Friday, September 26, 2008

Waning Influence

As I may have mentioned before, Katie has spent a lot of time processing the paper trail of the NYCC's Committee on Arbitration. I think she knows more about commercial arbitration at this point than she ever imagined possible, or ever really wanted for that matter. In anticipation of writing the finding aid, Katie has been keeping carefully detailed notes on the history and evolution of the Committee, like any good archivist would. The Committee on Arbitration was the first established committee of the NYCC, created at the Chamber's second meeting in 1768. It was the leading advocate of New York and US arbitration laws. Over the years the Committee's influence and significance grew as it continually played a key part in settling commercial disputes between businesses, both domestically and abroad. The Committee was dissolved in 1900 upon the death of Judge Enoch Fancher, who had become largely responsible for overseeing the arbitration cases. The arbitration cause was taken up again in 1911 when NYCC member Charles Bernheimer began to agitate for the re-establishment of the Committee. Bernheimer became Chairman of the Committee, and took a very active role in promoting arbitration courts nationally and internationally. If you take a look at correspondence sent and received during Bernheimer's tenure, you will find appeals from all over the world asking for advice on how to set up a local arbitration court and requesting a copy of the Handbook and Guide to Commercial Arbitration issued by the New York Chamber of Commerce (a copy can be found in the NYCC collection).

Ok, so Katie can speak much more eloquently about all of this than I can, due to her total submersion in these records for a number of weeks--its all arbitration, all of the time! I've pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I will never know as much about it as her, and I've appointed her arbitration expert for the rest of this project. But I found myself thinking about the Arbitration Committee last week when I came across an article in The New York Times, "U.S. Court is Now Guiding Fewer Nations." (Yes, I read the Times a lot.) If you don't have time to read it, its abstract states, "A diminishing number of foreign courts seem to pay attention to the writings of the Supreme Court justices." The article then goes on to describe how the influence of the US court on the rest of the world's courts is waning. Several reasons are cited as possible factors in this trend, including the rise of more sophisticated courts outside of the US, the growing conservatism of the Supreme Court, and the declining popularity of the US abroad. The author then goes on to say, "Sending American ideas about the rule of law abroad has long been a source of pride." That's one of the lines that made me think of the Chamber. It is quite clear from the Chamber's correspondence and publications that their educational outreach efforts, both domestically and abroad, were a huge source of pride--not just in arbitration matters, but also in aiding other cities, towns, or states in establishing their own Chambers of Commerce. They even got an award for it:

And therein lies the source of diminishing influence--their outreach efforts were so effective that eventually their aid was no longer necessary, which is part of what has happened to the US Court. As the Times article says of the US Court, "But as constitutional courts around the world developed their own bodies of precedent and started an international judicial conversation, American influence has dropped."

Anyway, I thought it was an interesting parallel, and a good example of the many lines of research opportunities that this collection offers.

By the way, Katie, who has quickly established herself as the world's greatest assistant, has been hard at work on creating a Wikipedia page for the NYCC. Please take a look when you get a chance; it relates a lot of historical details in a clear, concise way and hopefully will give anyone who's interested a good sense of the evolution of the NYCC.

One last thing: The debate tonight is on! Watch it, talk about it, and make sure you are registered to vote. There is still time!



Tiffany said...

This collection is so interesting. I wish I was working on it. Thanks for having this blog.

NYCC Project Archivist said...

Thanks for reading! I'm glad you like it.