Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Up against time

Three days down and one and a half to go and I'm feeling up against time in the research. I've been through 18 boxes - some excellent, others a lot less so in terms of providing what I need, and I've yet to touch the Killian papers here or tie down Ike's reaction to the Bikini Atoll H bomb tests, or cement the link between Killian and Bissell. Tomorrow will be a crucial day: I've identified most of what I want to go through, but will be looking for archival advice. So, really for the first time on this trip I'll be testing the system!

One real  positive of today was being taken to lunch by Dave Nichols - a fascinating man and one who has a rare insight into Ike's Presidency. It was a very enjoyable meal.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Piecing together the jigsaw

Another solid slog in the Research Room today - 90 degrees outside, but as ever the Eisenhower Presidential Library was COLD. It seems that the building has an in-built inverse reaction - as the heat rises outside, the chill sets in within the 1961 walls of the building.

Abilene is really green at the moment though - it was already the washed-out height of summer last time I came, so it's nice to see the trees just greening up and butterflies swarming on the flowers in the manicured Library gardens.

All those yellow flashes on top of the plants are butterflies -my picture doesn't do justice to the hundreds clustering around.

The first 90 minutes today revealed nothing of note but the next 90 proved fruitful. This afternoon, spent working laboriously through the Washington diary of George Kistiakowsky, who succeeded Jim Killian as Eisenhower's Scientific Adviser, demonstrated just how much policy was made on the fly, and the extreme lobbying power of certain individuals who ensured their case was made to the President, even when cost, logic and sentiment appeared to favour other options.

My companion in the research room was the very charming Dr Dave Nichols author of 'A Matter of Justice' and 'Eisenhower 1956'. Very self-effacing and obviously in love with his subject, I'm looking forward to learning more from him over the course of the week.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Back in the ol' routine

Things I've learned today:
  • Researching in a Presidential archive is better second time round - I really enjoyed my day's research today and got much more out of it than on my last visit to Abilene. This time round, rather than just grabbing anything related to 'space', I know what I'm after. I'm looking for links that draw the key 'helping hands' together in the Eisenhower/space policy story. And, after about five boxes of Bissell material, I've teased out quite a lot of stuff that will be useful in the thesis.
  • It's impossible to look at research materials for eight hours straight. This kind of research demands breaks - a walk to the local cafe (great for overhearing gossip) at lunchtime; a walk to the local store to buy a drink. Otherwise, I stop seeing seeing what's in front of me when I'm reading documents late in the day.
  • It's better to do fewer boxes thoroughly than try to cover everything in the library. Last time round I 'covered' 18 boxes one  day. Today I did five - and got far more out of them.
  • Don't talk religion or politics around this town. The people are wonderfully warm and welcoming  here - but I don't think there are too many sharing my liberal views.   

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Lost in transition

Today I woke up in Boston; had lunch in Chicago; recharged in Missouri and will go to bed in Kansas.

I'm back in Abilene with five days of searching into the nooks and crannies of the helping hands to the US' original hidden hand president.

Not much to say about a day of travel other than I got a train to Wonderland (look at the end of Boston's Blue Line); I drove down the country's first bit of Interstate on I70 - oh, and I got stopped by a State Trooper having got a bit over-excited and sped up approaching Abilene.

Luckily, he let me off - I'm probably the only European he has stopped all year.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Fenway Day

So, I didn't walk over Boston Common or complete the Freedom Trail, but I did tick off a major venue on my sporting bucket list - a day at the Boston Red Sox' Fenway Park. From a tour of the ground - where I understood about one reference in every eight (and recognised about one player name in every 17) to a game that covered all the highs and all the lows (and more) of being a Red Sox fan, it was quite an experience.

By American standards, the ground's old - it's the oldest ball park in the US and actually turned 100 yesterday. It's also quite small, seating 37,000ish and the biggest draw of the season is the visit of the Yankees. It seems to be the law that everyone drinks beer throughout the game, and they all have to stand up together to go and get refills just as a crucial play is happening.

As their fans constantly reminded everyone, the Yanks have won the World Series (USA -  insular nation?) 27 times to Boston's measly four. the Yanks also rather ruined Red Sox' celebration yesterday by beating the home side 6-2. Today, it looked as though Sox would have a pretty swift and comprehensive revenge racking up a 9-0  lead. New York pulled back one run and the Sox manager pulled their pitcher. Not the wisest move as New York replied with a further 14 unanswered runs.

Sometimes it's great to be neutral.

As the park emptied (long before the end) at least I got a great view of one of the world's most atmospheric stadia.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Hey, Hey JFK

It was off to the other end of Boston this morning - a walk, two trains and a bus later I was rocking up to the JFK Presidential Library - my first visit to the institution I thought would be at the heart of my thesis - but has, in fact, turned out to be rather peripheral.

Despite the picture, it was actually really busy in the Research Room - I'm used to the silence of me and a bunch of files with perhaps one other researcher wading through historical records. But today there were seven others in the room for most of the morning with a couple more arriving near lunchtime.

Given that my research has now narrowed very much into Eisenhower territory, there was only so much value I could get out of today's visit. I had expected to be at MIT for a second day - but weirdly, they don't open on a Friday. Still, it was good to work through the 1960 campaign files and build up a picture of JFK's criticisms of the Eisenhower administration - especially from 1958 when it was very clear that Kennedy intended to run for President. One of the most interesting documents was the rebuttals to the issues about Kennedy - from his health, to being soft on communism - that the Kennedy camp either saw or assumed they'd see from the Nixon side. As far as I could tell, much of the Kennedy counter-argument was closer to fantasy than fact. Ah, well......politics!

