Archive for the ‘NARA Records’ Category

What is Past is Prologue: Appointing the first Historian of the National Archives

Written on: December 6, 2013 | 3 Comments

Earlier this year, Jessie Kratz was appointed Historian of the National Archives—our first!  Jessie has been with the Archives nearly 15 years—most recently on staff at the Center for Legislative Archives.

Over the years, many staff members have informally filled that role in various capacities and I want to thank them for recognizing the importance of our own history.  Ironically, the National Archives, the repository of the nation’s history, had no historian of its own.  I have come to appreciate the work that the historians across the Federal government do and am so pleased that we join the ranks of those Agency and Congressional historians.

Upon accepting the job, Jessie’s first priority was to create the National Archives History Office to ensure our agency’s history is retained. She is working to make sure the official records created by the National Archives are preserved and accessible for research.

What is Past is Prologue statue

“What is Past is Prologue”, inscribed on Future (1935, Robert Aitken) located on the northeast corner of the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of user: Salticidae on Flickr

Jessie’s office will also be accepting non-record material— this includes memoirs, collections of original photographs and letters, memorabilia, diaries, maps and other historical documents that help tell the story of the National Archives but would not otherwise be preserved in the official records of the National Archives. Please contact her if … [ Read all ]

Declassification Prioritization

Written on: December 2, 2013 | 5 Comments

The Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) recently hosted an open meeting to discuss its recommendations to the President on Transforming the Security Classification System, focusing on declassification prioritization. PIDB continues to advocate for public discussion on the report. This meeting represented opportunities to highlight recommendations from the report, continue the conversation about the current declassification system, and discuss the topics citizens want prioritized for declassification.

top secret stamp

The meeting also hosted a panel discussion on “Perspectives on Prioritizing Government Records for Declassification and Public Access,” featuring Stephen Randolph, Historian at the Department of State; Joseph Lambert, Director of Information Management Services at the Central Intelligence Agency; Michael Dobbs, Journalist and Scholar-in-Residence at the Holocaust Museum; and Stephen Aftergood from the Federation of American Scientists.

My opening remarks at the meeting were an opportunity to emphasize the importance of the National Archives’ role in this democratic process, and to highlight the work we are doing to eliminate the declassification backlog and modernize records management practices:

When people have open access to government information, they are able to hold government accountable for its actions. This is an essential part of our democracy. As Thomas Jefferson wrote from Paris in 1789: “whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government…whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on … [ Read all ]

Bringing History to Life

Written on: November 20, 2013 | 0 Comments

Last night I had the distinct honor of welcoming director Steven Spielberg to the National Archives and presenting him with the Foundation for the National Archives’ Records of Achievement Award for bringing our nation’s history to life on the big screen. Also joining us was previous award recipient Ken Burns, who spoke with Mr. Spielberg onstage about history, storytelling, and the National Archives.

From left to right: Executive Director of the Foundation Patrick Madden, Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero, director Steven Spielberg, filmmaker Ken Burns, and President of the Foundation’s Board of Directors A’Lelia Bundles.

From left to right: Executive Director of the Foundation Patrick Madden, Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero, director Steven Spielberg, filmmaker Ken Burns, and President of the Foundation’s Board of Directors A’Lelia Bundles.

This event was also an important opportunity for me to recognize and thank the terrific staff of the National Archives and the Foundation for the National Archives—the folks who really make my job easy.

If you’re the kind of person who sits through the credits of a movie—as you should be—and you sat through the Lincoln credits, you would have seen staff member Kate Mollan’s name and the National Archives and Records Administration for her help on the research on the 13th Amendment.  I believe it is the first time a member of the staff has been named in a major motion picture.  Thanks for making us all look good, Kate.

