Historic Collection of Whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg’s Life Work Acquired by University of Massachusetts Amherst

Materials Include His Prominent Role in the Pentagon Papers, Fight Against Nuclear Weapons
Daniel Ellsberg
The life work of Daniel Ellsberg, as documented in an extraordinary collection of papers, annotated books and photographs, has been acquired by UMass Amherst.

AMHERST, Mass. – The University of Massachusetts Amherst today announced the acquisition of the papers of Daniel Ellsberg, one of the nation’s foremost political activists and whistleblowers. Following a decade as a high-level government official, researcher and consultant, Ellsberg distributed the top-secret Pentagon Papers in 1971, exposing decades of deceit by American policymakers during the Vietnam War.

The life work of Ellsberg, 88, as documented in an extraordinary collection of papers, annotated books and photographs, will be managed and made available to scholars and the public by Special Collections and University Archives at the W.E.B. Du Bois Library at UMass Amherst. Ellsberg, who holds a Ph.D. in economics and remains active as a lecturer and writer, will join the university community as a Distinguished Researcher at the Du Bois Library and as a Distinguished Research Fellow at the university’s Political Economy Research Institute (PERI).

A sampling of the collection can be viewed at www.umass.edu/ellsberg.

UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said, “Daniel Ellsberg stands among the most influential and courageous political activists of the past century. He is an exceptional scholar who has been a champion of democracy, truth and free speech. This collection will provide invaluable insight into his expertise in decision theory, his involvement in major chapters of American history – including the Vietnam War and Watergate – and his advocacy against war and nuclear weaponry. We are proud to welcome Dr. Ellsberg and his wife, Patricia Marx Ellsberg, herself a committed social activist, to the UMass community.”

Ellsberg said, “I am grateful that my papers will be going to the University of Massachusetts Amherst, an institution that is dedicated to the values of openness, equity and social justice. This collection, which represents my life’s work, will now be available to scholars seeking understanding of some of the most consequential events of the past half century. In my years of service, both inside government and out, I have always firmly believed that truth-telling to the American public is an expression of the loyalty owed to the Constitution, the rule of law and the sovereign public. It is a patriotic and effective way to serve our country. Sharing these papers with future generations through the archives at UMass Amherst is reflective of that deeply held philosophy.”

Ellsberg is the author of four books: “The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner” ( 2017); “Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers” (2002); “Risk, Ambiguity and Decision” (2001); and “Papers on the War” (1972). In 2006, he was awarded the Right Livelihood Award, in Stockholm, Sweden, “for putting peace and truth first, at considerable personal risk, and dedicating his life to inspiring others to follow his example.” In 2019, also in Stockholm, he received Sweden’s Olof Palme Prize “for his profound humanism and exceptional moral courage.” His activism has also been featured in films, including “The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers” (2009) and “The Post” (2017). He is a Senior Fellow of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

Simon Neame, the university’s Dean of Libraries, said, “The UMass Amherst Libraries are honored to welcome Daniel Ellsberg as Distinguished Researcher in Special Collections and University Archives. Throughout his storied career, Ellsberg has reflected the values of intellectual freedom and intellectual exploration that lie at the heart of the modern academic library. His decision to place his personal freedom at significant peril to expose what became known as the Pentagon Papers, his deep scholarship and extensive use of archives, and his steadfast support for whistleblowers and freedom of information are in the best tradition of our profession.”

Robert Cox, head of special collections at the Du Bois Library, observed that Ellsberg is widely recognized as an accomplished economics theorist. His dissertation introduced economists to the “Ellsberg Paradox” and is considered a landmark in decision theory and behavioral economics. The collection at the Du Bois Library will cover nearly every period of Ellsberg’s life, from his education, his time as a Marine Corps officer, and his work as an analyst at RAND Corp. and the Defense Department; Vietnam, the Pentagon Papers and Watergate; and the subsequent decades of activism in which he has focused on the dangers of nuclear weapons, wrongful U.S. interventions and the need for patriotic whistleblowing.

Penetrating Analysis, Ethical Reflections

The sizeable collection, being transported to Amherst from Ellsberg’s home in California, will total nearly 600 linear feet, or more than 500 boxes. The collection is so rich in material that it will take the equivalent of two years of a full-time archivist’s time to fully process and catalogue. Among the documents are:

  • Ellsberg’s analysis of Cuban missile crisis decision-making, drawn from his participation during the crisis as a RAND consultant to the Pentagon and from his subsequent inter-agency study of nuclear crises.
  • His evolving assessments of the Vietnam War, drawing on his service as a Defense Department official participating in plans for escalation, as a State Department official in Vietnam evaluating pacification on the ground, and on his analysis of the Pentagon Papers history of U.S. decision-making in Vietnam (one volume of which he drafted and the other 46 top-secret volumes he studied as the only researcher authorized access to all of them for research purposes).
  • Extensive documentation from his criminal trial for his unauthorized copying of the Pentagon Papers, which he disclosed to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and subsequently to 19 newspapers, leading to the first four injunctions in American history constituting prior restraint against publication, a historic Supreme Court decision voiding the injunctions, and the first application of the Espionage Act to disclosures to the American people.
  • A unique, wide-ranging set of documents from his participation in the anti-war and anti-nuclear movements.

Cox said the collection will provide scholars access into Ellsberg’s insightful analysis of how critical policy decisions were made by the U.S. government and the difficult ethical reflections that led him to become a whistleblower. “Ellsberg thought very deeply about the ethics of working within an organization and the nature of social change,” Cox said. “Those ethical struggles are as relevant today as ever. Social activists can also study what worked and what didn’t as Ellsberg navigated his way as an outspoken whistleblower and advocate for change.”

Acquisition of the Ellsberg papers, Cox noted, provides a landmark addition to the library’s emphasis on collecting original materials that document the histories and experiences of social change in America and the organizational, intellectual and individual ties that unite disparate struggles for social justice, human dignity and equality. He observed, “Our decision to adopt social change as a collecting focus emerged from considering one of Du Bois’s most profound insights: that the most fundamental issues in social justice are so deeply interconnected that no movement – and no solution to social ills – can succeed in isolation. Rather than focus on individual movements, we choose to focus on the connections between and among movements and the flow of people, organizations and ideas.”

As a Distinguished Researcher at the UMass Amherst Libraries, Ellsberg will be available to converse with faculty, staff, students and visiting researchers working on his archive as well as participate, both in-person and virtually, in a colloquia series based on aspects of his life’s work, as well as seminars and classes. 

Ellsberg and his wife will be welcomed to the UMass community when they travel to Massachusetts in late October for a series of events in Amherst and Boston. Details will be forthcoming.

More resources