Thank the FBI

Title page vignette from the 'Arrest mémorable du parlement de Tolose...'The remarkable Natalie Zemon Davis published a post on the New York Review of Books blog recently about how FBI harassment changed her approach to doing history:

The year was 1952. I had spent six months in France doing the first research for my PhD thesis on “Protestantism and the Printing Workers of Lyon.” I was trying to explore the Reformation from the vantage point of artisans, rather than just that of the theologians like Luther and Calvin and the great princes. To find evidence about working people, many of whom are illiterate, you have to go to archives: to government lists, and church records, to criminal prosecutions and marriage contracts. I came back to Ann Arbor with packets of three-by-five cards filled with the names of Protestant pressmen and typesetters and other artisans—people who were finding ways to disguise Protestant tracts so they could get by the eyes of the Inquisitors and mocking the Catholic clergy in popular songs. I planned to go back to France after I took my general exams.

Not long after my return, two gentlemen from the US State Department arrived at our apartment to pick up my passport and that of my husband. A publication event had brought them to our door. Early in 1952, I had done the research for and been major author of a pamphlet entitled Operation Mind, which reviewed past interrogations of the House Committee on Un-American Activities and urged readers to protest as unconstitutional its announced visit to Michigan. (In 1954, when the Michigan hearings finally took place, students did in fact protest on campus.) The pamphlet was issued in photo-offset, without the name of author, but simply listing two University of Michigan campus groups that had sponsored it. Whatever local readers thought, the Federal Bureau of Investigation was not pleased with Operation Mind and sent its agents to the printer, who obliged with the name of the treasurer of the campus organization that had paid the bill—that is, my husband. The seizure of our passports was one of the consequences.

To find out what happened next, read the rest of the (short) post here.

The image is a vignette from an early printed account of the story of Martin Guerre,
subject of one of Zemon Davis’s most famous books.
Click for source

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