Will Hogue – History department PhD Candidate (Cohort 2018-2019) working with Dr. Chris Dietrich – is currently working on his dissertation, the working title of which is: “From Neo-Christendom to Neoliberalism: The Thirty Years War Over Cold War Christianity.” In this week’s From the Archives, Will shares some of his experiences while researching at the Library of Congress and the Catholic University of America Archives in Washington, DC.
What is your current research on?
My current research is on how religion shaped politics in the mid-20th century, and how religious thinkers and politicians grappled with the Cold War. In particular, my focus is on the shift from developmentalist and Center-Left Christian Democratic global politics in the ‘development decade,’ to an increasingly polarized Christian politics by the mid 1970s. Just many prominent global Christian institutions begin to reconcile with decolonization and accept, for example, the model of the Cuban Revolution, a burgeoning neoconservative religious movement resurrects hard-line anticommunism and makes strange bedfellows with neoliberals and right-wing reactionaries.
What archive(s) did you visit and can you describe the archive a little?
In a trip to Washington DC last semester, I went to the Library of Congress and to the Catholic University of America Archives. This was a great example of how different archives can be. Of course, the Library of Congress (LOC) has distinct rules and regulations governing how to maneuver the archives, and it is a massive facility (I got lost more than once). You are required to have a LOC Reader Card which will be made for you on-site. Also, be sure to book an appointment in advance – as you can imagine there is a great demand to get access to the LOC archives.
Catholic University of America, however, had their archives in a tiny room way in the back of campus. I found myself crowded around one library table with a couple other scholars and our piles of (very large!) file boxes. While LOC (and most Presidential Library) file boxes are relatively small, these were large copy paper boxes – so I had plenty of material to cover. Still, the staff was very friendly, and the USCCB papers were very helpful in shaping my research.
What was the purpose of your trip? What type of documents did you plan to look at? What makes those documents important for your research?
The purpose was for dissertation research. I was looking at the papers of Reinhold Niebhur, Richard John Neuhaus, and the Catholic Bishops Conference. The Catholic Bishops had a Peace Corps Desk and were highly involved in recruiting new members. Most interesting here were a series of letters between Fr. Ivan Illich, who ran a training program for missionaries/peace corps people, and the Bishops. Illich became one of the foremost critics of the Alliance for Progress, the Peace Corps, and American development plans in Latin America, so it was exciting to see his (sometimes incendiary) letters.
What was a challenge you encountered during your research? How did you overcome it?
I found what would probably be a very revelatory series of letters between Pope John Paul II and Zbigniew Brzeziński, but unfortunately, these are restricted by family request – so I cannot access them via FOIA. That’s part of the job I suppose – I just have to find as many meetings and letters between the two from other places as I can.
Was there anything surprising you found in your research?
I found a lot more letters from Donald Rumsfeld than I was expecting – defense industry people apparently really care about religion it seems.
Did you receive any funding to support your research?
Yes! The O’Connell Initiative Travel Grant provided me with funding so that I could book my hotel, train, and metro pass.
What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing historical research?
Look for published primary sources! Especially if you are working with policymakers, political leaders, social reformers, etc. chances are they wrote copiously and you’ll have tons of material in these books/articles to corroborate with archival materials.Some images from the National Museum of the American Indian which Will visited after working at the Library of Congress. Will notes that they have an excellent and detailed exhibit on the fight for indigenous sovereignty. Will definitely recommends it if you’re in DC!
From the Archives is a special series for the Fordham History blog which highlights the research experiences of members of the history department in an effort to both showcase their work and provide insight for future researchers preparing for their own archival projects.