Feb 07, 1995 04:20 AM
by Jerry Hejka-Ekins
It appears that last week while I was away, there was an
interesting discussion between Eldon Tucker and Elisabeth
Trumpler concerning the availability of archives. It appears
that they both made very good points, and still managed to talk
past each other.
Elisabeth made that point that: "Theosophical centers are
not the only institutions who keep their archives under lock and
key! This is standard practice for the purpose of preserving the
valuable, often fragile, materials housed in archives. The
reason is not secrecy but safety."
Elisabeth is of course correct. Archives are always
separated from the main collections for reasons of "safety."
Of course, Eldon's issue was not safety, but availability.
Elisabeth replies that : "Any serious researcher may apply
to Dr. John Algeo for access to the Archives at Olcott, and in
the time I have been here, permission has been granted many
times, as long as application is made well ahead of time, so that
the materials wanted can be located."
Here, Elisabeth is not clear whether she is talking about
the de Zirkoff archives, the American Section Archives, or both.
My understanding is that the de Zirkoff archives were donated to
the Wheaton Society under the proviso that they be open to anyone
who is doing research on HPB. If Elisabeth is talking about the
de Zirkoff archives, I'm glad that the policy has changed so that
they are now open to "any serious researcher." Some years ago, a
former head librarian had informed me that access to the de
Zirkoff archives was routinely denied to researchers if there was
any question as to whether or not that person might write
favorably about HPB or not. This, of course eliminated scholars
doing research in conjunction with a University--the very people
that archives are normally most available for. But that was
another Olcott librarian and under another administration. So if
Elisabeth is referring to the de Zirkoff archives here, I'm glad
to hear that the policy has been changed to conform to Boris'
Next, Elisabeth makes the point that: "The second reason for
restricting access to the archives is that we do not have an
archivist at Olcott-- someone who is able to find the materials
and to keep them organized. At some time in the future, we hope
to be able to afford such a position. Even photocopying valuable
documents can be harmful to them. It should be done only by
someone who has the skill and the experience."
Now here, Elisabeth may be thinking of the American Section
Archives, since the de Zirkoff archives are mostly relatively
recent transcriptions rather than the original documents
themselves (I'm aware that there are also some "documents."),
though of course someone is needed to keep the material
organized. No doubt there is a lot a delicate material in the
American Section archives that would require special handling.
However, I'm yet to have met a "serious researcher" outside of an
inner circle of residents who have ever been given access to it--
though I have met many who have made such requests. Perhaps
Elisabeth will clarify for us the status of the American Section
Archives as to whether or not they are also open to "serious
researchers", and what constitutes a "serious researcher."
Elisabeth also asks: "BTW I wonder why people refer to the
Olcott headquarters as `Wheaton'? Just because we are located in
the town of Wheaton? Most of Wheaton has nothing to do with the
TS. Certainly the City of Wheaton has no say over the use of our
archives or library or whatever!"
My experience has been that Theosophical Organizations are
normally referred to by location. "Wheaton" thus refers to the
American Section of the Adyar Society, to distinguish it from
"Adyar", the International Headquarters of the Theosophical
Society (in Adyar India), or from "Pasadena", the International
Headquarters of the Theosophical Society (in Pasadena
California). When I hear people use the designation "Olcott",
more often than not, they are or were employees there, or they
are referring more specifically to the physical Headquarters and
grounds rather than to the Organization or the bureaucracy.
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