12 Replies Latest reply on Aug 18, 2017 1:06 PM by Michael Tomko

    What kinds of challenges have you faced while researching?

    Thomas Richardson

      Embarking on a new project or continuing lifelong research can always count on running into obstacles. These problems range from re-adjusting your thesis to finding out a source you need is long gone. What are some frustrations you've encountered during your historical work?

        • Re: What kinds of challenges have you faced while researching?
          Kelly Osborn

          One of the most challenging things I faced was tracking down source materials, like an obscure reference in a footnote. I think it must be tons easier now than it was 20 years ago, though!

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          • Re: What kinds of challenges have you faced while researching?
            techhistorynerd

            To me a big source of frustration (although I understand why things are the way they are) is how the financial realities of many (most?) archival organizations (with a few major and very valuable exceptions like the NARA itself and the NYPL Digital Collections) incentivize them to "lock down" copying and reproduction of their collections' materials for anything that might be deemed commercial use in order to preserve a revenue stream (and to use images of prominent items to build a unique identify for their institution.)  I understand the need of institutions to support their existence, but I've always wished there could be a way that institutions could fund themselves while still allowing those portions of their collections that are public domain to be digitized and freely distributed.  Who knows - 1000 years from now some modest set of archival records organized by a random history enthusiast and printed via Blurb could end up being the next Archimedes Palimpsest, if we can come up with a support system that allows the copies to be made in the first place.

             

            Does anyone know if the archival community has ever considered an "endow a document" model for digitizing and hosting document collections online?  The idea would be for (say) a museum with a collection of early records stored in the basement to determine per-record costs for scanning and hosting the document, plus the ongoing costs associated with preserving the record itself under archival conditions (controlled climate storage, cost of space on shelving, personnel to manage the archive itself, etc.).  Then they could put up a website which solicited for sponsorship of each document via online donations, and when the funding level for a given document reaches the "document can live off of interest" level per earlier calculations, the document is digitized and made freely available online.  Until records meet the "liberate" funding threshold they could be handled using normal/existing procedures, but this might be a way for otherwise obscure portions of collections to build up some interest and provide the supporting institution with some revenue (not to mention making historical information more widely accessible, which in my humble opinion should always be a basic core goal of any archival institution charged with preserving our past.)

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              • Re: What kinds of challenges have you faced while researching?
                Michael Tomko

                The financial incentives to profit from the information and artifacts is an ethical concern.  Federal agencies receive Tax Payer Funding as to defend the nation and preserve its government and history. A lack of sunshine often promotes corruption and allows a small hierarchy to rule over an uninformed majority. Cost effectiveness must also be considered, but in some instances fees are levied as to discourage repeated requests. This is why FOIA regulations can be changed by legislative efforts. In many instances information is restricted because the reality did not match the official narrative and it would cause embarrassment. Why would social injustices be publicized when they can remain concealed? Many institutions will state that the good, bad and ugliness of history should be open to public scrutiny, as

                long as the present practices are not revealed. Much of the data stream has simply become an ocean of information overload, while strategic portions are traded for profit. As more documents and artifacts are dropped into the informational mineshaft without a referenced data base, they will become exempt from future disclosure, and never serve as a source to educate the public.

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              • Re: What kinds of challenges have you faced while researching?
                Michelle Richmond

                One constant source of frustration for me, with fully half of my family from the southern half of the U.S. is the number of records that were burned during the final part of the Civil War.  These areas are the so-called "burned counties" where courthouses were set afire as part of the conquering army's tactics. Countless records of births, deaths, marriages and legal documents were lost.  These losses were in addition to the normal calamities like floods, animal nests, fading vegetable inks and accidental fires.

                 

                Luckily, in those counties, some property records were left in private hands and have slowly made their way into online records.  Some church records list baptisms and marriages, and many researchers are making their private and once "lost" information available online also. Wonderful volunteer programs like the Citizen Archivist project at the National Archives, Family Search.org's Indexing Project, or Smithsonian's Digital Volunteer Group are preserving records every day, to the benefit of all of us.

                 

                Thanks for asking this question, Thomas. It's bringing some interesting answers.

                 

                Michelle

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                  • Re: What kinds of challenges have you faced while researching?
                    Thomas Richardson

                    Michelle Richmond

                     

                    You're quite welcome and thank you for your response to the History Hub! The Share Your Research page is a space where questions and comments about people's research, findings, and historical interests can be shared with the History Hub community at large. We encourage you and all our users to post whatever history topics they'd like and connect with others who might share similar interests.

                     

                    On another note, I have first-hand experience with the same obstacles you mentioned. The amount of destruction that took place during the Civil War was indeed devastating to Southern communities and in the Trans-Mississippi theater as well. Groups of guerrillas, militias, bushwackers, and other irregular forces ravaged much of the western borders, resulting the same loss of family records and historical documents. While writing a paper on Arkansas guerrillas, a useful resource was talking to members of local Civil War Roundtables and re-enactment groups. From my personal experience, many re-enactors do a significant amount of background research for living history events, much of which stems from their family history.

                     

                    Thanks again for using the History Hub and good luck with your research!

                  • Re: What kinds of challenges have you faced while researching?
                    Judith Haran

                    Two things:

                    1. Lack of affordable places to stay overnight in Washington DC;

                    2. My current FOIA request is now approaching its first anniversary - I filed it in early September last year. It has been pending for "225 business days", according to the latest update. It's a good thing nothing critical is depending on this request. I wonder if I will live long enough to see results from this request.

