The American Defense, Harvard Group’s Committee on the Protection of Monuments

Today’s post was written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, Senior Archivist at the National Archives in College Park.

In looking at some boxes of the Reference Collection of the Departmental Records Branch of the Army’s Office of the Adjutant General (Record Group 407), I stumbled upon two boxes labeled “Protection of Monuments.”  They carried the designation “Document No. 231” and contained lists, prepared in 1943 by the American Defense, Harvard Group, of cultural monuments in various countries.  The contents of the two boxes did not seem to contain a complete set of these mimeographed publications.  I knew that within the Records of The American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas (Record Group 239, the so-called Roberts Commission) were more of these listings, perhaps a complete set.[1]  I was curious as to whether the set in the records of the Roberts Commission was indeed complete and if not, could one find a missing list in the two boxes of Adjutant General’s records.  As the first step I knew that I needed to find a listing of the complete set.  This I found online via the Harvard University Archives’ holdings of the records of the American Defense, Harvard Group.

Before discussing my quest to ascertain what the National Archives and Records Administration held vis a vis the Harvard University Archives, it might be useful for the reader to know something about the American Defense, Harvard Group, and its Committee on the Protection of Monuments.

The American Defense, Harvard Group was an independent organization organized in June 1940 by a small group of Harvard faculty members to alert Americans to the dangers posed by the Axis powers after the fall of France. Initially launched to aid America’s allies in Europe and Asia and prepare America for eventual participation in the conflict, the Group helped mobilize support for America’s war effort after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. After America’s entry into the war the Group cooperated in various national defense activities.

The Group sought support from Harvard faculty, administration, clerical staff, wives, and Cambridge residents. Eventually, its membership reached more than 1700 names, with an active roster of 240 volunteers.  Harvard professor of philosophy Ralph Barton Perry served as President of the Group and Paul J. Sachs (director of Harvard University’s Fogg Museum) as Chairman.  Also playing key role in the Group were W. G. Constable (curator of painting at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts) and Hugh O’Neill Hencken (Associate in European Archaeology at Harvard University and Assistant Curator of European Archaeology at the Peabody Museum).

An important activity of the Group was the work of its Committee on the Protection of Monuments.  The chief work of this committee was carried out by a subcommittee appointed on March 20, 1943, consisting of Sachs, Constable, and Hencken. They began to work in response to the request of March 10 from Lt. Col. James H. Shoemaker of the Military Government Division of the Office of the Provost Marshal General that there be assembled information on objects and monuments which might need protection in possible theaters of war or occupied territories. Hencken was released by the Peabody Museum to act as general organizer of the project, and all the clerical work was performed by the Group, much by volunteers. Appeals were at once made to a wide circle of sixty-one in number, who had special knowledge of the various countries concerned.

In less than three months the first lists of cultural monuments were being sent to Washington, D.C., the one for Sicily being dispatched on June 12, nearly three weeks before the invasion of that island.  The Directive for the Sicilian invasion (Operation Husky) provided that “So far as consistent with military necessity all efforts will be made to preserve local archives, historical and classical monuments and objects of art.”[2]  Force 141 (afterwards 15th Army Group) sent a cable to the War Department on June 27, asking it to obtain and send immediately by fast air mail material on public monuments in Italy, including Sicily and Sardinia.  The material was prepared by Lt. Col. Shoemaker. It included an introduction dealing with the cultural monuments protection problems in general and lists of principal monuments of art to be found in Sicily and Sardinia. It was forwarded to Force 141 on July 1 and received on July 2.[3]

The committee produced two types of lists in mimeographed form, for each country.  The longer lists were prefaced by an introduction outlining the significance of the material in the national and religious sentiment of the country in question, and a short historical outline. Each list was prepared by individuals or groups with special knowledge of the countries concerned, and included material not to be found in guidebooks. Throughout, special care was taken to include material which for any reason was treasured or revered by the local population, quite apart from any general historical or artistic interest.  In addition, shorter lists were prepared for most countries, which were based on the longer lists, but included only monuments of outstanding importance. These were primarily designed for incorporation in manuals prepared by the War Department dealing with all aspects of military government.

