Does anybody want collected letters home, even from someplace/time interesting?
July 10, 2012 3:22 PM   Subscribe

How to find out whether historic letters are of any interest to somebody researching the era?

I have come into possession of a big pile of letters that were written by the wife of a military officer stationed in Okinawa during the Vietnam War (probably around 1965-1968) to her family back in the US Midwest. Much of the chat is, by its nature, touristy reports and things that might be of interest only to family, but over time I expect there to be reactions to the local environment and tensions there. (I have only sampled and not read all of them.) Certainly, this same woman has told some stories of dramatic encounters in that era, although I guess it's possible that they were ommitted from the letters to keep her parents from worrying.

So, (a) how would one find out whether there was a person or center who might be studying this era and thus interested in this material rather than my recycling it, and/or (b) do you think there is someplace that would be interested in having such letters for future use? Are either of these answers dependent on my having read all of the letters and figured out what, if any, material of historical interest they contain? (Something about the way that, say, Civil War letters reveal everyday details made me think that they might have value even without overt newsiness.)

Appreciate any suggestions!
posted by acm to Society & Culture (5 answers total)
Someone connected to the region might point you in the right direction. For example, a quick google came up with this guy.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 4:04 PM on July 10, 2012

I would call local museums and archives to see if they're interested in the materials. Consider university, city, state, and independent museums. If they're not interested they can likely tell you if it's worth pursuing and point you in a useful direction.

Whatever archive you call will likely expect you to be able to tell them why you think the information is valuable to them. Most archives are stretched pretty thin and won't want to devote resources to determining if there's anything valuable in the collection unless they're reasonably certain they'll find something valuable. You don't need to read the whole collection, but you should know if the letters ever broaden beyond things that would only interest the family and be ready to provide examples. Were the woman and/or her husband significant figures outside of the war, even if the letters themselves aren't? Was the base where she was stationed important to the war? Did she give information about everyday military life? Did she include lots of observations/thoughts about being an American in Japan? Did she provide commentary about some hot-button issues of the day, like the draft or domestic protests? Did she hold surprising views about a subject (like, she was married to an officer but said she supported draft dodgers)? Do the letters tell some sort of compelling and interesting personal stories?

You might have an easier time convincing the archive/museum in the woman's home town of the collection's significance; even if the letters never covered major events they might be interested in the collection as a record of the town's inhabitants.
posted by lilac girl at 4:07 PM on July 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Call your state museum or historical society. This sort of document can be invaluable to a scholar, not just today but possibly fifty or a hundred years from now. You probably can claim a tax deduction for your donation, but you will have to set the value of your gift yourself, as the recipient organization is prohibited by law from doing so.

Help save the history of ordinary people--donate them!
posted by Jenna Brown at 4:26 PM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I work in an archives-land. Please contact your local archives or special collections at whatever local university or historical society is nearby the location that they were being sent to in the Midwest. Even if the archivist there is not interested in acquiring them, an ethical archivist will provide you with suggestions of what other archives may be interested in them.

The Society of American Archivists issues these guidelines for donating family papers to a repository.
posted by mostly vowels at 9:04 PM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Er, posted too fast. I should have said "the local archives..." as in whatever archive is closely located to the Midwestern town where these letters were being sent. MeMail me if you need help determining possible archives or historical societies to contact.
posted by mostly vowels at 9:06 PM on July 10, 2012

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