Edwin Berry Burgum - General Project Description and Selection Policy

"My own principles of literary criticism
are such that it is inconceivable that anything well-written
could be said to follow the Communist line"

- Edwin Berry Burgum

The Cold War’s struggle over ideology stirred up fears of subversion on the domestic front. The House Un-American Activities Committee members perpetuated an overriding sense that there was a dangerous virus in their midst that would only spread if it was not exterminated in a timely fashion. Academic institutions were not shielded from its impact. Edwin Berry Burgum was an author, critic and English professor at NYU who was suspended from his position after refusing to answer questions at a Congressional hearing in 1953. He pled both the First and Fifth amendments rather than give credence to the committee's accusation that he was spreading communist doctrine to his students.

The purpose of the exhibit would be to bring one (of the many) academic freedom cases into a greater context of fear within American society. With that in mind, the project would digitize the NYU trial transcripts and the exhibits entered into evidence by both the University and the team defending Burgum. Linking the exhibits would to the trial transcript would add visual interest to a text-only source, which would also be supplemented by a glossary and perhaps other external sites. This online exhibit would allow viewers of the site to gain perspective on the Cold War’s domestic impact in late ‘40s and early ‘50s. Digitizing and organizing the collection this way could appeal to Cold War historians (both professionals and students) as well as people studying the law, especially with respect to academic freedom and the first amendment.

The collection consists of eight boxes but the transcript itself makes up ten folders of the first box. The supporting documents come from Boxes 3 and 4 of the collection. The collection has an online finding aid at the New York University Archives, none of the documents have been digitized, 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. While the collection is not currently in high demand, using it in an online exhibit could create awareness of not only this particular case, but also how the struggle for academic freedom was a significant front in the Cold War. The larger themes the collection raises therefore have a broad appeal.
The copyright appears to belong to the University. The documents are either from the government or the University records, which therefore place it in public domain.

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