Our Research Trip to Chicago

This past September, two members of our research group, Marina and Dana, made a trip to Chicago in order to visit the Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center (https://www.lib.uchicago.edu/scrc/) which holds the University of Chicago’s archival materials. The Special Collections Research Center’s strength in the area of Cold War cultural and intellectual organisations has put this visit on our project’s agenda from the very start. Among the specific collections of interest to us were the records of the German magazine Der Monat and those of the Association for Cultural Freedom (formerly Congress for Cultural Freedom – CCF). This CIA front tasked with combatting the influence of Communist ideas in post-war European intellectual circles notoriously subsidised ideologically friendly publications (such as Der Monat, on which Dana has been working) and published its own periodicals (such as French magazine Preuves, which has been the focus of Marina’s work).

While Dana spent her three weeks in Chicago looking through about a third of the 80 boxes of records of Der Monat, which included correspondence files, reports written on the magazine, personnel files, financial documents, as well as papers and documents by Der Monat’s first editor Melvin J. Lasky, Marina had an even larger task set for her: the CCF collection spans over 600 boxes, dating from 1941 all the way to 1978, and covering a vast amount of correspondences, material on seminars held by the CCF, financial files, documents on book and pamphlet publications as well as the various magazines sponsored by the CCF. Due to the sheer amount of material we had to sort through, a large part of our job in preparing for the trip and during it, was constantly checking in with each other and trying to (re)figure (out) where our priorities lay. Which boxes, based on the short description of their contents given in the Special Collections’ online guide, were most likely to hold material that was of interest to us? Where could we find out more about the translators working for both these magazines? Would their names be given in the financial records or would we be more likely to find them in the correspondences?

In the end, even though the daily flood of interesting documents that we pored over managed to sometimes distract us from just focusing on the translators and the translation practices of our magazines, the time spent in the archive was well worth it. Aside from uncovering new names for our database of translators, we gained a much better understanding of how a continent-spanning institution like the CCF functioned, how the magazines sponsored by the CFF communicated with each other and what role translation played throughout the process. Some conspiracy theories, based on the oftentimes very fragmented information the archive material offered us, even followed us into our lunch breaks and bus rides to and from the Research Center.

Returning home with large folders of the pictures we took and our digital as well as handwritten notes on what we found, our next step will be to sort through everything one final time and to decide what materials to focus on in further research.

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