As a college librarian, I often hear stressed-out students searching for primary sources say, "I'll take anything." Don't settle for just anything. There is a treasury of primary source material available electronically. Peruse my selection of 200-plus primary source sites by conducting a keyword search, exploring the tag cloud at left, or browsing by historical era. You can also visit my Delicious and Diigo sites to review my bookmarks. Here's hoping you find what you're looking for.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Re-writing history: a criminal offense (too bad the statute of limitations is up)

This morning a co-worker pointed out this startling story about the Abraham Lincoln researcher who admitted to altering a document housed in The National Archives. Specifically, Thomas Lowry altered Abraham Lincoln's Presidential pardon for Patrick Murphy, a Civil War soldier in the Union Army who was court-martialed for desertion. Using a fountain pen, Lowry changed the date of Murphy’s pardon from April 14, 1864, to April 14, 1865, the day Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. Lowry then claimed the pardon had historical significance, because it could be considered one of, if not the final official act by President Lincoln before his assassination.

According to a press release from The National Archives, the matter was referred to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution; however the Department of Justice informed the National Archives that the statute of limitations had expired, and therefore Lowry could not be prosecuted.  Lowry has been permanently banned  from all of  The National Archives' facilities and research rooms.

Besides just being a fascinating read, this story poses an interesting question. Those involved in the digital humanities strive to make resources more accessible to students, educators, researchers, and the general public. In doing so, will they also help safeguard those materials from theft, alteration or mis-use? We'll see.

The photo above is a close-up of the altered date on the Lincoln pardon. It comes from the National Archives.

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