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Emma Goldman Papers Project Faces Uncertain Future

Emma Goldman at a rally in New York's Union Square (May 21, 1919) (via Corbis Images for Education)
Emma Goldman at a rally in New York’s Union Square (May 21, 1919) (via Corbis Images for Education)

The 34-year-old Emma Goldman Papers Project is in limbo after losing its affiliation with UC Berkeley and running through its funding. The university cites the slowness of the project and the need to direct funds elsewhere as reasons for the break, while the project’s director claims the charismatic Jewish anarchist activist is still a radical figure to support.

Julia Berick, marketing and communications coordinator at the Tenement Museum in New York, highlighted the situation recently on the Tenement Notes blog, giving a concise history of Goldman’s activism, from worker’s rights and free speech in the early 20th century to speaking out against fascism in Europe before her death in 1940.

Portrait of Emma Goldman (1910-17) (Gerhard Sisters Photo, via Schlesinger Library at Harvard)
Portrait of Emma Goldman (1910–17) (Gerhard Sisters Photo, via Schlesinger Library at Harvard) (click to enlarge)

“Emma Goldman, with her political, public fearlessness has always captivated me,” Berick told Hyperallergic. “A woman who spoke her mind is rare enough in history; that Goldman was a working-class, Jewish immigrant makes her conspicuousness all the more impressive. The Tenement Museum is an important institution because it is a study of people whom society has not always considered important. Not only is Goldman’s story of Eastern European immigration to New York similar to the stories of the residents of the Tenement, but also these were the people whom Goldman championed: workers without a voice. These were men, women, and children who really struggled with labor laws and the lack thereof.”

The archival Papers Project, started in 1980 and directed throughout its history by Candice Falk, was initially supported by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission of the National Archive. Focused on chronicling the breadth of Goldman’s life and work, the project includes around 40,000 documents, both essential materials and copies from other institutions. According to the Daily Californian, a Berkeley student-run newspaper, the university actually cut financial support for the project in 2003, after giving $1.2 million in funding over the years; the decision came from the office of the vice chancellor for research, which cited continual delays of completion. Twelve years later, the school now says it will end its affiliation with the archive. “Just as the EGP is within sight of completing its work, the University of California, Berkeley has firmly stated that it will cancel its sponsorship of the project unless new funding from previously untapped sources is found,” reads a statement on the project’s website. The announcement notes that the fourth and final volume of the project’s research is planned for publication this year (here are volumes 1, 2, and 3).

Nils Gilman, associate chancellor of the school, told J Weekly: “You give people a certain amount of time to get their projects done, and then you make choices. To continue to fund this is to not fund something else.” In the same article, Falk notes the disparity between UC Berkeley’s treatment of the Mark Twain Papers and Project, which is supported by the university, and hers: “They have embraced that project, but they have not done so with the Emma Goldman Papers … I think there’s a fear of a woman anarchist immigrant.”

What the project has already accomplished remains an extremely valuable resource on Goldman and her activism, but the next steps are uncertain. In a December letter, Falk explained, “The EGP has not received any funding from U.C. Berkeley for the last ten years. This funding crisis is compounded by the fact that as of now, all federal grants and small foundation awards will run out by the end of February 2015.” She went on to write that she was searching for a new home for the collection, “to enable scholars and researchers for years to come to delve more deeply into the life, work, and impact of this radical activist who emerged from a Jewish tradition championing the pursuit of universal justice unconfined by national boundaries and ‘everybody’s right to beautiful radiant things.'”

Those interested in supporting the Emma Goldman Papers Project can make a contribution online.

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