“The White House as a Black Box” Blog Post

Not only did this article bring a lot of insight into the history of record keeping in the White House, but also into how oral histories can be just as important as written word sources to piece together a historical event (or events). In their article, Russell L. Riley discusses the history of record keeping within the White House, and how there are some gaps of presidential records as a result. After Nixon’s Watergate “scandal,” there were various acts created to limit the public access to presidential documents. Before acts such as the Presidential Records Act of 1978 and executive order EO13233 made by Bush, presidents would “routinely” donate their papers to the National Archives after stepping down from office (Riley, 192). I found this to be very interesting because I was not aware that 1) presidents would turn over their documents to be made for public viewing, and that 2) these documents were now practically being held under lock and key to prevent the public from viewing them.

In the aspect of oral histories, this article also goes into detail about how and why oral histories are important, with the example of the lack of White House documents from the past few presidencies. While oral histories and memoirs can be seen as a “self-serving genre,” these can also “provide color and detail that will be missing from the official papers” where there are gaps” (Riley, 195). I believe that oral histories can be useful outside of a presidential history. As mentioned in previous readings for this course (namely, the readings on the Pueblo Revolt) oral histories can fill in gaps left behind in the telling of an event, but also possibly provide a new perspective on that event.


Sarah E Jones

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