Edwin Berry Burgum

Project Director: Elizabeth Banks

Source of Materials: Records of the Edwin Berry Burgum Academic Freedom Case 1934-1961, New York University Archives

The Edwin Berry Burgum collection is a small (4.25 linear feet) collection housed at the New York University Archives. The materials’ worth is greater than its size. The Cold War’s struggle over ideology stirred up fears of subversion on the domestic front, and academic institutions were not shielded from its impact. Burgum was an English professor at New York University who was suspended from his position after refusing to answer questions at a Congressional hearing. In 1953, A University hearing of Burgum convened to consider whether his suspension was justified, and the Committee upheld its decision and dismissed Burgum from NYU. The archived material includes a transcript of Professor Burgum’s academic trial, and supporting documents. Most prominently, this includes exhibits entered into evidence from both sides: that of Dean Pollock, and from Burgum’s defense. These materials develop the theme of the Cold War at home, where ordinary Americans found themselves the subject of scrutiny on many because of what they wrote, read, or even thought. Burgum’s collection provides a means to examine that scrutiny, and also probe different views of academic freedom and the responsibility that comes with being ensconced in an institution of higher learning.
While the collection brings a modest amount of researchers to request it at the University archives, leaving it in analog form misses opportunities to reach out to larger fields of study. This is due primarily to a lack of access since the larger themes the story of Burgum’s trial raises have a broad appeal. Access would allow viewers of the site to gain perspective on the Cold War’s domestic impact in late 1940s and early 1950s. Digitizing and uploading the collection online would bring it to Cold War historians (both professionals and students) all over the world. Scholars of law would also find the collection valuable because of the insights in can provide into academic freedom cases and the lessons it can teach about the first amendment. In an era where much of the Cold War documents have been declassified, this collection is still rather hidden.
The eight boxes, including a trial transcript and its supporting documents require attention precisely because archivists should take action while the collection remains in tact. The collection has an online finding aid at the New York University Archives, but no one has scanned any of the documents, and they are not available anywhere else online. At the moment the transcripts and pieces of evidence are in fair condition, but the paper is fragile and could eventually show signs of wear. This is the time to act to prolong the collection’s life in the digital world.
This project therefore proposes not only to digitize the academic trial materials of Edwin Berry Burgum, but also to organize them into an online exhibition, all developed and maintained through the New York University archives. This exhibition would include hi-resolution encoded images of the trial transcript and the corresponding exhibits, linking them to form a cohesive trial package. Most importantly, interested researchers will have an interactive means of relating the pages of the trial transcript and the exhibits to important people, events and themes of the Cold War through links to glossaries, interactive web technology, and other sites for further research. The purpose of the exhibit would be to bring and isolated case into a greater context of fear brought on by anticommunist sentiments.
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  • Digitization policy with three sample documents Digitzation
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