Information Hunters: When Librarians, Soldiers, and Spies Banded Together in World War II Europe

June 26, 2020

Cultural historian Kathy Peiss is author of the new book Information Hunters: When Librarians, Soldiers, and Spies Banded Together in World War II Europe (Oxford University Press).

Our Virtual Legacy Lecture online premiere is Friday, June 26, 2020 at 5:30 pm

An exclusive link will be provided to Foundation members.

To join as a George C, Marshall Foundation member, please visit our member page.

For more information on becoming a member, call Leigh McFaddin at 540-463-7103, ext. 138 or email

A part of the George C. Marshall Legacy Series

About the Lecture

An unlikely band of information hunters—librarians, archivists, and scholars—came together during World War II, their war effort centered on collecting books and documents. They gathered enemy publications in the spy-ridden cities of Stockholm and Lisbon, searched for records in liberated Paris and the rubble of Berlin, seized Nazi works from bookstores and schools, and unearthed millions of books hidden in German caves and mine shafts.  Improvising library techniques in wartime conditions, they contributed to Allied intelligence, safeguarded endangered collections, restituted looted books—and built up the international holdings of leading American libraries for the postwar period.

In this lecture, cultural historian Kathy Peiss discusses how book and document collecting became part of the new apparatus of intelligence and national security, military planning, and postwar reconstruction. She focuses on ordinary Americans who found themselves in extraordinary situations, making decisions on the ground to acquire sources that would be useful in war zones and on the home front. Librarians’ and scholars’ skills, expertise, and aspirations aligned closely with American military and political objectives.  Their activities helped transform American research libraries into great international repositories, shaped policies toward cultural heritage, and spurred the development of information science.

Illuminating an unusual period when libraries and the military, intelligence and cultural heritage were closely intertwined, Peiss offers a historical perspective on contemporary debates over the uses of books and information in times of war and peace.

About the Speaker

Kathy Peiss is the Roy F. and Jeannette P. Nichols Professor of American History at the University of Pennsylvania.  Her research and teaching center on 20th century U.S. social, cultural, and gender history.  She is the author of Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New York (1986), Hope in a Jar: The Making of America’s Beauty Culture (1998), and Zoot Suit: The Enigmatic Career of an Extreme Style (2011).  Her latest book is Information Hunters: When Librarians, Soldiers, and Spies Banded Together in World War II Europe (2020).