U-Va. History Professor Named First Director of Nixon Library

By Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 11, 2006

A University of Virginia history professor with expertise in presidential recordings will be the first director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, the National Archives announced yesterday.

Timothy Naftali, 44, an associate professor and director of the Presidential Recordings Program at Virginia's Miller Center for Public Affairs, will take over at the facility in Yorba Linda, Calif., on Oct. 16, said Allen Weinstein, the archivist of the United States.

"As the representative of a younger generation of scholars, he will be able to set a new tone for a national center to study the Nixon era," Weinstein said in a written statement.

Naftali, who received his undergraduate degree from Yale and his PhD from Harvard, was 12 years old when Nixon resigned the presidency on Aug. 8, 1974. The ensuing decades have seen a long, contentious struggle between historians and Nixon's family and supporters over access to his presidential papers and tapes, as well as how to define his place in history.

"I'm not a veteran of the Nixon wars," Naftali said in a telephone interview yesterday. "I'm a Gen Xer. My passion is for history and getting the story out. . . . I'm a scholar. I want to see things released, and I want people to have a chance to use them."

The Nixon library, opened in 1990, has operated as the only presidential library with no original presidential papers. A 1974 law kept them in Washington out of concern that Nixon might destroy materials related to the Watergate scandal that forced him from office.

Three years ago, the Nixon family, with the help of paid lobbyists, persuaded Congress to repeal the ban on moving the 46 million pages of presidential documents and thousands of hours of tapes and other records held by the National Archives in College Park. This summer, the private facility will become part of a federally run system that includes 11 other presidential libraries.

Under the agreement, the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace Foundation will relinquish control of most of the library, turning it over to a federally appointed director and a staff of archivists and curators, who would be federal employees.

Some historians have expressed concerns that access to documents and tapes will be more limited at the Nixon library than at the Archives facility in Maryland.

In a written statement, John H. Taylor, executive director of the Nixon Foundation, called Naftali an "ideal choice" and pledged "to support his exciting ideas for programs and exhibits."

Naftali's research has focused on the Soviet Union in the Cold War, the history of intelligence in Europe and the United States, Nazi war crimes, and John F. Kennedy's presidency. He also has a passion for the 1960s and 1970s, he said.

"I really can't wait," Naftali said. "That period was phenomenal in American history. You've got all the lunar landings. You've got the Miami Dolphins' perfect season, you've got Ali versus Frazier. You've got some of the greatest movies ever made, you know, 'Godfather' I and II. It's a great and interesting period in American culture and politics. And what an opportunity to be able to help make that public history come alive. That's how I look at it."

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company