Archive Fever

in univerCity

I spent the last few days in The Reg. For my next parlor trick, I need to find magazines which circulated among the middle class Pakistani households during the 1960s, 70s and 80s. It sometimes confuses people that such materials exist in a place like University of Chicago. This is where post-War politics and the burgeoning Cold War comes into play. Congress had designated that the first 5 million dollars from the 1951 India Wheat Loan Interest Fund be spent on cultural exchange. So, in 1957, money generated from that interest was used to begin a program of acquisition of Indian titles to three research centers: University of Pennsylvania, Midwest Inter-Library Center in Chicago and UC-Berkeley. This initial fund was the basis for the PL-480 amendment in 1958 which streamlined the process.

If you check out a book, published in India or Pakistan, you will likely see a stamp and a scrawl, PL-480 or Public Law 480. Michigan Congressman Joseph D. Dingell passed an amendment to PL-480 which stipulated that monies derived from sale of agricultural surplus abroad be used to procure publications for scholarly interest. This money was always in foreign currencies and, hence, its usage back into the economy would be of greater good. In 1961, $400,000 in soft-money and 12 universities as recipients were established. By 1967, there were 20 university libraries which were receiving the shipments.

On the ground, in India or Pakistan, were field offices staffed by the American Embassy or Library of Congress, who worked closely with local publishers and librarians to identity, catalog and bulk purchase vast quantities of mass market publications. All of this material (some 765,816 “items” in 1965-66 alone) were sent to the University of Chicago Library for dissemination to all other member institutions. The Reg kept a copy.

So, here is a bit of post-war cultural capital that made an archive possible where none could exist. PL-480 cannot be separated from the birth of the Area Studies and the beginnings of the “South Asian Studies” but it is rarely studied, and scholars are rarely cognizant of the centrality of this program to the development of scholarship.1 It is no surprise that University of Chicago, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Berkeley were the power-houses of scholars in the 60s, 70s, 80s – there was an archive attracting folks from around the world.

In a few days, I head to another archive. To Lahore, to Multan, to Uch and maybe to Islamabad. I will keep you posted.

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  1. See Maureen L. P. Patterson, “The South Asian P.L. 480 Library Program, 1962-1968″ The Journal of Asian Studies Vol. 28, No. 4 (Aug., 1969), pp. 743-754 []

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