Magazine article USA TODAY

Opening Floodgates of Secret Archives

Magazine article USA TODAY

Opening Floodgates of Secret Archives

Article excerpt

Some call it the "Wild West" of scholarship, a place of overwhelming vastness, few rules, and some hardship for prospectors. Soviet and East European scholars with access to government and party archives in Moscow, Berlin, Bucharest, Budapest, and Prague are mining information by sifting through mountains of paper and microfilm they never dreamed they would see.

It's not a job for amateurs or the impatient. "You can easily get distracted unless you force yourself on a [narrow] subject," explains Robert Conquest, a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution who has spent a good part of his life reading smuggled documents and eyewitness accounts of the Stalinist era. "Suddenly, we have access to 30,000,000-plus files in the Communist Party archives, with an average of 120 pages each. There's a similar number in the police archives, and that's only what's in Moscow."

The scholars are impressed with the professionalism of the former Soviet archivists and the thoroughness of their collections, even though many sensitive documents have been removed to special collections and need to be reintegrated. …

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