Sunday, February 1, 2009

The ANE list and the "Nazism and ANE studies" controversy

The ANE email discussion list operated from the beginning of July 1993, with only a few short interruptions until February 16, 2006. It was moderated by me until shortly before my departure for Athens in the summer of 2005. The archive of traffic from the beginning until the end of 2001 is archived at the Oriental Institute Research Archives. The later archive is inaccessible at present, but I'm told efforts are being made to restore it. The ANE archive is an interesting record of the interaction of a wide variety of scholars and interested laypersons from all over the world in the early years of electronic communication. I have been asked from time to time to write about the phenomenon, but I have not yet done so.

One of the most interesting, and certainly the most unsettling and contentious of conversations on ANE followed from a posting I made on Monday 25 October 1993 [ANE digest archive vol. 1, no. 21], reproduced in part as follows:

From: (Charles E. Jones)
Date: Mon, 25 Oct 93 15:52:02 CDT
Subject: Nazism and ANE studies (long posting)

Some weeks ago I posted a notice on the CLASSICS list of a recent University of Chicago dissertation, which I was then wading through:

Marchand, Suzanne L. Archaeology and Cultural Politics in Germany, 1800-1965: The Decline of Philhellenism: A Dissertation Submitted to the Division of the Social Sciences in Candidacy for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Department of History. Chicago: University of Chicago; June 1992. 1 volumes (608 leaves). Available in: The University of Chicago Library.
DF 999 .M31.

I promised members of that list that I would report on it once I finished reading it. Well, I haven't finished reading it and I still intend to report on it. Even without having finished it though, I recommend it highly to those of you interested in the subject. In the meantime I've come across two extraordinary documents which bear, ever so slightly, on the history of German cultural politics and on the history of the study of the ancient Near East.

The first is the self published 15 page pamphlet authored by the Assyriologist Bruno Meissner in 1933, entitled Verleumdung. It consists of Meissner's reaction to his denunciation, by a person or persons unnamed, as being of Jewish ancestry. He protests the denunciation and presents the documents, or evidence of the documents, necessary to prove his innocence of the 'slander' leveled against him, these documents being his own baptismal and confirmation records, and those of his parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. One wonders, of course, who it was who denounced him and why (assuming, of course, that the information marshaled by Meissner was true). [I might be convinced to make copies of this pamphlet for libraries that don't have it.]

The second document (the text of which I reproduce below in full), is also a denunciation. It is a letter written by the Egyptologist Georg Steindorff to Egyptologist John Wilson. I am grateful to John Larson, Archivist of the OI museum for bringing it to my attention and to Karen Wilson, Curator of the OI Museum for permission to quote it.

The posting of this material on ANE is, in a sense, intended to be deliberately provocative. Many of the sub-fields of ancient Near Eastern studies, Assyriology and Egyptology in particular, have been astonishingly unreflective, in print, of their own histories. On the other hand, I know of many scholars who retain a great personal interest in the histories of their fields of study. This is an attempt to initiate a discussion of those histories...

Anyone who wants to can go and reads the rest of that contribution, as well as the resulting firestorm, which raged on ANE for weeks thereafter. It resulted in ANE's biggest surge in subscriptions, as well as some angry resignations.

I was again asked to write about ANE, to present an analysis of this story. I declined then, and in the three or four time I have re-read the traffic in the intervening fifteen years years, I have come to believe that is speaks rather eloquently for itself.

One thing concerns me greatly. The disappearance of the ANE archive for 2002 and following foregrounds the preservations issue surrounding these media. I would hate to see the remaining list traffic archive go the same route. I wonder if institutional archivists responsible for ANE type organizations are making any effort to preserve the digital output of the institutions for which they are responsible? Have any organizations archived a full set of the historical iterations of their websites, for instance? Is anyone archiving this blog? I'm guessing the answer is no.

The Oriental Institute ceased its sponsorship of ANE slightly less than three years ago. A group of members of the list, led by Jeffrey Gibson, took matters into their own hands and founded ANE-2, where it remains active to this day.

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