The monumental statues on the Pennsylvania Avenue side of the building honor the Past and … [ Read all ]

Celebrating Passion and Accomplishment

Written on: November 15, 2013 | 1 Comment

With the opening of the “Discovery and Recovery” exhibit, I had a chance last week to thank many of the National Archives staff who made it possible.  And it truly took a village to make this happen!  Staff from just about every corner of the Agency contributed—preservation and conservation, security, legal, communications, exhibits, digital engagement, innovation, digital preservation, holdings protection, programs, and facilities.  Truly a team effort.

discovery and recovery

Photo of the “Discovery and Recovery” exhibit in the Lawrence O’Brien Gallery. Photograph from the National Archives’ Instagram account: instagram.com/usnatarchives

In my remarks to the assembled staff I tried to convey my pride in their work, but also my pride in the passion and commitment they bring to the job every day.  And I was reminded of the closing lines of Donna Tartt’s new novel, The Goldfinch, about the rescue of a painting:

“…if disaster and oblivion have followed this painting down through time—so too has love.  Insofar as it is immortal (and it is) I have a small, bright, immutable part in that immortality.  It exists; and it keeps on existing.  And I add my own love to the history of people who have loved beautiful things, and looked out for them, and pulled them from the fire, and sought them when they were lost, and tried to preserve them and save them while passing them along … [ Read all ]

Congratulations to the Digital Public Library of America

Written on: October 25, 2013 | 3 Comments

What happens when archives, libraries and museums come together? They build something amazing.

The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) is here, and the National Archives is proud to participate as a leading content provider in this exciting online portal and platform.

The DPLA provides a single online access point for anyone, anywhere to search and access digital collections containing America’s cultural, historical and scientific heritage. Following the successful launch in April 2013, DPLA continues to grow, regularly bringing in new partners and content. For the latest news, check out DPLAfest 2013, happening right now in Boston!

This large-scale collaborative effort to create a universal digital public library has united leaders and educators from various government agencies, libraries, archives and museums. Together with several large content providers, such as the New York Public Library, the Smithsonian, and Harvard University, the National Archives is sharing content from our online catalog in the DPLA.

In fact, the National Archives has already contributed 1.9 million digital copies of historical material, including our nation’s founding documents, photos from the Documerica Photography Project of the 1970’s, World War II posters, Mathew Brady Civil War photographs, and a wide variety of documents that define our human and civil rights.

WPA Library Bookmobile 195912
“WPA Library Bookmobile,” National Archives Identifier 195912

The National Archives’ participation in this exciting project marks a new opportunity to share our … [ Read all ]

Patent of the Month

Written on: October 24, 2013 | 3 Comments

The National Archives contains many archival gems. To share some of my favorites, I am starting a new feature for the blog, Patent of the Month.

Eye Protector for Chickens

chicken glasses page 2

Eye Protector for Chickens, Patent 730918, June 16, 1903. Records of the Patent and Trademark Office. National Archives and Records Administration (Page 2)

 

chicken glasses page 1

Eye Protector for Chickens, Patent 730918, June 16, 1903. Records of the Patent and Trademark Office. National Archives and Records Administration (Page 1)

 

chicken glasses page 3

Eye Protector for Chickens, Patent 730918, June 16, 1903. Records of the Patent and Trademark Office. National Archives and Records Administration (Page 3)[ Read all ]

Breaking New Ground Again

Written on: September 19, 2013 | 8 Comments

In May 2011, Dominic McDevitt-Parks joined the National Archives as our first Wikipedian-In-Residence.  This put the National Archives at the forefront of many cultural institutions in partnering with the Wikimedia community.

Working for the National Archives as a part-time student intern, our Wikipedian led ground-breaking efforts for the agency. His automated-upload project provided 100,000 digital images of NARA’s records on the Wikimedia Commons for use in Wikipedia articles. He coordinated and hosted Wikimedia crowdsourcing projects that included digitization and transcription of records. He acted as a bridge between NARA and the Wikimedia community, bringing Wikipedians into the Archives, and ensuring that NARA staff attended and presented at the 2012 Wikimania Conference, as well as hosting local gatherings of Wikimedians at the National Archives.

