I’ve arrived in DC and have gotten to work in the National Archives. Can i be so giddily excited every time i work my way through the several layers of security? Am i allowed to be so incredibly exhilarated every time i come out of the Metro at the Archives station?
So far, i haven’t even made it through one box. 12 hours and 27 pages of notes later, and i’m only part way through my first box. This is going to be a very long month of long hours. But i’ve not yet been disappointed. What is fascinating is what is missing from the folders. I’ve been making notes of the large jumps in dates that correlate with important moments, the half missing letters that talk about important issues — like the corveé system in place during the first several years of the Occupation in Haiti.
It turns out that most of the records i will need are in the Archives in Maryland, so it looks like i’ll be taking the Archive shuttle at least three or four times a week up to the military archives out there. Interestingly, because the Occupation of Haiti started before and continued during World War I, there is a bit of overlap between the two Archive centres. There is a little here, a little there – apparently the DC Archives holds everything pre-WWI, and the MD Archives hold WWI and forward.
I’ve been reading Ann Laura Stoler’s, Along the Archival Grain: Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense (2009) since before the trip. It has been such a wonderful guide to thinking about the notes and reports as i go through them. The edits in the margins, though, are difficult to know if they’re from the original recipients or if the archives have been marked up by an over-enthusiastic researcher. The paragraphs that have been marked, actually, turn out to be ones that i’m secondarily interested – things on the Caco uprising, issues of political intrigue. Reading through the daily diary logs of the commanders of the Occupation has been terribly enlightening.
What i was not expecting to find were so many notes on espionage and German industry in Haiti. Highly detailed reports of German business transactions were regularly sent to the Naval Intelligence Office during and after the war. In July 1918, Occupation forces instructed President Dariguenave to declare war on Germany. The US Occupying force used this declaration to intern Germans and to sequester their businesses and property. Others who were suspected of being “pro-German” or having pro-German sentiments” were closely monitored. At least one account of two German nationals trying to escape with maps of the US’s Atlantic coast line and of the Rail Road system is catalogued in the archives. They’re fascinating to read, but, unfortunately, not really part of what i’m researching. I catch myself wondering how i can squeeze these terribly fascinating stories into my dissertation without disrupting the narrative…
On that note, for all the hoorah around the USMC Sanitation and Hygiene work, i’ve yet to find more than one mention of them in the daily notes and the reports that were sent back and forth to Washington, DC. The one small mention is in conjunction with a smallpox outbreak and vaccination program that was instituted in 1920. So how is it that the sanitation and hygiene work is so heavily celebrated as part of the “good works” of the Occupation – as though this was some kind of humanitarian mission – when even the commanders of the occupation were wholly disinterested in it? Or was it simply just not that important? Why is it so very blatantly missing? I’ve run searches through the archive data base for the sanitation program in Haiti with absolutely no hits at all. The only thing i can think is that the records might be interred with the Rockefeller Foundation archives as they are the ones who took over the health programs during the Occupation.
I’m finding myself more and more intrigued by what’s missing as well as by stories that are not wholly told. Why did so many privates commit suicide during 1920-1921? Why the rash of self-inflicted gunshot wounds while on leave? And why have i never read about this anywhere else? Oh archives… how much intrigue and unanswered questions do you hold…?