think what the LOC or the National Archives (where I will be next week) could do with just a little bit of the money we are sqaundering on thankless Iraq.
I spent most of my time there just taking digital pictures of everything, which is fast, and then I can read them at my leisure while in Korea. It sure beats the old way I did research there--writing all of my notes in pencil on little cards (all you are allowed to use in there).