Essay: History Without Letters

Pity the poor historian. The wonders of modern technology have combined with the dynamics of government scandals to make his task next to impossible.

First came the telephone, which replaced the letter as the preferred means of business and social discourse. Letter writing, like keeping faithful diaries, became a lost art. The advent of the tape recorder offered some hope, until Watergate made taping one's own phone for posterity seem both sordid and self-incriminating. Anointing a personal Boswell to hang around the house also turned out to be troublesome, as shown by the ill-conceived rumblings about summoning Edmund Morris, the President's...