KNOXVILLE –- Now that Fred Thompson officially has announced his candidacy for the presidency, University of Tennessee’s Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy is gearing up for a flurry of activity.
The Baker Center, in cooperation with UT Libraries, maintains the Modern Political Archives which include Thompson’s papers that detail his career as a U.S. senator from Tennessee from 1994 to 2002.
Since rumblings of Thompson’s candidacy began months ago, the Baker Center has had a steady stream of researchers perusing its files.
Newsweek, USA Today, ABC News, MSNBC, FOX News and the Associated Press are among the national media outlets that have done stories referencing archived documents.
To accommodate the growing interest, the Baker Center has created a “reading room” where news reporters — or anyone who is interested — can sit and read through the files. The Baker Center currently is housed in James D. Hoskins Library; the Baker Center’s new building, under construction on Cumberland Avenue, is expected to open next spring.
The center’s Web site also has been redesigned to make it easier for researchers to pinpoint the Modern Political Archives files they want to examine more closely. See http://www.mpa.utk.edu/.
Thompson’s papers are contained in 404 boxes that stretch 390.67 linear feet in the center’s archives. The files include correspondence, notes, memoranda, reports, videotapes, audiotapes, photos and some memorabilia.
Bobby R. Holt, director of archives and research at the Baker Center, said Thompson’s files are voluminous because his record-keeping was meticulous. Holt said the Senate has an office that instructs senators how to keep historic files.
For archive users, the files can be overwhelming.
“A lot of researchers come in and haven’t done archival research before,” Holt said.
Some want the Baker Center staff to point them toward “the good stuff,” he said.
But Holt said that’s not an archivist’s job.
“We don’t make value judgments,” he said. An archivist is responsible for keeping the papers in order and making them accessible, often by assisting researchers in finding specific materials they’re seeking.
As much interest as the Baker Center has seen already, Holt and his colleagues know requests to view the papers will escalate now that Thompson has made his presidential quest official.
Despite the extra work it’s caused, interest in the Thompson papers is great for the Baker Center and for UT, Holt said.
“There are still a lot of people who don’t know the wealth of information we have,” Holt said. “When news reports mention our collection, it lets people know we’re here, that we have a great collection of political papers and that they’re available to everyone.”
Thompson donated his political papers to the Baker Center in October 2005. Should he win the presidency, by law, his presidential papers will go to the National Archives.
The Baker Center’s Modern Political Archives contain 20 collections of papers from 20th-century political figures who have impacted Tennessee, including U.S. Sens. Howard H. Baker Jr., Estes Kefauver and William Emerson Brock III; Govs. Donald Sundquist and Winfield Dunn; U.S. Congressmen John J. Duncan Sr. and Howard H. Baker Sr.; U.S. Congresswoman Irene Baker; and state Sen. Ben Atchley.
The Archives are open from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
For more information about the Baker Center, see http://bakercenter.utk.edu/.
Amy Blakely, (865) 974-5034, firstname.lastname@example.org