One good thing about having a researcher pass for the presidential libraries is the opportunity to look round the museum for free. The JFK museum has had a refurb recently for the Kennedy 50th anniversary of his election win. Given my interests, I got a buzz out of the Mercury space suit and the exchange of memos between JFK and LBJ that feature so strongly in the popular narrative of the US manned journey to the moon.

There are a couple of odd aspects to the museum - the film marking the Cuban Missile Crisis is somewhat skewed - and doesn't even particularly clarify Kennedy's contribution, while the Dallas assassination is just a TV loop  in a corridor. Still, it was a good day - and I'm glad I finally made it to Columbia Point. It's a pretty amazing place to build a museum.

I'm back in the South End again this evening - but the view from my bedroom window's not bad.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Boston Day 2 - largely spent in Cambridge

Last night I posed the question to myself - since there was no-one else around - is it possible to walk from South End to Cambridge? Now, we're not talking 'The Fens' here: this was simply wondering whether it was possible, practical and even advisable to walk through Boston and across the Charles River to my planned visit to the Special Collections Archive in MIT's Hayden Memorial Library.

I am very delighted to say that the answer's a very resounding 'yes'. a walk up Dartmouth, across Copley Square and along Newbury (replete with Ben Sherman, Lush, Jack Wills  and a number of other very recognisable brands from home) took me to Massachusetts Avenue and a stroll over the bridge in the sunshine. I arrived way too early at MIT, so strolled around the campus. There's money here: BIG money. Most of the buildings aren't very old by European Standards so there's a comparison with Brunel - but it quickly ends. There's no sense of make do and mend on this side of the Charles: everything's endowed; everything looks plentiful and there's a significant air of confidence. One echo of my Brunel experience is the clear sign that China's Rising. Every second or third student seems to be Chinese or of Chinese extraction. They're bright, conscientious, eager to pick up western methodology and, most of all, they can pay for the best education money can buy.

I was really surprised to find that this renowned institute of technology has a faculty of Arts, humanities and Social Sciences. it seems that back in the 50s, there was belated recognition that even the nation's leading scientific brains needed a balance of liberal arts to round them out. So I've just spent today rooting through the archive of the man who brought arts to MIT - Jim Killian - an enlightened college president and one-time adviser to President Eisenhower.

It was good to be back looking at primary sources. There's a real frisson when you pick up documents hand-written by Dick Nixon, 'DE' and even John Kennedy. Today didn't reveal anything massively startling, but did add a few jigsaw pieces and filled in some gaps on who knew who when - and who was talking about what to whom.


I repeated my walk back this afternoon, and suspect I had a stupid grin on my face all the way. People do walk in Boston - and they jog and they cycle and unlike virtually every other American city I've been to, this is foot-friendly. It has been a good day in a great city spent doing something I love - even if I was wide awake at 5.15am!

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Boston - Day 1

It has been an awfully long time since I've written anything on this blog - mainly because much of the academic year has been taken up with teaching US History 1850s-1980s - something I loved and which, I believe, went pretty well.

However, as someone with just the barest toe-hold on an academic career at the moment, it didn't seem right to be writing about the course or the students - not least because one or two might stumble across this. But lectures are now over, both class assignments are marked and returned and there's just the exam for us all to look forward to. Once that's out of the way I will have time to reflect properly on an immensely interesting teaching experience - made all the richer by the parallel corporate work I was doing on Adecco's Unlocking Britain's Potential initiative.

Anyway, enough of that. I'm back in the US for the first time since June 2010 with research days booked in at MIT tomorrow, the JFK Library and the Eisenhower Library all next week. So this is the first of what I plan to be a 'Dear Diary' of the second of my three planned research trips across the course of the PhD research.

It's 6.10pm here but I'm already flagging fast after a long day travelling. I left home about 16 hours ago for a pretty uneventful journey - other than standing next to Sir Jackie Stewart on the Terminal 5 Transit at Heathrow. He was off to Bahrain for this weekend's race. The BA 747 was pretty packed. I had an older gentleman sat beside me who spent the whole journey leaning on my control buttons - my reading  light kept going on and off like a 70s disco while on four occasions he managed to pause my film - the interesting but slightly slow (and a tad shallow??) J Edgar. meanwhile an even more vintage grandma managed to recline her chair so far that she was almost in my lap for the greater part of the journey. Still the journey from home to a brown stone (looks more like red brick to me) house in Boston's South End was all pretty easy.

It's nice to be in a part of town that seems to have a real sense of community. This is quite a mixed neighbourhood - some trendy shops and cafes mixed in with some social housing, some gentrified streets and a massive catholic cathedral - and all just a few blocks south of Copley Square. I had thought of walking about a mile west tonight to Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox, but I'm just too tired. their game starts at 7.10pm - after midnight on my UK-clock. It's just a non-starter really, especially as I have a full day at MIT over in Cambridge tomorrow. I've been given what seem to be quite complicated travel instructions for a journey that looks not much more than a mile. I'm seriously thinking of walking - but does anyone walk over here - and is it even possible to cross the river on foot? I guess I'll find out in the morning.

Anyway, tonight's reading is Wiesner's Report to the President Elect on the Ad-Hoc Committee on Space - not that I really need anything to send me to sleep right now!