If I came into this summer with a love of history, I came out of it with a deeper appreciation of how history is constructed. I knew of the broad mission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty when I started this project, but nothing could have prepared me for the many themes, characters and trends that emerged while reading through the thousands of documents that described their operation.
There were the ordinary workplace issues, such as an overabundance of flies plaguing the office, mysterious demotions, and the decision to ban hard liquor from the cafeteria following reports of overindulgence. There were also larger issues that offer valuable insight on world society today, such as how Cold War institutions like the radios transitioned into a new era, and how the radios dealt with rare instances of antisemitism among their staff composed of exiles, who could be anti-Communist for very diverse reasons. How the political attitudes of Czechs and Slovaks changed following the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, and about how a foreign radio station kept the trust of their listeners by stringent measures to prevent bias and misinformation in their news. About how a terrorist attack like the 1981 bombing of RFE/RL headquarters affected its victims long after the debris had been cleared, and about the hope of listeners who found creative ways like tweaking their refrigerators to listen to broadcasts through the attempted jamming and censorship by the authorities.
Archival materials are truly the building blocks of history, and I came away with a knowledge of history that probably nobody has written down. I described everything to the best of my abilities so that anyone can come and extract their own interpretation of history, and gain a new perspective on the stories that define our society today.
Jackson Dalman is a rising junior at Georgetown University majoring in Government. Among other responsibilities, he spent this summer processing the corporate files of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the United States government funded radio stations that served as a surrogate free press for the peoples behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War.