Is A Peace Corps Library and Museum Needed?

 

In some 135 countries, over the last 55 years, Peace Corps Volunteers have worked at the grassroots crossroads of the past and the future. Volunteers have witnessed the end of colonization, the rise of modernity and its cultural blowback, climate change and its environmental consequences, political violence and terrorism. Volunteers have intervened and interfered in other peoples’ lives, sometimes with outstanding success and sometimes not. Peace Corps Volunteers have opened a window on the lives of people of the world.

There are great Peace Corps books, blogs, websites, videos, archives, and oral histories, public, private and personal. There is a treasure of invaluable information in all of Volunteers’ work and observations. Perhaps clues to solving some of the world crises of today might be found in this work. But for these materials to be accessible to researchers and historians, as well as the general public, they have to be preserved and organized by time and place. They have to be easy to find and easy to get.

But, it is not clear exactly who, if anyone, is responsible for such a monumental effort. Peace Corps Directors have the critical task of recruiting, selecting, training, placing and supporting Volunteers. They have to prioritize staff and resources. Currently, there is no in-house Peace Corps Library or Librarian; nor, is there even one list describing all of these great resources and their location. The Peace Corps Office of the Third Goal is hoping to expand its list of RPCV Third Goal activities.

There is no one place to go to learn about Peace Corps. Does it matter? I say yes, and this is why.

 

1) The Third Goal – “To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served” has never been more important. This mandate falls mainly to RPCVs who in thousands of ways have brought home their experiences. But, this understanding is not embedded in the public square. It is only by luck or coincidence that the average American encounters Third Goal activities to better understand peoples of other lands.

2) Authors are writing about Peace Corps and some are getting it wrong. Here are some examples by non-RPCV

  • One book on the early days of Peace Corps has many assertions without citation. My favorite comment stated that Volunteers were given 45 days of vacation and received, in addition to their living allowance, $75 dollars a day vacation pay.
  • Another example is in a book by a respected professor of Public Administration. He has a glowing section on the Peace Corps agency. In the article, he states that (only) male trainees were sent to Puerto Rico for endurance training. He also wrote that during the Nixon administration, Peace Corps staff members occupied the Peace Corps office to protest the Vietnam War in support of demonstrations against that war. To his credit, the professor said if he were to do a second edition of the book, he would review that chapter based on references that contradicted this statements. However, the publisher has no plans for a second edition.
  • Kathleen Kanne, the student author highlighted here on Peace Corps Worldwide recently wrote, in her prize-winning essay “It is also worth noting that the first missions of the Peace Corps were male-only initiatives.”
  • NPR prefaced its interview with Dr. Kerry about the Peace Corps partnership with Global Health with this statement: Fifty years ago President Kennedy started the Peace Corps with the promise that it would train doctors in faraway lands. But, you may be surprised to know, the Peace Corps has never actually recruited doctors and nurses as mentors and medical educators.”

3) Peace Corps has no “ Institutional memory” is a refrain that echos through Peace Corps corridors. . In June 2010, the report, “The Peace Corps -A comprehensive Agency Assessment” called for more systematic record keeping, but did not define which records. The Director of the National Archives and Records ultimately decides which federal records will be kept and which will be destroyed. However, federal agencies, including the Peace Corps, make recommendations. The criteria for recommendations from Peace Corps vary from one political administration to the next. Valuable records may literally be assigned to the “dust bin of history.”

These are the reasons I believe that it is time to build a Peace Corps Library and Museum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9 Comments

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      • I’m losing my lexical (?) governor in caring how polite I write. Related is how much I loved the character Meryl Streep played in the film RICKY AND THE FLASH.

    • Probably Alice O’Grady, Newell Flather, or Geogianna Shine McGuire would be better sources at this stage, but I recall that our group GHANA I –the first PCV group to go abroad, this at the end of Aug 1961, and we left from Washington, D.C. following an audience with President Jack Kennedy in the Rose Garden and with individual photo-ops with him in the Oval Office — of 50 volunteers was about half women mostly of ancestry from Europe, half men and one woman. W

      We were so young it seems glancing back now, hopeful, fresh, school-smart, happy and a thrilling time that I recall we just took in and out of our casual & jaunty strides.

      “Backward, O backward, O time in thy flight./ Make me a child again, just for tonight” is something my great grandmother Jane Kennedy( –not related to Pres JFKennedy– ) Delehant would intone from her n.w. Pennsylvania roots going back to Scotland and Ireland, north and south. She also would josh and counsel me from her rocker “Everyone’s odd, Dearie, but thee and me (pausing and sliding her eyes as me and smiling with her Quaker kind of ways), and sometimes I wonder about THEE.” Along with “Don’t waste or you’ll follow the crows before you die”, and another one warning against/ about “geese walking over your grave” (that I don’t remember more of, nor understand now, if I ever did). I tell this to show something about some of what shaped me to and that we all came from our people so many different backgrounds, and this being illuminated by Grammy Delehant’s saying that “you don’t get it off the grass”. But all Americans — Black, White, and etcs.

      Hoping this might get some corrections & checking started by these slipshod authors of books about the Peace Corps: my mother would have called them ‘pills’, a term she used for problem children.

  • Edward,

    Professor Goodsell is the author of article on Peace Corps which stated only men went to Puerto Rico for endurance training. I corresponded with him and showed him descriptions of the oral histories at the JFK library in which women spoke of Puerto Rico training from the very first. He finally conceded that he was wrong; however, the book is published and is on college reading lists all over the country. He wrote me that if his publisher ever considered a second edition, Goodsell would “consider reviewing his statements.” However, no second edition is planned. That is the problem, there is no no way to correct misinformation once it is published or on the internet.

    As for Kathleen Kanne and her statement about “all male missions” initially, I did refer her to Bob Klein’s book “Being First” about Ghana I. I also emailed her and urged her to read the comments you had made about psychological testing in the selection process. I have not heard back.

    On a much happier note: your recollections of your great, great grandmother from NW Pennsylvania and her quotes was fascinating. My Irish Catholic mother, born in Philadelphia, used to quote the very same first two quotes of your great, great grandmother! Backward O backward. O Time in your Flight, I thought it came from the Ladies Home Journal! The final line “Sometimes I wonder about Thee” used to send me into gales of laughter! Thank you.

  • The Ladies Home Journal was first published in Philadelphia! It all somehow comes together, even tho we left PA when I was only eight. I have no idea what this all means. But, I thank you both for the memories!

  • Our past has a pastness that presents itself through our intonations and phrases that must be bedded and arises unforced. My great grandmother Jane Kennedy (with Carson and Fraser ancestors in North Ireland and Scotland and in the tinkers and praisesingers of lower Ireland) who married Daniel Delehant and raised in Niagara Falls, NY my grandfather Edward Vincent Delehant and his sister Aunt Jenny (always remembered with the “Jenny kissed me/ when we met/ jumping from the chair she say in./ Time you thief who likes/ to put sweets in your list/ put that in:/ say I’m weary, say I’m sad/ say that health and wealth have missed me/ but add Jenny kissed me” poem of Leigh Hunt).

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