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Tags: Hillary Clinton | Hillary Clinton | Email | historians

Clinton's Deleted Emails a Loss for Future Historians

By    |   Friday, 13 March 2015 10:24 AM

Hillary Clinton's decision to delete more than 30,000 personal emails is marking more than a loss for modern-day people wanting more information about her, but for future generations who will no longer have access to information about her everyday life, historians believe.

"A government official is not just an official," Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin told The New York Times. "They have marriages and children and rich private lives that are all mixed up with their public lives. As a biographer, that's what you want."

On Tuesday, Clinton said she had turned over 30,490 emails from the private account she'd used while serving as secretary of state, but said she deleted more than half the emails she either wrote or received from 2009 through 2013 after designating them as being personal.

But it's those emails that are the most valuable to future generations, particularly if she becomes the 45th president and the first woman to win the White House, historians say, as her private life while serving as the nation's first lady, secretary of state, and senator of New York will be important to historians.

It's not just the missing Clinton emails that are worrisome to historians, who say that while the advance of technology has made sharing information easier, it's also easier to lose digital files than written documents or photographers that have allowed historians to look into the private lives of leaders from other centuries.

Clinton, as a potential presidential candidate, likely deleted the private emails out of concerns they could embarrass her or undermine her candidacy, and told reporters this week that "no one wants their personal emails made public, and I think most people understand that and respect that privacy."

But to historians, the quest for privacy now means a loss for generations to come.

"If she becomes president, we would eventually want to have all the intimate details of her life before the presidency," Robert Dallek, a prominent presidential historian, told The Times. "It's all part of the historical record."

In addition, he said that most public figures' personal archives are not made public for several years after their deaths. In the late 1990s, for example, Dallek was the first scholar to be allowed to examine late President John F. Kennedy's medical records, which had been under the control of three Kennedy associates who had rejected access to them for decades after he was killed.

Dallek discovered Kennedy had even more serious health issues than had been known and that he'd been treated with a wide variety of drugs, which "provided a new perspective on his life and his presidency."

Goodwin, whose biographies include accounts of late Presidents Abraham Lincoln and both Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt, said modern technology also means the loss of tangible records, such as handwritten letters and diaries that allowed a more intimate look at the leaders' lives.

"You feel like you're looking over their shoulder as they write," Goodwin said, where emails offer less depth and intimacy. "I would never write about a modern president."

However, some archivists, like Larry Cebula, a digital archivist for the state of Washington, says historians of the next century may have more than enough material.

Cebula, apologizing in a blog post to future historians, joked that Thomas Jefferson would comment on his friends' Facebook pages and post to Instagram is he was still alive.

"I think historians a century from now will view this period as a time of an explosion of records," Cebula said. "Even if Facebook is out of business, someone will have bought the archive."

There are some politicians, though, who are careful of the records they leave behind.

Clinton's predecessor, Condoleezza Rice, did not use email for work because she was concerned about the possibility of diplomatic issues.

And after former President Richard Nixon's recordings during the Watergate era helped cost him the White House, many of his successors have not allowed Oval Office recordings, which Dallek calls "a shame."

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Headline
Hillary Clinton's decision to delete more than 30,000 personal emails is marking more than a loss for modern-day people wanting more information about her, but for future generations who will no longer have access to information about her everyday life, historians believe.
Hillary Clinton, Email, historians
663
2015-24-13
Friday, 13 March 2015 10:24 AM
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