Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Paper Trail Through History

By Published: December 16, 2012 - The New York Times

Since their publication in 1971 the Pentagon Papers have been examined seemingly from every possible historical, political, legal and ethical angle.

Bob Peterson/Time Life Pictures, via Getty Images - Before the digital revolution, high stacks of office documents were common. They still are.
Karsten Moran for The New York Times - Ben Kafka, author of “The Demon of Writing: Powers and Failures of Paperwork."
But to Lisa Gitelman, a professor of English and media studies at New York University, there’s at least one aspect of Daniel Ellsberg’s leaking of top-secret Defense Department documents that scholars have failed to consider adequately: the Xerox technology that allowed him to copy them in the first place.
Actually, make that “copy and recopy.” In a chapter of her book in progress about the history of documents Ms. Gitelman describes the way Mr. Ellsberg obsessively made copies of his copies, even enlisting the help of his children in what she describes as an act of radical self-publishing.
“Even though we think of copying now as perfunctorily ripping something off, he was expressing himself by Xeroxing,” she said.
The Pentagon Papers were a landmark, in her view, not just in the antiwar movement, but in a “Xerox revolution” that allowed citizens to seize hold of official documents, and official knowledge, and turn them to their own purposes as never before. 

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