Archive for the ‘NARA Records’ Category

Record Keeping Memo

Written on: November 28, 2011 | 6 Comments

Today, the President issued a memorandum to heads of Executive Departments and Agencies on Managing Government Records.  This marks the start of an executive branch-wide effort to reform records management policies and practices.

I strongly support this Presidential initiative, which sends a very clear message to Federal agencies about the importance of managing electronic records.  Records management must keep up with the technologies used to create records in the Federal government, and the President’s Memorandum underlines the critical nature of this responsibility.

Each agency will be required to report to the Archivist the name of a senior agency official who will supervise an agency-wide evaluation of its records management programs. These evaluations, which are to be completed in 120 days, are to focus on electronic records, including email and social media, as well as those programs that may be deploying or developing cloud-based services.

The President’s memorandum also asks that the National Archives identify opportunities for reforms that would facilitate improved government-wide records management practices.  We will begin immediately to coordinate discussions with Federal agencies, interagency groups, and external stakeholders.

My staff and I look forward to working with OMB, the Associate Attorney General, and all agencies to ensure that they comply with the new Memorandum and that we continue a government-wide effort to preserve permanent electronic records that eventually become part of the … [ Read all ]

In Support of Scholarship

Written on: October 3, 2011 | 4 Comments

As the nation’s record keeper, we are passionate about the opportunity to support research and scholarship at the National Archives.  As part of this commitment to research and inquiry, we recently awarded the first National Archives Legislative Archives Fellowship to Dr. Peter Shulman, Assistant Professor of History at Case Western Reserve University.

Peter Shulman in the research room at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

Dr. Shulman’s research focuses on technology and American foreign relations in the 19th and early 20th century, expanding his 2007 dissertation into a manuscript, “Engines and Empire: America, Energy, and the World, 1840-1940.”  By accessing the Congressional records housed at the National Archives, Dr. Shulman is not only able to explore the ways Congress handled questions of foreign relations and technology, but also surveys petitions and memorials as a way to better understand how Americans viewed their government.

The historical records of Congress, housed at the National Archives Center for Legislative Archives (CLA) in Washington DC, provide a wealth of information about the role of Congress since the First Congress convened in 1789.  Dr. Shulman described an exciting find during a recent visit to the CLA: a large collection of petitions and memorials from the early 1850’s asking Congress to reduce ocean postage rates.  He noted,

“Many Americans linked the cost of international postage to things

[ Read all ]

“You Puta Da $200.00 Dollars In A The Alley…”

Written on: September 7, 2011 | 2 Comments

Every time I visit a National Archives site around the country, I learn something new.  Passionate staff educates me about the nature of the records in our custody.   At each stop I have jaw-dropping moments.

In a recent visit with our Chicago staff, I learned about Record Group 21, Records of District Courts of the United States, Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, U.S. District Court, Chicago.  Specifically, I got a chance to review Criminal Case 4632:  The United States vs. George Pavlick.  Pavlick, the defendant, in mid-December 1910, mailed a threatening letter to Max Maas of Chicago demanding $200 or Pavlick would kill Maas.  Pavlick was charged with violation of the postal laws—scheming to defraud using the U.S. Post Office.  Pavlick, a minor, pleaded guilty and was turned over to the juvenile court.

Extortion letter written by George Pavlick of “The Black Hand.” From Criminal Case 4632: The United States vs. George Pavlick. Pavlick, the defendant, in mid-December 1910, mailed a threatening letter to Max Maas of Chicago.


Robert M. Lombardo, former career Chicago policeman, now faculty member in Loyola University’s criminal justice program researched these records in preparing The Black Hand:  Terror By Letter in Chicago.