Below is a listing of countries and indication whether they had only a long list or both a long list and short list prepared for it:

Albania, long and short lists

Austria, long and short lists

Belgium and Luxembourg, long and short lists

Bulgaria, long and short lists

Czechoslovakia, long and short lists

Denmark, long and short lists

France, long and short lists

Central France, long list,

Northern France, long list

South France, long list

Germany, long and short lists

Germany, Western, long list

Germany, North-Eastern, long list

Germany, North-Western, long list

Germany, South, long list

Greece, long and short lists

Holland, long and short lists

Hungary, long and short lists

Italy, introduction, long and short lists

Italy, Central, long list

Italy, North, long list

Italy, Northeast, long list

Italy, Northwest, long list

Italy, South, long list

Italy, Sardinia and Sicily, long list,

Norway, long and short lists

Rumania, long and short lists

Tunisia, long and short lists

Jugoslavia [Yugoslavia], long and short lists

China, long list

Indo-China, long list

Japan, long list

Korea, long list

Netherlands East Indies, long and short lists

Siam, Thailand, long list

The lists for China, Japan, Korea, and Siam were prepared by Langdon Warner, archaeologist and art historian specializing in East Asian art. He was a professor at Harvard and the Curator of Oriental Art at Harvard University’s Fogg Museum.

As it turns out the Roberts Commission records contain copies of all of the short lists and copies of all of the long lists, except for that of the Netherlands East Indies.  A copy of that list can be found in the Reference Collection of the Departmental Records Branch of the Army’s Office of the Adjutant General (Record Group 407), under the file designation “Document No. 231.”

In 1943, the Group also prepared a two-part manual entitled “Notes on Safeguarding and Conserving Cultural Materials in the Field.”  Part I was authored by W. G. Constable and George L. Stout (head of the Fogg Museum’s conservation since 1933).  Part I related to the application of the principles of “first aid” to cultural material.  Stout, from the Fogg Museum, in 1944, as a Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives officer, would be putting into practice what he had written.   Part II was edited by Constable and contained information supplied by Prentice Duell, Murray Pease , Evelyn Ehrlich, William J. Young, Walter Hauser, Stephen V. Grancsay, Jean Reed, Robert C. Murphy, Hugh Hencken, and Frederick Preston Orchard.[4]  Parts I and II of the publication can be viewed here.


[1] The lists are part of the series Handbooks and Lists of Monuments, 1943–1945 (NAID 1537349), RG 239, and reproduced on rolls 95-99 of National Archives Microfilm Publication M-1944 and available online at www.fold3.com.

[2] Extract from Directive for Husky-Paraphrase, Tab A to Memorandum, Maj. Gen. J. H. Hilldring, Chief, Civil Affairs Division to Assistant Secretary of War, Subject: Protection of Historic Monuments, July 21, 1943, File: CAD 000.4 (3-25-43) (1), Security Classified General Correspondence, 1943-July 1949 (NAID 3376702), RG 165.

[3] Summary of preliminary material forwarded 1 July, Tab C to Memorandum, Maj. Gen. J. H. Hilldring, Chief, Civil Affairs Division to Assistant Secretary of War, Subject: Protection of Historic Monuments, July 21, 1943, File: CAD 000.4 (3-25-43) (1), Security Classified General Correspondence, 1943-July 1949 (NAID 3376702); Cable from Chief of Staff, July 2, Extracts from Cables-In Paraphrase, Tab B, ibid.

[4] Notes on Safeguarding and Conserving Cultural Materials in the Field, 1943 (NAID 1537348), RG 239, and reproduced on roll 95 of National Archives Microfilm Publication M-1944 and available on Fold3.

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