Saturday 3 December 2016

The closure of the Boston College Troubles archive is historical loss

The facility was an attempt to prevent the past returning to haunt our future

Paul Bew

Published 11/05/2014 | 02:30

PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE: Cyclists in the Giro d’Italia go past a mural on the Newtownards Road in Belfast yesterday, a reminder of the past Lord Bew remembers too well: “I was motivated by a sense that the Troubles were over and should never be allowed to happen again.” Photo: David Conachy
PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE: Cyclists in the Giro d’Italia go past a mural on the Newtownards Road in Belfast yesterday, a reminder of the past Lord Bew remembers too well: “I was motivated by a sense that the Troubles were over and should never be allowed to happen again.” Photo: David Conachy
Graffiti on the Falls Road in West Belfast references Republicans who took part in the Boston College tapes project. AP

LAST week Boston College announced the final collapse of its archival project which had been designed to store interviews with loyalists and republicans for the use of future scholars who wanted to deepen their historical understanding of the Troubles. Presumably, Boston has now learnt the bitter lesson of that well-known aphorism, 'No good deed goes unpunished"

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Boston College has contributed more to the Peace Process, in a truly ecumenical way, than any other American university. Its prestige has grown in recent years and a good part of the growing reputation was down to the beautiful new Burns Library, in particular its acquisition of archives of an Irish or Catholic significance. As the Visiting Professor in the Burns Library 1999-2000, it was part of my duty to recommend new archives.

I strongly supported the idea of a Troubles archive in part because I was aware that the material for the study of earlier phases of the Northern Troubles was relatively scant. In the optimistic atmosphere just after the Good Friday Agreement, it seemed a logical step. A proper understanding of the past is a building block for the future. I recall saying that this was for graduate students in the next generation.

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