Between Education and Propaganda: Public Controversy Over Presidential Library Design
Argumentation and Advocacy
While there is abundant scholarship on extant presidential libraries, rejected presidential library proposals are comparatively understudied. Here, we analyze the public controversies surrounding Richard Nixon's and Ronald Reagan's ill-fated plans for housing their presidential libraries at Duke and Stanford Universities, respectively. These parallel cases offer a glimpse into what Thomas Farrell terms “social knowledge in controversy” — episodes where prevailing social precedents governing human decision-making evolve in the crucible of public argument. What are the presumptions about how presidential libraries should be built and operated? How did they shape the public argument at Duke and Stanford during the early 1980s, and in turn, how did those schools' ultimate decisions to reject the Nixon and Reagan Library proposals reinforce or mold the presumptions? Through examination of primary documents housed at the Stanford and Duke University archives, we generate insight regarding the evolving political function of presidential libraries, and explore the utility of Chaïm Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca's theory of argumentation as a tool of rhetorical criticism. Such inquiry is especially timely in the contemporary milieu, where public controversy simmers regarding the 43rd American president's future library at Southern Methodist University, and where issues of government transparency and accountability persist as salient topics of public and scholarly concern.
Mitchell, Gordon R., and Jennifer P. Kirk. “Between Education and Propaganda: Public Controversy over Presidential Library Design.” Argumentation and Advocacy 44, no. 4 (2008): 213-230.