“How Could Harvard Have Published Ben Urwand’s ‘The Collaboration’?”
I don’t know if anyone has been following the drama surrounding the release of Ben Urwand’s book, “The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler,” but if you like a good academic “scandal,” then you’ll want to read about this. A good place to start is David Denby’s follow-up review of Urwand’s book, in which he severely criticizes both Urwand’s claims and Harvard University Press for publishing the book.
Several others have torn apart this book and its claims, including Mike Greco and Farran Smith Nehme, but Denby’s is the one both Harvard Press and Urwand address directly in their responses to the critics. Denby and other critics then responded in the comments section of a NY Times Arts Beat blog post to Urwand’s letter to the New Yorker, though it is unclear if they are responding to the printed shortened one or the extended letter featured on the Harvard Press website.
All of this drama does not deal specifically with the topic of archives, but that is exactly why I feel it is relevant to this week’s readings. Much of the criticism lodged at Urwand deals with his interpretation of events and the documents he supposedly uncovered. There is also some mention of how some of Urwand’s claims are not new and have been around since the time period he is covering. What no one seems to be mentioning is the role of the archivist in his research. Regardless of which side you fall on in this feud, it is necessary to note that Urwand did do some impressive, dedicated research for this book. However, Urwand not only fails to ever acknowledge the groundwork that was laid by archivists, but makes it seem as though no one knew that any of this stuff was there, at least through the words of his publicist. It is one thing to say that you discovered a single important record within a mass of other files, as Helena Iles Papaioannou did with the Lincoln report. Finding that needle in the haystack certainly is impressive and worthy of praise. But to say that a whole trove of records were a “secret” seems dubious, especially when you claim that those records support your new, outrageous claim, but really just support what others have already said before.
This whole debacle also calls to mind Derrida. Steedman notes that in the “Prière d’insérer,” “Derrida broods on revisionist histories that have been written out of these ‘archives du mal’.” So, has Urwand created his history out of an “archive du mal,” or is he simply suffering from “mal d’archive”? Was he just searching for the origin to the story behind the clip he saw, which Nehme mentions in her critique, or were his intentions more nefarious? Was/is he simply interested in making a name for himself by creating his own revisionist, sensationalist history?