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Journal of Cold War Studies 5.2 (2003) 101-103

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Patricia Kennedy Grimsted, Trophies of War and Empire: The Archival Heritage of Ukraine, World War II, and the International Politics of Restitution. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, 2001. 749 pp. $19.95.

In the early 1990s journalists and scholars spoke excitedly about the opening of archives in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. With time everyone has been reminded that archives do not open like curtains to reveal a bright and clear reality awaiting only objective description. Legitimate disagreements about method and interpretation will long outlast the drama of politically-timed revelations of this or that set of special files. That is as it should be. With certain exceptions for diplomatic and high political history, the problem confronting scholars is not so much of theses to be confirmed as of new approaches to be proposed. A new generation of historians are making their careers on creative additions to the history of Central and Eastern Europe, often legitimized by research in newly opened archives. As fresh archival materials are investigated, the history of the Cold War, the Second World War, and Communism are not so much rewritten as written anew.

Along comes Patricia Kennedy Grimsted, an Archivkenner if ever there was one, to remind us that the matter is far more complicated than that. Archives are a special place for historians, often a site of peaceful labors away from other obligations—at once the regulator of a pleasant style of life away from home and the guarantor of respectability upon return. The fount of footnotes is also a source of pleasure: as Ranke summarized his labors in Rome archives in the summer of 1829: "How pleasantly one studies the day away!" Yet sources have their sources; archives have their history. The documentary selections made by historians on professional grounds are preceded by other selections made by political actors on rather different grounds. On one level Grimsted's book is a historical account of the collections of important Ukrainian, Russian, and Polish archives. Historians will recognize the stories of the archives they know best; but it seems probable that no one else is in possession of all the knowledge Grimsted brings to bear in this magnificent tome. Trophies of War and Empire is a life's work that illuminates the work of other lives.

In this sense the book operates as metahistory. Its specialist readers will recognize [End Page 101] archives they have exploited and sometimes even files they have used, and will understand why (for example) they traveled to Wroclaw rather than L'viv or to Moscow rather than Kyiv to pursue this or that subject of interest. Where files are located (or thought to be located) determines where historians go, and Grimsted thereby offers animplicit history of why historians go where they go. Grimsted also continues her fruitful career of revealing the location of interesting collections, thereby influencing where historians will go in the near future. The book also operates at four other levels. It provides

  1. a history of archival losses and gains associated with the Second World War;
  2. a study of the politics of restitution in the 1990s;
  3. a review of pertinent international conventions; and
  4. a normative guide to the fair redistribution of archival materials.

These purposes sometimes clash. The detailed account of restitution politics in the 1990s is already a bit dated and seems disproportionately long and attentive to detail. It sometimes devolves into distracting treatments of related issues. More interesting is Grimsted's able summary of international standards, as well as her convincing proposals for a hierarchy of norms in archival reconstruction. As she points out, "many current archival claims are not even being considered, let alone resolved, precisely because there are no accepted international agreements or guidelines that distinguish archives from other cultural property (p.135)." Grimsted aims to devise a preliminary set of norms for a multinational regime that would take account of the differences between archives and other war trophies...