The results?  The top 4,000 Wikipedia articles that include NARA digital copies are on track to receive one billion views in 2013.  That’s why it is important to work with the Wikimedia community, they share a common mission with the Archives, to provide world class access.

Dominic’s work with us at that time generated a great deal of buzz, including the following:

[ Read all ]

FDR’s BHAG

Written on: August 29, 2013 | 1 Comment

Robert D.W. Connor, the President of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) and recently retired first Archivist of the United States, in his address to the Society at their annual meeting in 1942 read a letter from President Franklin D. Roosevelt who had been awarded an honorary membership in the organization.  He called for “…the duplication of records by modern processes…”

FDR Letter

Letter from President Franklin D. Roosevelt to Robert Diggs Wembly Connor, 13 February 1942, Folder 668, Box 8 in the R. D. W. Connor Papers #2427, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

 

FDR acknowledged the magnitude of effort required:  “This involves, of course, a vast amount of work because of the volume of federal, state and local archives of all kinds—but I think that a broad plan would meet with hearty public support if it could be properly publicized.”

Which brings to mind the language in our draft Strategic Plan, one of the objectives under our goal of Making Access Happen.  In an effort to make an ever-increasing number of records available to the public we have promised to streamline processes, innovate, and collaborate with others to significantly increase the number of NARA records that are available to the public.  In fact, we have been so bold as to suggest that we “Digitize all analog archival … [ Read all ]

The Family Bible

Written on: August 2, 2013 | 11 Comments

The National Archives has many fascinating records documenting our history. Some of the most fascinating are contained in our Pension Files documenting veterans’ claims, or claims from their families, for benefits starting with the Revolutionary War. For a wife or parent to qualify for benefits on behalf of the deceased soldier they needed to supply proof of the relationship with that soldier. The result is a collection of letters, diaries, frakturs, embroidered family trees, photographs, and more than 100 Bibles containing family information. These files are heavily used by genealogists in their research on family histories.

Last month, one of our own, Jeffrey Kees who works at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, brought his Dad, John, to visit their family Bible. Jeffrey’s Great-Great-Great-Grandfather, Philip Kees fought in the Revolutionary War, and the Bible, which contains family history noted in the margins of the text, was submitted by his widow as proof of her relationship with Kees.

Staff Swearing In with Rev War BibleStaff Swearing In with Rev War Bible
Examining the Kees Family Bible.  Left to Right: John Kees, Trevor Plante, and David Ferriero

Jeffrey’s Great Grandfather, William Kees, served in the 155th Pennsylvania Infantry during the Civil War and we were able to display those pension records also.

The highlight of the visit was fulfilling Jeffrey’s wish to repeat his swearing in (the oath of office all Federal employees take when … [ Read all ]

Founders Online

Written on: June 13, 2013 | 0 Comments

This afternoon, the National Archives launched Founders Online—a tool for seamless searching across the Papers of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Alexander Hamilton.  Our National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) has been funding these projects in paper for some time.  Working with Rotunda at the University of Virginia Press and the editors of the six papers project, Founders Online was created with NHPRC funding to provide simultaneous searching across all six collections at once.

founders online website

Through Founders Online you can now trace the shaping of the nation, the extraordinary clash of ideas, the debates and discussions carried out through drafts and final versions of public documents as well as the evolving thoughts and principles shared in personal correspondence, diaries, and journals. This beta version of Founders Online contains over 119,000 documents, and new documents will be added to the site on a continual basis.

You can see first-hand the close working partnership between George Washington and Alexander Hamilton from their time in the Revolutionary War to Hamilton’s draft of Washington’s Farewell Address.  Or read John Adams’ description of Congress as a place where “There is so much Wit, Sense, Learning, Acuteness, Subtilty, Eloquence, etc. among fifty Gentlemen, each of whom has been habituated to lead and guide in his own Province, that an immensity of Time, is … [ Read all ]