Boston University Professor Joseph Wippl brought about 60 people on a behind-the-scenes interactive tour of the Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Association and Federal Bureau of Investigation’s observation programs in the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center Tuesday night.
The program, titled Student Discovery Seminar: Eye Spy: Surveillance and Espionage, focused on domestic and international espionage and gave students the chance to come in contact with well-preserved intelligence artifacts.
“It [this exhibit] showcased a lot of archival material … which shows how it [espionage] started and how it got more and more technical and more and more sophisticated, and Boston University had a role in this,” Wippl, a former CIA operations manager, said.
Wippl said this archive gave students the chance to look at the espionage artifacts with a speculative eye and to objectively examine the facts and the truths hidden in the preserved letters, files, books, photographs and other reconnaissance paraphernalia.
“One of the values in having an archive like this … [is that] it helps us understand our own time,” Wippl said. “It gives us the chance to reflect on the present, to remember to stick to the facts and to be fair in our judgments.”
The exhibition was informal and made way for students to casually interact with the artifacts, despite their historic significance. Each of the artifacts were placed on large tables around the room, organized by different subjects pertaining to espionage.
“There’s a number of things that excite me — the look back at the situation after World War II, in which a number of espionage networks were exposed … and the documentation about the excessive paranoia in the U.S. in reaction to what had happened,” Wippl said. “Imagery intelligence gave us a tremendous advantage in The Cold War.”
This interactive session was originally going to be hosted by Ryan Hendrickson, HGARC assistant director for manuscripts. However, Hendrickson was unable to attend, and Alex Rankin, HGARC assistant director for acquisitions, led the students instead.
Before viewers began the tour, Rankin encouraged viewers to wear white gloves and not to use their electronic devices. He said such precautions were necessary so viewers could learn about the artifacts through physically interacting with them while preserving the material.
Rankin said HGARC is intended to be a research tool for undergraduate students. He hopes the undergraduates enjoyed interacting with the material, as this exhibit has never been shown to the greater Boston public.
Shevie Maharaj, a College of Arts and Sciences junior, said she was overwhelmed by the amount of artifacts available, and she found it difficult to grasp the entirety of the exhibit.
“There was too much to take in,” Maharaj said. “There’s so much stuff … A lot of it is based on politics and the historical time period … It’s really intense to see.”
Jonathan Sobin, a second-year School of Management graduate student, said he particularly enjoyed this event because he is interested in history and the current state of international relations.
“It is always good to see original sources and documents … and to hear the original voices,” Sobin said.
Corey Bither, a CAS junior, said she enjoyed the brevity of the speakers because it let the focus of the tour remain on interacting with the artifacts.
“I really liked how it was active and engaging,” Bither said. “They [the speakers] spoke for a short time and then we [the viewers] were able to look through the documents and they were very interesting.”