9/11 museum in New York to retool its research rules after criticism

Flowers are placed in the inscribed names of deceased at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York. File   | Photo Credit: AP

The 9/11 museum in New York city is backing off uncommon restrictions on researchers after complaints that the institution was stifling scholarship.

Until at least August 21, the National September 11 Memorial and Museum’s website detailed “scholarly research rules and regulations” for access to its collection. They required researchers to let museum staffers review their work before publication and to adopt “any text changes” the museum proposed as a condition of getting the institution’s “consent” to publish.

The rules said the institution was entitled to pursue “legal remedies” if a researcher did not comply, though the museum says it never did so and is now scrapping the review requirements and legal threat.

Early on, “our paramount concern was the misuse of donated materials to the museum for purposes of misrepresentation” about the 9/11 terror attacks, but museum leaders now feel the rules are unnecessary and unworkable, museum executive vice-president Clifford Chanin said.

“We’ve learned from our experience,” he said.

Archives and museums vary in what they ask of researchers, but experts say the 9/11 museum’s rules seemed unusually onerous.

“I’ve never seen anything quite like that,” said Stephanie Brown, who teaches Museum Studies at Johns Hopkins University and has been a museum director, curator and archivist. She said the policy could prompt scholars to look elsewhere for material: “It just feels very micro-managing.” At least two researchers have balked at the rules while seeking interviews in the last few years, said Mr. Chanin, adding that the museum agreed to the interviews anyway and began reconsidering the policy after the latest scholarly objection came this summer.

Then an attorney for two film-makers who gave a trove of 9/11-related video to the museum — but later made a critical documentary about it — accused it in an August 13 letter of “restricting free historic research, exploration and use.” “We don’t think there should be any restrictions on what people publish,” film-maker Steven Rosenbaum said in an interview.

He and his wife and co-director, Pamela Yoder, tangled with the museum this year over its objections to their documentary, “The Outsider.” While the museum’s review of their film was negotiated separately from the research rules, Mr. Rosenbaum argues that both show the institution wants “to control the story” of 9/11.

“There’s a fact pattern here that’s really troubling,” he said, for “the place where America remembers this story and investigates it.”

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Printable version | Nov 27, 2021 6:15:45 AM |

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