About This Site

"The Alger Hiss Story" Web site has been created with grants from The Alger Hiss Research and Publication Project of the Nation Institute and from a Donor Advised Fund at the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona. This Web site recreates one of the most important legal cases in this country's history, often cited as a turning point in 20th century American thinking. The Web site is dedicated to students of recent American history at all levels, including high school, college, and post-graduate work; to the research community of scholars, archivists, and teachers; and to a wide general audience - to all who Search for the Truth.

As a reference site, "The Alger Hiss Story" has two principal goals and functions:

• to be an authoritative portal for access to primary information about Alger Hiss, the Hiss case and the early Cold War years - including new scholarship, newly released official documents from various governments and government agencies, and the archival material, such as trial testimony, court and government records and commentary, collected in many libraries and online repositories;

• to act as the digitized and online counterpart to the Alger Hiss Papers at the Harvard Law School Library. Acting in tandem with the Harvard collection, this Web site will post a complete summary of the charges against Alger Hiss and a comprehensive look at the case for the defense. Again in tandem with Harvard, this Web site will present the public life and career of Alger Hiss, both as a lawyer and a government official, evaluating his goals and accomplishments through his own words and those of his contemporaries, along with historical and journalistic studies.

Both the charges in the Hiss case and the responses to them have evolved over time. Whittaker Chambers made accusations against Alger Hiss in the late 1930s, and then expanded those accusations (and brought them to public attention) in the late 1940s. Further "post-Chambers" charges against Hiss that had been originally leveled in the early 1950s came to light only in the mid-1990s, with the partial release of Cold War files in Russia and the United States.

Like the accusations, the Hiss case defense continues to develop, originally, because there was a need to meet a succession of legal deadlines, and more recently whenever there has been an opportunity either to dig further into official records or to deepen an understanding of the historical material left behind by the participants in the case or their contemporaries.

The Hiss case defense is a living document, moved forward by Alger Hiss's confidence in his ultimate vindication, and by continuing public interest in his case (see The Hiss Case in History). The defense, which began as an immediate response to the first public charges brought by Chambers in the late 1940s, has since then been periodically amplified and strengthened, as new information has been sought out or has come to light over the course of more than half a century. There have been several especially intensive and concentrated stages in this development:

• The defense re-analyzed the evidence in the case during Hiss's 1950 appeal, and conducted an extensive search for new evidence during his 1952 motion for a new trial.

• In the 1970s, pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act request by Hiss, more than 44,000 documents from government files - including FBI reports on the case and State Department records - were made available to Hiss. Information from these documents was incorporated into his 1978 coram nobis petition to reverse his conviction.

In the early 1990s, shortly after the end of the Cold War, Hiss wrote to various Russian officials asking them to search their files for any evidence that reflected on his case.

• In 1999, in response to a lawsuit filed by Common Citizen on behalf of four national professional associations of historians and archivists, a federal judge, in a landmark ruling, made public more than 4,000 pages of grand jury testimony from the Hiss case.

• In 2000, an effort was mounted to re-evaluate the documents released from Russian, American, and Hungarian files during the 1990s that were said by Hiss's detractors to amount to further proof of his guilt.

In 2001, the House of Representatives authorized the release of previously secret executive session testimony and investigative files of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Many of these documents are providing a wealth of information about the investigation of Alger Hiss and are opening up avenues of research that had been closed to historians for over 50 years.

Still, the record in the Hiss case is far from complete. Both the Russian and American governments continue to withhold information that would throw light on all the accusations brought against Hiss, and other formerly Iron Curtain countries are have been slow to make public the records of their Soviet predecessors.

This Web site will continue to break new ground. As a reference site, it is committed to digitizing records (such as the Hiss case grand jury minutes) that have become public documents but are available to scholars and students only as photocopies. It is compiling an unabridged list of the still growing shelf of books of commentary and interpretation - both pro- and anti-Hiss - that the case has inspired, and a selection of the published critical responses that these books have themselves engendered. Where possible, the site will undertake original research, interviewing participants and commentators; it also invites contributions from site visitors who can help extend the record. The site will encourage the release of all withheld information.

Alger Hiss often said that, although his life was an open book, people could find the whole truth about his case only after they had been given access to the entire story. They could make up their own minds about him, Hiss said, once the full facts of his life were available.

"The Alger Hiss Story" Web site has been launched in that spirit. The flexibility of the Internet has allowed the site designers to build a highly accessible site that can serve those looking for an introduction to the case and others already more expert who seek in-depth research reports and testimony. It will be regularly updated, and will also serve as an authoritative portal to other sites with information about the Hiss case and early Cold War events, and to sites devoted to the findings of a new, international, post-Cold War effort by scholars and researchers in America, Europe and the Far East to bring the complete facts about the most significant Cold War events to public attention.

"The Alger Hiss Story" Web site welcomes your comments and suggestions. Send them to the site at hiss.info@nyu.edu.

The Web site's Managing Editor, Jeff Kisseloff, worked with Alger Hiss to help prepare his coram nobis petition (Click here to read more about that) and has remained a student of the Hiss case. He is also the author of "You Must Remember This: An Oral History of Manhattan From the 1890s to World War II," "The Box: An Oral History of Television, 1920-1961," and other books. The site has been compiled with the assistance of New York University Libraries, with participation from members of the Hiss family, including Tony Hiss, a visiting scholar in N.Y.U.'s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. It was designed by Catalyst New Media, of Boston, Massachusetts.

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