November 18, 2017

BU to Honor Gotlieb for 40 Years of Archiving

By LJ Staff

He has been called the “father of modern archiving” for his passion and success in collecting the papers and artifacts of some of America’s greatest 20th century icons. Now, Boston University will honor Howard Gotlieb, the man who changed the special collections, with a gala dinner tonight in Boston. Gotlieb will be honored by his colleagues and peers, including a speech by author David Halberstam. Gotlieb, who is not retiring, said he was honored by the University’s efforts. “It has been a long run,” he said. “But perhaps one can only judge it in the future.” Judging from the more than 5000 researchers each year who use BU’s special collections, one need not wait to praise Gotlieb’s efforts. BU’s archive, which Gotlieb started in 1963, today includes the papers and artifacts of nearly 2000 vital figures, including the recently acquired collections of W. Somerset Maugham, and the papers of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who turned over 83,000 pages of his papers to Gotlieb in 1964. Such luminaries’ works exist among the papers of a wide variety of other figures: actors such as Bette Davis and Gene Kelly, poet Frank O’Hara, and journalist Dan Rather.

For Gotlieb, inspiration struck when BU wooed him from his position at Yale, and asked him to create their archives. “No college or university was collecting current materials 40 years ago.” Gotlieb recalled. “For years I collected papers of those of long gone, but I often wondered what was happening to the papers of public figures living today. So when I was invited to build an archive at BU, I focused on the 20th century, on those people who had made a mark on their own time, and not just literature, but politics, culture, popular arts, music, journalism, theatre. I had a feeling that the current generation were being ignored.” At its core, he said, was the idea of an archive that would not only be useful today, but that 100 years from now would allow researchers to write definitively about the 20th century.