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                      • Re: What kinds of challenges have you faced while researching?
                        Michael Tomko

                        Dear Mam,

                         

                        Did you get a response from the agency to verify that they received the request?  Is it a FOIA or MDR? Under the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, there should be a cost reduction.  I have been waiting since Feb 2016, related to the records of Desert Storm. The Desert Storm records were also tested by NARA for contamination using mass spectrometry,  Please refer to FOIA Online NN3-518-93-2. There were also BLU 82 Air Fuel Bombings during Desert Storm, that are listed on the FOIA Online Motion Picture Titles. There are motion pictures of the bombings, and potential special weapons listed as Mocking Bird/ Opus and ACCIPITER at the bottom of the list. There is also a listing of the bombing runs in the middle of the list,  and under it is a film titled as, the nuclear pit inspection and capsule insertion? What types of weapons were utilized during Desert Storm. And why do the records remain restricted after the 25 year time frame?

                        I have requested an MDR of the Record Group 518, Desert Storm Command Reports A1 23, and I have FOIA'd the NARA Record Contamination Scientific Reports, and the Motion Picture Aerial Recon, Moving Images 518-AR, Item 30, ACCIPTER. I have also notified my congressman, and sent a letter to the Deputy Archivist. I also have no expectations that the records will be released, during my lifetime. What was the subject of your research? Are you aware of the "Rule of 3"? Do you have an alternate  researcher who can continue the request? Are you writing a book? Is it related to one of the wars?

                         

                        RG A1 23  Desert Storm Command Reports,

                        https://catalog.archives.gov/id/20933351?&sp=%7B%22q%22%3A%22A1%2023%22%2C%22f.oldScope%22%3A%22(descriptions%20or%20onl…

                         

                        ACCIPITER at the bottom of the list

                         

                        FOIA - Freedom of Information Act

                         

                        Desert Storm RG 518 listings

                         

                        FOIA - Freedom of Information Act

                          • Re: What kinds of challenges have you faced while researching?
                            Judith Haran

                            I did hear back from them, but each time I did required me to first send them an email, I believe. I have not pursued it because it is not critical. I'm writing a novel which concerns the Office of Special Investigations in 1980, and the material I requested was a set of cassette tapes used by the person who did the official write up of that agency - these were her interview tapes. It's entirely possible that someone threw them out, or that certain people don't want the tapes released. (The original report she wrote was not released until someone, I think the NYT, got a copy and published it online.) But I have a lot more to worry about in writing this novel, and everything else is far more urgent than this. So, if I get something, great, if not, well, I didn't expect much from the US government to start with.

                          • Re: What kinds of challenges have you faced while researching?
                            Michael Tomko

                            Dear Mam,

                             

                            If the request is an MDR, you can refer it to the ISCAP after 1 year without a response. You can also file a legal FOIA suit in your nearest federal court. It can be filed after the 20 day time frame, and 10 day extension. You do not need an attorney, it is common under 42 USC, Sec 1997, just follow the recommended format and also notify the US Attorney for the district. You may also Model prior FOIA suits, and file one in a court district that has been advantageous to the claimants. The agencies use time and statistics as to minimize disclosure. They are aware that many requesters will simply move on or avoid an appeal or legal challenge. An MDR (Mandatory Declassification Review) request cannot be challenged in federal court, but it can be referred to the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel. In some cases a portion of the request can be requested as an MDR, then request a FOIA as to maintain the legal challenge option. Another strategy is to combine forces, whereby one researcher files a MDR and another files a FOIA.

                            Your FOIA seems to have reached 225 days, whereby they should have the data, and may be reviewing legal options and public affairs criteria.  If it is of significant importance, then the time factor may be challenged. There is also a Public Interest Disclosure Board, which is used by legislators and the issue is recommended for disclosure to the President. Many citizens really are not educated toward these processes, because video games and side shows take up more of the stage.

                            • Re: What kinds of challenges have you faced while researching?
                              Michael Tomko

                              Dear Mam,

                               

                              If your FOIA involves information involving Desert Storm or a military conflict, I would be interested in submitting an MDR request towards the evidence of the conflict. It is also important to submit a clear and focused FOIA, with specific Record Groups, Item Numbers  and Document Descriptions and Titles.  From there, you can request specific dates, or pages from the information.  Instead of submitting an expensive  FOIA for 3 Feet of records.  The researcher can request specific reports or conclusions, which could be significant evidence toward an event. NARA has had some Youtube Videos, which described how the agencies attempt to focus the FOIA's. And the DOJ OIP, mentioned a "release to one and release to all " goal.  NARA just had a good YouTube Video of History Hub yesterday.

                              This will help remove aspects of the ethical and profitable incentive to release information to specific individuals and groups.  The FOIA Online portal allows researchers to search it's data base, whereby pieces of the puzzles can be placed in one basket. It also removes the redundancy of answering FOIA's that have already released the information.

                               

                              For example, I requested  the Desert Storm moving images (518-AR)  Titles. And am still waiting for the NARA release.  But I discovered it had already been released Twice in 2013, and was disclosed on FOIA Online to two different researchers? Why release the same information twice?

                               

                              I also requested the Desert Storm Moving Images (518-DS ) Motion Picture Titles , of which there are 9 video cassettes. And the cassette titles have not been released? I  suspect there are also ground recon images of the BDA, Battle Damage Assessments.

                               

                              While reading an article in the VFW Magazine about the USS Stark Attack and crewmen killed in a missile strike from an Iraqi aircraft in 1988, it stated the crew was denied the Naval Combat Action Ribbon, and the records were still classified.  I remembered the records pertaining to the Stark on the Desert Storm RG 518, NN3-518-93-2, so I notified my senator and his veteran rep. 

                               

                              Your  FOIA must be important, if it has reached this time frame without a response?  You can click my name and send me a direct  email? But I would like your FOIA answered within this life time.