Saturday, August 13, 2011

Presidential Libraries, Nixon, Watergate, and historical fiction

Yesterday my teenage daughter and I visited for the first time the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum  in Yorba Linda, California, not too far from our Southern California home.  A few years ago, the National Archives took over the Nixon Library from the Nixon Foundation (an organization run by Nixon loyalists) and just this year unveiled a new, state-of-the-art exhibit on Watergate.  

This exhibit, intended to present a balanced view of the complex web of Watergate, chronicles the events from June 1971, with the leak of the Pentagon Papers and the formation of the secret White House group known as the Plumbers, to Nixon’s resignation and his public explanations of Watergate after he left office.

I was in junior high school during the Watergate Hearings, and because I lived next door to school, came home at lunch where I watched the drama of the hearings unfold on live television.  It was my first experience watching our government in action (remember this was before the days of CSPAN!) and it made an indelible impression on me.  

Tim Naftali, the library’s director and curator of this exhibit, commented in an interview with NPR, "Our main client is the 14-year-old visitor who is texting while you are telling them about people not only their grandparents' age, great-grandparents' age," he says, "but from a different era and culture."  With this visitor in mind, Naftali’s exhibit mimics a web experience; in each section
is an interactive video screen where visitors can hear some of the infamous tapes recorded by Nixon at the White House, as well as watch snippets of oral histories with key participants in the scandal.  Even the graphics and colors are clearly designed to appeal to a young audience.

While touring the museum, I couldn’t help but think about the lack of historical novels for young people exploring this important time period.  In recent years, we have seen a plethora of historical novels about Vietnam and the Civil Rights movement, but nary a one for young people about Watergate (not trusting my memory, I turned to WorldCat and Amazon, my trusty sources, and found nothing).  OK, authors out there--I see a niche ready to be filled!  It’s also time for a really compelling narrative nonfiction account of the Watergate events for young people; many books for older kids and teens on Watergate exist, but most were written before many of the key documents from the affair were de-classified.  

Have you visited any presidential libraries and do most of them attempt to present an unbiased view of the person in question?  Please leave a comment below.

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