The Challenge of Preservation in a Pluralistic Society

Nicholas Montalto
1978 The American Archivist  
A CRISIS MENTALITY was the driving force behind the establishment of the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota almost fifteen years ago. 1 Over the years, prophetic voices, such as those of Louis Adamic, Marcus Lee Hanson, Joseph Roucek, and other ethnic spokesmen, had warned that the written record of the vast exodus from Europe during the period 1880 to 1924 would disappear if the custodians of our archival heritage did not redefine the task of preservation in a
more » ... preservation in a democratic and pluralistic society. Their voices were largely unheeded, and probably unnoticed, during a period when class bias and what has been called the blight of the assimilationist ideology reigned supreme. The result was that as a generation of pioneer settlers of urban America passed from the scene, their written records often vanished with them. The Center thus began to till soil that had only rarely been cultivated before. We approached our task during the early years with missionary fervor. If a new generation of historians was interested in writing a history from the bottom up, we were interested in building a collection from the bottom up, from union hall and parish hall, from fraternal lodge and foreign language press, from theatre hall and settlement house. We take, I think, justifiable pride in our accomplishments during these years. A number of our ethnic collections, e.g. the Finnish, Italian, Polish, Slovak, and Ukranian, are unsurpassed in size and quality. The Center is now a major repository for records of ethnic fraternal societies, as well as for records of immigrant service agencies such as the International Institutes and the various refugee resettlement organizations. Since 1964, IHRC has microfilmed files of more than two hundred foreign language newspapers published in America; the level of university support has risen steadily, as has outside financial assistance; and the Center has become a hub of research, with a steady stream of articles and books attesting to the value of its collections. We have now, however, reached the point in our history when the feverish activity of the past, prompted by our concern to rescue records threatened with destruction, must give way to a more deliberate, service-oriented, and promo-
doi:10.17723/aarc.41.4.f827024663561mwp fatcat:ljcpsqorhvf5pmtmmggsfprnzq