An early 1908 Chicago Daily Tribune article reported that one-third of Chicago’s Italian immigrants were being victimized by an organization of extortionists, blackmailers, and … [ Read all ]

Reflections on Collection Security

Written on: August 30, 2011 | 4 Comments

Last week I had an opportunity to address the Preservation Section meeting of the Society of American Archivists.  The theme of the meeting was holdings protection—balancing access to holdings with safeguarding them.  And two of our Holdings Protection staff, Larry Evangelista and Richard Dine participated in a panel discussion reporting on what we have accomplished to date in this area.  My remarks at the meeting were an opportunity for me to reflect on my many years of worry on this topic:

We’ve come a long way from the time when books were chained to shelves but I often wonder if maybe that wasn’t such a terrible way to provide collection security!  Daily we all deal with the tension between protection and access.  

Chained books in the Hereford Cathedral Chained Library

I have spent my entire career worrying about and dealing with collection security issues.  As a shelver in the Humanities Library at MIT, my morning duties included clearing the reading room tables and reshelving.  There I discovered the journals with articles ripped out, books in the Women’s Studies section which had been mutilated, the era of Winslow Homer woodcut engravings sliced from Harper’s Weekly.  The Sex Collection was kept in a locked cage in the basement because of theft!  During my 31 years there I dealt with the disappearance of many years of the

[ Read all ]

The Wisdom of the Crowd

Written on: August 3, 2011 | 2 Comments

On June 15th we launched our tagging feature on the Online Public Access (OPA) prototype in another “citizen archivist” venture. Convinced that our users know a lot about the records we are stewarding, this is an opportunity to contribute that knowledge. As you search the catalog, you are invited to tag any archival description, person, or organization name records with the keywords or labels that are meaningful to you. We expect that crowdsourcing tagging will enhance the quality of the content and make it easier for people to find what they are looking for.  A description of this new feature can be found on the NARAtions blog, along with a link to the registration page.

In the first month we have had more than 1,000 tags contributed!

Our online contributor “islandlibrarian” recognized Nantucket Island in the description of the series that includes the following document:

User “zarr” added Four Freedoms to this image:

User “sschlang” knows Wisconsin and added Manitowoc, Wisconsin to this image:

Join the crowd and add your tags!… [ Read all ]

Balancing Access and Protection

Written on: August 1, 2011 | 5 Comments

Last Thursday, a Federal grand jury indicted Barry Landau and Jason Savedoff “…for conspiring to steal historical documents from museums in Maryland and New York, and selling them for profit.”  On Friday they were arraigned in Baltimore’s U.S. District Court and immediately arrested by FBI and NARA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) Special Agents.

The indictment spells out the manner, means, and purpose of Landau and Savedoff’s conspiracy to “…steal and obtain by fraud from the care, custody, and control of various museums certain objects of cultural heritage…”  Among those “objects” are seven reading copies of speeches given by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt stolen from our FDR Library in Hyde Park, New York.  Four of these speeches were later sold.

Other institutions identified in the indictment include the New York Historical Society and the Maryland Historical Society.

Our OIG is working closely with the law enforcement agencies involved in the ongoing investigation and NARA staff from various units have stepped up to assist this work.

I am extremely proud of the staff—their professionalism, cooperative spirit, and seriousness with which they are taking this assignment.

Any time the collections entrusted to my care are stolen I feel personally violated.  Throughout my career I have fought hard to create and support the appropriate protective measures that ensure that those great special collections and archives would … [ Read all ]

Conservation Challenge: The Magna Carta

Written on: July 22, 2011 | 2 Comments

A career-long fascination and appreciation of the work of those involved in conservation and preservation can be traced to my very first job in the MIT Humanities Library. There I learned about the special needs of vellum and leather bindings, the temperature and humidity requirements of paper, and the principle of never doing anything which cannot be undone. So it is with some special interest and pride that I brag about the effort that our conservation staff consistently puts forth on often difficult and delicate conservation tasks.  Their recent work on the Magna Carta is a great example of what they can do.

In a project funded by the document’s owner, David Rubenstein, the staff provided weeks of intensive treatment to the parchment and seal and eventually revealed previously illegible writing to the Magna Carta using ultra-violet photography.

The Rubenstein Magna Carta, before treatment, in an ultraviolet fluorescence photo of the parchment. Ultraviolet reveals obliterated text in damaged areas. Click on the image to see the full document and the damaged area in the bottom right side. (Photo by Sarah Raithel.)

