Conspiracy and the Archives

There was a brouhaha in October when the National Archives announced the release of extensive materials surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. This release was, bizarrely enough, mandated by federal legislation passed in 1992 following renewed interest in the conspiracy theories surrounding the 1963 assassination stirred up by the Oliver Stone film JFK. Though the Trump administration redacted some of the material through national security concerns, the consensus seems to be that the material released will not confirm the existence of any conspiracy, and perhaps even effectively disprove those theories with the preponderance of banal material. But if you want to look at the documents yourselves, Politico has some tips for you.

Conspiracy theorist spreading the word. Photo by Jamie Kenny, used under CC BY-NC 2.0: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jakenny/6532480237

While that family of conspiracies has seemingly been put to bed, other conspiracy theories are preserved in archives. I was talking to a classmate yesterday and he told me about a collection at Ohio State University’s Archives of a noted UFO theorist. This collector, according to Eric, gave his papers to the archives with a raft of provisos, including prohibiting duplication of any of the papers. Nearly annually, the donor apparently sends a representative to test the archives’ adherence to these restriction, which seems like an extraordinarily paranoid thing to do, and also a serious annoyance to the archivists. When I asked why the archives would accept these demands, Eric told me that it was a pretty rare collection of UFO-believer zines.

Photo of possible UFO by Maurits Verbiest used under CC BY 2.0: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mauritsverbiest/34702214663

While it seems a little weird to keep conspiracy theorists’ rantings in an archive, it also documents an important tendency in our culture, a distrust of the official story. It also has great evidentiary value in documenting the print culture of a counterc-culture through the proliferation of zines.

While I couldn’t find the collection that Eric told me about online (perhaps because of the restrictions on it), I did find that the OSU archives contain another collection of unprocessed material on UFOs. It’s possible that when that material is processed it will give rise to even new theories. And if it doesn’t, there’s always the CIA’s archives.

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