Two grants totaling $1.75M will facilitate access to astonishing materials in the Hall-Hoag Collection of Dissenting and Extremist Printed Propaganda
Through its Divided America project, the John Hay Library will digitize and make available material representing extremes of political thought from 1946 through the 1990s in the United States. With a $250,000 grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission’s Access to Historical Records: Major Initiatives program and a $1.5 million grant from the Arcadia Fund, the project will take on the digitization of about three-fourths of the holdings in the Hall-Hoag Collection of Dissenting and Extremist Printed Propaganda. Consisting of nearly 200,000 individual items from over 5,000 organizations, the Hall-Hoag Collection is the country’s largest research collection documenting the ideas and activities of dissenting right- and left-wing U.S. groups, offering a trove of material that will help scholars and journalists further understand our current political moment.
The grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) will support the digitization efforts of material in Hall-Hoag that focuses on conservative groups based in rural, urban, and suburban areas, with an emphasis on highly localized ephemeral material. As part of the grant, the Library will fund personnel, outreach, and dissemination activities associated with scholarly study of the materials, which will be fully accessible by historians, researchers, and the general public. The Library will also partner with an interdisciplinary group of faculty to host a publicly-accessible virtual symposium that will draw connections between the newly digitized content and the divisive political landscape in the United States. This rich set of documents includes militant movements, anti-communism, Evangelical or other right-aligned religious bodies, and issue-focused mobilization around matters of public health, gun rights, immigration, and “right-to-work” claims.
Archival material from the radical right is particularly rare and vulnerable owing in part to the fact that groups and individuals from these movements often distrust universities and are reluctant to donate material. Although the political right has had a transformative effect on American social and political life since World War II, only four other universities have prominent (albeit considerably smaller) holdings in this area. These materials capture a trajectory within American politics that has largely been ignored within academia even as it has risen to the fore within popular politics and American governance over the past several decades. This lapse has contributed to the current bifurcation within American politics, insofar as it has deprived scholars of a means for studying the roots of post-WWII Conservatism in all of its dimensions in the same way that scholars have long been able to study the political Left.
With the monies provided through the Arcadia Fund grant, the Divided America project will digitize a further significant portion of the Hall-Hoag Collection. Measuring 1,655 linear feet, the Hall-Hoag collection is the one of the largest of Brown University’s manuscript collections. It was amassed by Gordon Hall, a young veteran of the World War II Pacific Theater, who first encountered the printed propaganda issued by domestic hate-your-neighbor organizations in the late 1940’s. Grace Hoag, an alumna of Smith College, began to collaborate with Hall in the 1960’s, and assisted with the research and expanding the collection beyond its initial emphasis.
Naoko Shibusawa, Associate Professor of History, Associate Professor of American Studies, has worked extensively with the Hall-Hoag Collection and states:
I frequently refer both graduate and undergraduate students to the Hall-Hoag Collection. Students have been drawn to studying conservative and radical right sources as much as liberal and radical left sources. The materials in the Hall-Hoag Collection have allowed them to better understand the ideologies and worldviews that continue to animate political divisions today.
She goes on to say that “the full potential of this vast and compelling collection has barely been tapped. I think others interested in more contemporary U.S. history would be thrilled to have this collection easily accessible for their students, as well as for their own scholarship.” Currently, Professor Shibusawa is working with a student whose thesis draws largely from Hall-Hoag’s materials of incarcerated, radical left Indigenous women from the 1970s.
The collection provides a deep and nuanced look at American politics and political culture from the end of World War II to the eve of the September 11 attacks. Unparalleled in breadth and depth, Hall-Hoag is unique for aggregating material from organizations with faint, if any, traces in the archival record. According to Joseph S. Meisel, Joukowsky Family University Librarian, “Making Brown’s outstanding collection of these important documentary materials more widely available through digitization will be an incredible boon for researchers and students of American politics, and shed new light on the development of important trends that have shaped our national discourse and public life.”
The Divided America project represents one facet of the John Hay Library’s deep commitment to promoting socially engaged scholarship by documenting a wide array of political, social, and religious ideologies so as to shed light on the complex ways in which ideology influences social and political power structures. Amanda E. Strauss, Associate University Librarian for Special Collections and Director of the John Hay Library notes:
The Library is deeply grateful to NHPRC and the Arcadia Fund for this funding, which will allow us to provide free digital access to critically important historical materials for scholars, students, and the public who are interested in studying the evolution of of political ideologies in the United States. This material allows a rare glimpse into the transmission of ideas among issues-focused conservative and liberal groups and will contribute to a more nuanced understanding of these important histories.
As one of the Library’s premier collections, the Hall-Hoag Collection forms the anchor for the strategic collecting initiative Ideology & Power, which seeks to provide coherence and promote public access to more than 200 years of original material that documents the evolution of political, social, and religious ideologies in the United States. The Hall-Hoag Collection is the country’s largest research compilation of materials produced by both right- and left-wing American extremist groups.
At the conclusion of the three and a half year Divided America project, nearly 240,000 pages of material will be digitized and made available through the Brown Digital Repository.