Getting the Grant “papers” story right …

There have been so many reports about the movement of The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant to Mississippi State University that it’s entirely understandable that there’s confusion about what’s being moved.

The largest collection of Grant’s original papers continues to reside in the Library of Congress.  What resided at Southern Illinois University, home of the Ulysses S. Grant Association and The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant,  were first and foremost the files collected by the editorial team of the Grant Papers project.  In addition, the project collected all sorts of items (including, for example, E. B. Long’s research notes for Bruce Catton’s work on Grant), and there were some Grant and Grant family papers (including those of his grandson, Ulysses S. Grant III) that were placed in the Special Collection section of Southern Illinois University’s Morris Library.

John Y. Simon allowed researchers to consult some files related to the project’s research, but one was not allowed access to the files of the volumes themselves, as Simon was clearly opposed to making the project files the equivalent of a derivative archive.  William McFeely and he exchanged words about this in 1974 in the pages of a scholarly journal.  Apparently those concerns no longer hold sway.  In two research trips to Carbondale, I reviewed most if not all the material available to researchers, and I would not say that I had access to the vast majority of the project’s holdings.

So Grant’s papers, per se, are not now in Mississippi, sloppy reporting to the contrary notwithstanding (see this list of articles put out by MSU itself, several of which make inaccurate claims that the university nevertheless showcases).  The records of the Grant papers project, along with some original material, now reside there.  That’s evident in this NPR interview, although the reporter confuses things … just as so much of this story has been confusing. 

Comments (8) to “Getting the Grant “papers” story right …”

  1. Thanks for the clarification, Brooks.

  2. Yes, as somebody who has blogged on an associated issue, thanks indeed for the clarification. But in fairness to confused journalists (of which I frequently am one), when the name is “The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant,” it’s hardly jumping to a conclusion to assume that it’s a collection of, um, the papers of U.S. Grant.

  3. Thanks Brooks for the clarification.

  4. I think some of the confusion may be due to MSU itself, as well as to the desire of the Ulysses S. Grant Association to make a big splash about this story.

    Long ago I made a deliberate decision not to join the USGA, in part so I would not be seen as a “house” biographer. I’ve never had cause to regret that decision. The USGA has always struck me as far different in several ways that the Abraham Lincoln Association, where I serve on the board of directors. I’ll leave it at that.

  5. Brooks, have you checked out Dimitri’s latest post on all of this. I don’t know what to make of it. He actually described Marszalek as a “pop historian.”

  6. I just think someone’s pointing out how the papers made their way to MSU, and that there was a preexisting relationship of some sort. The MSU release is in my mind misleading as to what is now there.

  7. “We have a new clue: Mrs. Marszalek is a political powerhouse in the state.”

    Mrs. Marszalek is a run-of-the-mill county official in Starkpatch, that hardly rates as a “political powerhouse.” I live in Mississippi, and I’ve never even heard of her.

  8. Why is Dimitri convinced he needs to search for clues about the paper’s new home? Marszalek is the president of the association … he’s at MSU … MSU has the facility to house the papers. 2 + 2 = 4, seems like simple math to me.

    The better question might be, “why Marszalek?” If I had to guess, I’d say that Simon spent a lot of time here in Mississippi compiling primary sources with the help of state historians, and became personal friends with some of them. I don’t think there’s a lot of mystery behind all this.