The treatment completes the first phase of a project to re-encase and display the document publicly.  This copy of the Magna Carta, written in 1297, will eventually become part of a new permanent exhibit at the National Archives, documenting the expansion of human rights … [ Read all ]

Grog and Flog

Written on: July 18, 2011 | 1 Comment

The coincidence of reading James E. Valle’s Rocks and Shoals:  Order and Discipline in the Old Navy, 1800-1861 and the opening of the America Eats Tavern which is serving grog for the first time is the inspiration for this post.  Rocks and Shoals documents punishments in the form of flogging meted out for such infractions as drunkenness, fighting, disobedience, skulking, theft, sleeping on watch, etc.  These charges and punishments are well documented in quarterly reports housed at the National Archives.

Quarterly Report of Persons Punished on board the U.S. Frigate United States, November 18, 1847-February 18, 1848
Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration

Of particular interest to me was “doubling the grog tub” which resulted in 12 lashes!  Grog comes to us from the Royal Navy, introduced by British Vice Admiral Edward Vernon in 1740.  Vernon’s nickname, “Old Grog,” came from the grogram cloth coat he wore.  The drink was rum based, watered down with beer and/or water.  Citrus juice was added to cut the bad taste of the water and, unknowingly, addressed the scurvy problem aboard ships at that time.  The Continental Navy and then the U.S. Navy also served grog—twice a day—until September 1862 when the practice was discontinued.  And that was many years before my tour of duty, alas!  So…”doubling the grog tub” or getting back in … [ Read all ]

What’s Cooking?

Written on: June 10, 2011 | 6 Comments

As someone who likes to cook and collects cookbooks for inspiration, I am high on the latest exhibit to open here at the National Archives.

The Archivist at the exhibit preview

AOTUS welcomes the press at the “What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam?” exhibit preview at the National Archives.

“What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam?” takes a look at the Government’s role in food, a story told from the records in our custody.  It is a story at times funny, at times scary, and always informative.  There are photos and recipes from the White House kitchens—President Johnson’s Pedernales River Chili, President Kennedy’s New England Fish Chowder, and even Queen Elizabeth II’s scone recipe, a favorite of President Eisenhower’s.  It tells the story of Frank Meyer (the Meyer lemon Meyer!) who trekked throughout Asia in the early 1900s looking for plant specimens and seeds to bring to America.  Did you know that the first Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Harvey Wiley, used a human “poison squad” to prove the harmful effects of chemical preservatives in food?    And it includes the food pyramid over time—did you know that butter was once a food group?!  What great timing—just last week the Department of Agriculture released the new food plate.

The exhibit opens today and for the next six months we will be doing an amazingly creative series of programs and events relating to food.  … [ Read all ]

The One Who Got Away

Written on: April 29, 2011 | 3 Comments

This week I was in Kansas City visiting two of our three facilities in the area. The limestone caves at Lenexa hold both temporary and permanent records of Federal agencies in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska including the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Veterans Affairs. In addition, the growing collection of records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs is housed there. An amazingly creative use of naturally climate controlled space to protect the Nation’s history.

Among the many archival records at the Central Plains Region facility in downtown Kansas City are the inmate case files of the United States Penitentiary—Leavenworth. 68,937 files covering July 1895 when the prison opened through 1952 are now open for research and document some of the most notorious federal prisoners in history. The files include Robert Stroud–aka the “Birdman of Alcatraz,” George “Machine Gun” Kelly, boxer Jack Johnson, labor leader “Big Bill” Haywood, gambler Nicky Aronstein, and polar explorer Dr. Frederick Cook. And some not so notorious prisoners including Lizzie Cardish, a 15 year old convicted of arson in Wisconsin; Lothar Witzke a German spy convicted of the Black Tom Island explosion of 1916 in New York Harbor which damaged the Statue of Liberty; and Samuel Caldwell, who we believe was the first Leavenworth prisoner to be convicted of violating the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937!… [ Read all ]