9/11 Museum Drops Policy Requiring Researchers to Allow Review of Work Before Publication

The 9/11 museum in New York City has dropped its policy that required researchers to allow the museum to review their work before publication, the Associated Press reported.

The National September 11 Memorial & Museum's website previously listed "scholarly research rules and regulations" for gaining access its collection. These included requiring researchers to allow museum staff to review their work and adopt "any text changes" proposed by the institution as a condition for "consent" to publish their work.

If a researcher didn't comply, the rules said, the museum was entitled to pursue "legal remedies," the AP said. However, the institution said it never did so and is removing the review requirements and legal threats for less-stringent policies.

Museum leaders decided the policy "is something we need to move on from," museum Executive Vice President Clifford Chanin said, according to the AP. The old policy has been removed from the website, and museum leaders are planning to draft a new one soon.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

9/11 Memorial and Museum
The National September 11 Memorial & Museum is dropping its policy requiring researchers to show the museum their work prior to publication. Above, names of the dead are seen along the memorial's pool on September 11, 2011, in New York City. Seth Wenig/Pool/Getty Images

Early on, "our paramount concern was the misuse of donated materials to the museum for purposes of misrepresentation" by people trying to prove conspiracy theories about the 9/11 terror attacks, Chanin said. "We've learned from our experience."

Archives, museums and their donors vary in what they ask of researchers, but experts say the 9/11 museum's rules seemed unusually onerous.

"I've never seen anything quite like that," said Stephanie Brown, who teaches museum studies at Johns Hopkins University and has been a museum director, curator and archivist. She said the policy could prompt scholars to look elsewhere for material: "It just feels very micro-managing."

Indeed, at least two researchers have balked at the rules in the last few years, said Chanin, who said the museum agreed to the interviews anyway and began reconsidering the policy after the latest scholarly objection came this summer.

Williams College sociology professor Christina Simko inquired in July about interviewing staffers for a project on terrorism-related museums. She says she was willing to share an eventual draft for feedback but wouldn't give the museum the authority essentially to edit her work.

"I was especially surprised that an institution of national memory would maintain that, because freedom of speech is a core democratic value," said Simko, who said she's pleased the museum quickly reconsidered.

Meanwhile, an attorney for two filmmakers who gave a trove of 9/11-related video to the museum—but later made a critical documentary about it—accused it in an August 13 letter of "restricting free historic research, exploration and use."

"We don't think there should be any restrictions on what people publish," filmmaker Steven Rosenbaum said in an interview.

He and his wife and co-director, Pamela Yoder, tangled with the museum this year over its objections to their documentary, The Outsider. While the museum's review of their film was negotiated separately from the research rules, Rosenbaum argues that both show the institution wants "to control the story" of 9/11.

"There's a fact pattern here that's really troubling," he said, for "the place where America remembers this story and investigates it."

(The museum's top lawyer, meanwhile, criticized Rosenbaum and Yoder in an August 27 letter for their own restrictions on the donated video: They collect licensing fees from anyone else seeking to use the footage in films or other work. Rosenbaum says that's "beyond irrelevant" and there's no comparison between a small film company and a nonprofit museum's archives.)

The September 11 museum has the complex responsibility of serving as both memorial and a place for education and research about an event with living survivors. Still, some other institutions with similar missions don't ask as much of scholars.

The Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum's website calls for researchers to submit summaries of their projects and where they plan to publish, but not for a review in advance. Nor does the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, where the website simply asks applicants the purpose of their research, such as coursework, a book or genealogy.

"Access should be available as unencumbered as humanly possible," says Michael Berenbaum, an American Jewish University professor of Jewish studies who oversaw the creation of the Holocaust museum. He favors "maximum openness, minimum restrictions, even if it means sensitive material."

The September 11 museum began fielding research requests long before its 2014 opening, said Chanin, who has been involved since 2005. He couldn't specify when the scholarly research rules took effect but said they were an effort to "systematize" the institution's dealings with researchers seeking access to materials or interviews with staffers.

The museum has asked researchers to see their work before publication but has never insisted on it, tried to block publication or taken legal action, Chanin said. Few scholarly requests, if any, ended up raising alarms about "misuse" or misquoting, he added.

9/11 Museum drops requirements
Visitors at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum on April 29, 2021. Mary Altaffer, File/AP Photo