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  • Presidential Temples: How Memorials and Libraries Shape Public Memory
  • Nicholas Burckel
Presidential Temples: How Memorials and Libraries Shape Public Memory, Benjamin Hufbauer . Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2006. 270p. $35 (ISBN 0-7006-1422-2)

Presidential libraries from Franklin Roosevelt's to William Clinton's are not really libraries but rather presidential museums and archives—the former emphasizing achievements and the latter documenting the official record. Of the hundreds of thousands of visitors to these "libraries," nearly all visit the museums; only about 1 percent, mainly scholars and other researchers, consult the millions of primary sources available at the sites. It is, therefore, understandable that Benjamin Hufbauer, associate professor of fine arts at the University of Louisville, focuses primarily on the museums of these libraries in a series of case studies to explore how they shape public memory. He examines, in turn, the Lincoln Memorial, the Roosevelt, Truman, and Johnson libraries, and also takes a side excursion to the First Ladies Exhibit at the Smithsonian. Although some loose themes [End Page 250] run through the chapters, each is more a separate essay than part of an integrated analysis.

Hufbauer sees the Lincoln Memorial, completed in 1922, as the predecessor temple to future presidential libraries. His focus on text at the site in the form of inscriptions from Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and second inaugural address perhaps explains why he excludes the much earlier Washington Monument from consideration. Roosevelt clearly sought to create a different kind of memorial to commemorate his own presidency and, as with all future presidents, took an active role in determining the site, content, and access to his "library." The library would serve as a repository for his personal and presidential papers and a museum for the tourists he expected to visit. By today's standards, Roosevelt's library is modest, originally 40,000 square feet, compared with Clinton's Presidential Center of 152,000 square feet that includes the Clinton School of Public Service. Roosevelt seems to have been influenced by the privately financed Rutherford B. Hayes Library in Ohio and Andrew Mellon's gift of the National Gallery of Art to the Smithsonian. Roosevelt even sketched out the rough design of his library and selected its site on the grounds of his ancestral home in Hyde Park, where he also chose to be buried. Although he proposed that the library become the property of the recently created National Archives, he made it clear that he intended to control access to his records, then considered part of a president's personal property.

Subsequent libraries followed this general pattern, adding elements that later presidents chose to include in theirs. Thus Harry Truman added a replica of the Oval Office; Lyndon Johnson selected an academic institution with which to affiliate and included a research center, and Jimmy Carter combined it with his philanthropic foundation. Most former presidents also insisted on a close confidante as the first director of their new library, one committed to a portraying a positive legacy. The merits of these libraries have been much debated. Proponents point out that the buildings have been funded from private sources, have a close relationship with a major research institution, have had a positive economic impact on the area in which they are located, and have assured that the archival records are more quickly arranged and described. Opponents argue that, although the initial cost of the buildings is privately funded, once deeded to the National Archives, their ongoing operation is a cost borne by the taxpayer. Besides, they argue, presidents often use their position while in office to promote contributions to the project. In addition, although professionals usually expeditiously process the archival records, the most popular attraction is the museums that present an almost exclusively positive picture of the presidents. Finally, the priority given presidential records distorts the mission and depletes the resources of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). The budget for the presidential libraries in 2006 was $54 million, nearly 20 percent of the entire NARA budget, and a figure that will only increase as more libraries are created.

Curiously, Hufbauer concentrates on Democratic libraries, arguing somewhat weakly that they tended to set...


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pp. 250-252
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