Why The Internet is Great or, "The Influence of Encounter" and UNZ.org


Entrepreneur Ron Unz serves as the provocative publisher of The American Conservative (read his series of groundbreaking articles deconstructing supposed links between "Race, IQ, and Wealth"). Some years back, he started one of the Web's great archive projects. He pulled together not just random issues of old magazines but entire runs. Then he posted them as free, easily searchable PDFs at a website called Unz.org. (Disclosure: Unz has in the past been a contributor to Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes Reason magazine, Reason.com, and Reason TV).

You want to read the two-year run of The Abolitionist, an early '70s publication of "the Rutgers Libertarian Alliance" that (mis)quotes Bakunin on its first page and signs off "LAISSEZ FAIRE" on its second? That ran letters by future Republican Rep. Dana Rohrhabacher and verse by Lawrence Ferlinghetti? Have at it. You want four years of Yank, a mag for "the armed forces," published during World War II? That's there too.

In between you'll find issue after issue of all sorts of wonderment and oddness and awful, including the 1920s-era American Mercurys (the home of H.L. Mencken), six years of Inquiry (the Cato-and-Koch-funded late-1970s-early-1980s semi-competitor to Reason, which is also represented), nearly 40 years of Marxism Today, tons of old science-fiction, fantasy, Western, and romance mags, and 14 years of the New Left bible Ramparts.

It's an incredible treasure trove that's not limited to magazines (there are books and video as well) and is still growing. Along the way, Unz created the "Historical Research Competition," in which he would reward people who used the archive to flesh out the legacy of various publications. He's just announced the winners of that first competition. First prize has gone to Scott Lahti, who transformed the Wikipedia entry on the controversial and highly influential publication Encounter.

The statue of once-mighty Ozymandias stands trunkless in the desert, and until five weeks ago a similar fate had seemingly befallen Encounter, whose Wikipedia entry was merely a stub of just a few sentences, mostly regarding the 1967 scandal when the CIA funding was revealed. But as a completely unanticipated consequence of our Historical Research Competition, Scott Lahti of North Berwick, Maine choose to fully restore this intellectual monument, producing a new Encounter Magazine entry] twenty-fold larger in size and incorporating a thorough discussion of the history, politics, and intellectual impact of what was probably one of the most influential publications of the second half of the twentieth century….

Encounter may have constituted an obscure and totally insignificant buried tidbit within Wikipedia's vast collection of human knowledge, but the magazine's description now stands as far more detailed and extensive than that of many of today's most prominent publications such as The Atlantic, Time, Harpers, and The Nation, and fully comparable to those of The New York Times, The New Republic and The New Yorker. Furthermore, since the complete Encounter Archives are online and freely-linkable in our content-archiving system, the Wikipedia article includes numerous links and references to many of Encounter's most important articles and authors, something which those other ongoing publications mostly prohibit for practical business reasons. So in this particular case, the long-dead do enjoy some clear advantages over the still living in the marketplace of ideas.

Other winners in the Unz.org competition include Donna L. Halper, who used the archive to produce an account "'of the awareness and evolving role of "the American First Lady,' based on the coverage found in our major popular magazines across nearly the last two centuries"; Amelia Bonea, who researched Women's Health Protective Associations in the 19th century; and Fred S. Naiden, who wrote "a very interesting account of the pro-Soviet propaganda activity of New York City's American Russian Institute between the 1920s and 1940s."

The Unz Archive is the sort of library that could only exist in the mind of Borges. Or online. Check it out, early and often. But recognize that a five-minute visit will likely last a couple of hours at the very least.