Patrick Salmon, Keith Hamilton, Stephen Robert Twigge, eds. Berlin in the Cold War, 1948-90: Documents on British Policy Overseas, Series III. London: Routledge, 2008. 128 pp. DVD. $150.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-415-45532-9; $150.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-415-44870-3.
Reviewed by Richard Scully (University of New England [New South Wales])
Published on H-German (November, 2009)
Commissioned by Susan R. Boettcher
A Good Solution to a Weighty Problem
This latest in the series of Documents on British Policy Overseas assembled by the producers of the Whitehall Histories of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is a volume of significance that will be of great interest for those engaged in research on the period of divided Germany. Edited by Keith Hamilton and Patrick Salmon (the series editors) with assistance from Stephen Twigge, Berlin in the Cold War, 1948-1990 (volume 6 of series 3) offers a familiar, unsurprising format for the presentation of official papers on international affairs, but one that will satisfy undergraduate, postgraduate, and academic researchers alike. A large portion of its 509 documents (especially those from the pivotal 1988-90 period) still fall under the Thirty Year Rule of British government archiving, and therefore are made available here to a public which would otherwise have no access to these valuable sources.
The title of the volume is something of a misnomer, and those seeking a comprehensive overview of the entire 1948-90 period may be disappointed. Gill Bennett, the former chief historian of the FCO, selected the documents with a view to highlighting three key moments in the British occupation of Berlin. The period of the bi- and tri-zonal reorganizations and the Berlin Airlift crisis (1948-49), the tensions that resulted in the Berlin Wall (1959-61), and the final collapse of East Germany and reunification (1988-90) were those chosen for specific attention. This decision seems eminently logical on a number of levels, not the least of which is the impossibility of doing justice to the entire period of British involvement in a single volume. Had this been attempted, the documents would have been sparse and incoherent, while the periods selected in the finished volume relate to the most key moments in Berlin's history of occupation, and are comprehensive.
The editors have continued the logical practice of confining the actual document collection to an electronic format, including a fully searchable DVD along with the hard-copy volume. As the editors, note, this is only the second occasion that the series has adopted this format (following volume 4, series 3: The Year of Europe: America, Europe and the Energy Crisis, 1972-1974), and it is hoped that they will continue to do so. This achievement will be of note for those who remember that only too recently, document collections of this kind were contained within multiple volumes, the size and weight of which could challenge the muscles of even the fittest academic. The more unwieldy the volume(s), the more comprehensive the collection, while those produced with an eye to ease of access were necessarily more limited in scope, containing fewer sources. The combined e-format-with-book is the best solution to this very real problem.
Aside from giving the collection a solid substance (I still prefer to have a real volume to sit on my shelves), the slim book accompanying the DVD provides invaluable context and structure. It contains a useful list of abbreviations used in the documents, a "List of Persons" to aid the researcher, and chapters on each of the three periods covered by the collected documents. These chapters are clear, concise summaries of the history of Allied involvement in Berlin from the end of the Second World War, interspersed with listings of the relevant documents for each major series of events or themes in that history. Thus, the subsection of chapter 1 entitled "The Berlin Population and the Airlift, August 1948-May 1949" contains a short explanatory passage, then a list of the minutes, letters, reports, and telegrams pertinent to exploring that theme. This method of indexing the collected materials is very useful and saves readers and researchers much time.
The DVD formatting of the documents is initially a little disappointing. Rather than programming a truly interactive experience, the editors have simply presented a single, fifteen-hundred-page PDF file. The benefits of the PDF format outweigh this more aesthetic criticism, however, as it is very easy to locate the relevant documents simply by clicking the mouse cursor on the document summary. Once one has located a document of interest, the presentation of the source is rather exciting. Unlike older document collections, in which each source has been transcribed and formatted as normal text, the editors provide scanned copies of the original. Thus, Sir Alec Douglas Home's memorandum on potential negotiations with the Soviets in July 1961 appears on the blue paper and in the slightly faded facsimile format that a researcher viewing the actual item in the archives would encounter. The added bonus with the PDF format is the ability to zoom in on text that is less clear than it might be in the original. Users can also copy and paste sections of text (or images) directly from the documents into their chosen word processors, saving time in transcribing.
Other methods of searching for material (as one would in any other PDF) also make this a very useful format for the document collection. Hence, the apparent imposition of a structure on readers--being directed to documents within themes chosen by the editors--is not a limiting factor. Researchers may follow the structure laid out by the editors, or circumvent the editors' chosen themes in favor of those of particular interest to the reader. A keyword search allows the user to focus on a particular individual, event, term or theme across the entire collection.
One criticism of the PDF format is the difficulty experienced in returning to the original document summary pages at the beginning of the document, once the reader has perused the document of choice. Thus, one has to scroll back manually (or type in the appropriate page) to continue the search. This is a minor issue, however, and one that does not hamper the general ease of examining the documents. Should there be any difficulties with the DVD itself (which should begin automatically), a helpful guide to accessing its content is included adjacent to the preface (readers require Adobe Reader 6.0 or higher, which can downloaded for free).
As the editors note in their preface, any scholar interested in the interaction between the British government and its fellow occupying powers--in particular as that interaction intersected with issues of demographic change, military security, international law, and human rights--will find this item a rewarding addition to their personal or institutional library.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-german.
Richard Scully. Review of Salmon, Patrick; Hamilton, Keith; Twigge, Stephen Robert, eds., Berlin in the Cold War, 1948-90: Documents on British Policy Overseas, Series III.
H-German, H-Net Reviews.
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