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 the Future.  The Past exhorts “Study the Past” and the Future warns “What Is Past Is Prologue.”  It is through our understanding of our history that we perfect our union, and no one has done a better job of making that history come alive than Steven Spielberg.  The stories of Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List, Amistad, The Color Purple, and Lincoln can be told with the records housed right here at the National Archives.  And even E.T. has a connection—a recently declassified Air Force Top Secret report on flying saucers—one that we built in the early 1950’s!  So, thank you, Steven Spielberg for making that history come alive for millions of people.

My thanks also go out to DreamWorks Studios for their generosity in making four films available for our Steven Spielberg Film Festival.  Over the past weekend, almost 1,000 people got to see Saving Private Ryan, Amistad, E.T. and Lincoln at the Archives’ McGowan Theater.

Last night’s event was also a celebration of the incredible public-private partnership between the National Archives and its Foundation, and this year we have a lot to celebrate:  We have worked together to promote the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, to launch two great exhibits, and to renovate and expand the National Archives Museum.  Next month we open the new David M. Rubenstein Gallery and a new permanent exhibition, “Records of Rights.”

And finally, thank you to A’Lelia Bundles, the President of the Foundation’s Board of Directors and my partner in crime in this work, and to the Foundation Board Members for their ongoing support. They share our passion for educating our citizens about the important work of the National Archives in preserving our history and making it accessible to the people.

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