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The House establishes its own rules
Codifying the House Rules
III. Rules for an effective and responsive legislature
A. The Reed Rules of 1890
Mr. MOAKLEY. A very wise Historian. After all the nice things that have been said about you, Doctor, do you get any salary for that job?
Dr. SMOCK. Yes, I do.
Mr. MOAKLEY. Let me just ask the same question I asked Lindy Boggs: Do you feel the House Historian's proper place should be under the Clerk of the House?
Dr. SMOCK. Yes; I think it offers us opportunities. As I said in my statement, our life blood is the records of the House. We know and understand the use of historical materials, and as historians we cannot exist without constant exposure and contact with those records. Under the Rules of the House, the Clerk is the jurisdictional officer in control of records, and so under his administration, I think we would have the best access and the best opportunities to perform in those areas.
Mr. MOAKLEY. Do you see your role as Historian changing at all, being shifted to the Clerk's Office?
Dr. SMOCK. I see with the new Fine Arts Board coming along, and with opportunities to work more closely on records issues that, yes, the focus would shift. A lot of the things that we have done in the past have been designed specifically to meet the demands of the Bicentennial and the Bicentennial schedule, although in the future, I would assume we would continue to work on ceremonies and exhibits and be engaged in special events that have historical dimensions; but we will also be more focused in the area of records and research in those records and the production of documentary histories. These are the best changes that could be made in the Office.
In this sense, there will be a shift in emphasis.
Mr. MOAKLEY. I know because of the present Clerk we have and his interest in the history of the House, you will have a great relationship, but I mean, is the system such that regardless of who the Clerk is, that you feel that relationship would still be the same?
Dr. SMOCK. Well, I can't predict the future. I do know that the Senate experience under any number of Secretaries of the Senate and through changes in control of the majority parties in the Senate, the Office has stayed the same; there has not been a ripple in the professional staff. The Senate history staff has demonstrated that they can function and do their job regardless of the personalities or the parties in control.
Mr. MOAKLEY. Any questions?
I couldn't let this morning go by without telling you how much the film, “The Congress,” has meant to me. Those of us who serve here often don't have any concept that we are living history. One thing I learned from the film was that Presidents come and go, but the continuity of this government and preservation of it reside in this building, and that has meant a great deal to me. I appreciate more than I can tell you the work that you have done, and I think if we could translate some of that even more closely to the public, it would be better for us who serve in Congress.
As a person who never keeps anything, who throws it all away, this hearing has given me a greater sense that something I might scribble sometime might be of some interest in the future, and I will take better care to fulfill my responsibility to safeguard records of historical interest. Again, I thank you for what you are doing.
Dr. SMOCK. Well, I appreciate that comment very much, and I hope you will save your historical materials. That is one of our missions, too. I will be glad to come and talk to you any time about that.
Mr. MOAKLEY. We had a Member from Massachusetts named Jimmy Burke. I think you could call him an anti-historian. He used to say, “Don't write if you can talk, don't talk if you can wink, and don't wink if you can nod;" so you can see the records that he kept.
Dr. SMOCK. Historians never have a complete record. We keep trying. We occasionally think the purpose of all this recordkeeping is to keep historians employed, but we know that historians always deal with imperfect records, and the truth of the matter is the great bulk of the material that is produced in the Congress is of an ephemeral nature. This is true of any recordkeeping procedure.
The key is separating out the 1 or 2 percent that really is important and that has meaning for posterity and from which future generations can learn important lessons. They can't always learn from memos of transmittal, but they can learn from the decisionmaking process which can be found in those records.
Mr. MOAKLEY. Well, I think the Congress is indeed lucky to have people like you and the people who testified this morning who are so dedicated to keeping the history of the House, because many of us, like Mrs. Slaughter said, aren't that neat with our papers, and we are glad that somebody is and is going to be around to put them in order.
We don't seem to have enough members to vote, so I will close the hearing at this time, thanking publicly all you people who testified. Your testimony has been a great contribution to this subcommittee. Thank you very much.
The subcommittee will now adjourn.