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Today’s post comes from Susan Burch of Middlebury College, with special thanks to the colleagues at NARA-Fort Worth and to the National Archives Regional Residency Fellowship.

Stories matter. As an historian of disability, race, ethnicity, and gender in the United States, I’ve been drawn to stories at the margins, perhaps more fittingly described as “the locked wards” of our past. My current book project explores the history of the people institutionalized at the Canton Asylum in South Dakota, the only federal psychiatric institution in the United States specifically for American Indians. Its first inmate entered Canton in 1902, and before it closed amid scandal in 1934, nearly 400 men, women, and children from 17 states and nearly 50 tribes inhabited its wards. To date, relatively few people know about the Canton Asylum or its community. In admittedly limited ways, my work attempts to restore those removed from their communities, and our historical frameworks, to the American story.

This black and white panoramic photograph shows the front of the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians (1899-1934). Narrow windows dot the four-story stone and brick building. A metal swing set stands in the front yard area; several people appear to be standing near the top steps of the front porch.

This black and white panoramic photograph shows the front of the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians (1899-1934). Narrow windows dot the four-story stone and brick building. A metal swing set stands in the front yard area; several people appear to be standing near the top steps of the front porch.

The history of the Canton Asylum is inextricably tied to larger stories of forced removals; the rise of Indian boarding schools as well as penal, medical, and disability institutions; eugenics; and contests over citizenship and American identity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It’s also a deeply human story, marking generations of people on the inside and outside of the institution’s walls.

While incompleteness travels with histories of removal and dislocation, the individuals who lived these experiences were not themselves incomplete, or—and I use this term intentionally—invalid, because of their state of being removed. The in-between spaces of marginalized lived experiences, of dubious belongings, of sometimes difficult sources and historical repositories are locations of opportunity from which scholars can reconsider the past, the present, and our tellings of them.

These realities help illustrate why historical archives are so important.

“Doing history”

Historians depend on tangible sources, which makes projects about institutionalized Native Americans additionally challenging. But the Canton Asylum presents a unique—and complicated—learning opportunity; thousands of documents specifically about and by Asylum members, as well as materials generally related to the institution, are held at the National Archives. With generous support through the National Archives Regional Residency Fellowship, I was able to visit Fort Worth’s site, which yielded fascinating stories and thorny new questions. For example, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) records about several men and women who were removed to Canton shed light on their family relations and economic changes on the reservations, and sometimes revealed glimmers of their personalities. Other records described people whom BIA agents considered, but ultimately decided against, removing to Canton. Recognizing that many—but not all—paths led to Canton invites critical reflection. Why did some people get taken to Canton, but not others? Who decided this? And how did individuals’ forced removals impact their families’ lives?

Realizing that the Canton Asylum was but one location in a vast constellation of forced removals, I was particularly interested in visiting the Fort Worth NARA because of its unique location and sources. It houses records on the U.S. Public Service Hospital (later renamed the U.S. Narcotic Farm), which was located in Fort Worth. When Canton closed in 1934, some men and women were sent to Saint Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, DC. Eight years later, in 1942, fifty-three members from this group were transferred to Fort Worth. How Fort Worth’s institution emerged, what it was like, and how it contributes to the longer story of the Canton community are questions I hope to answer.

United States Narcotic Farm, Fort Worth, TX; National Archives Identifier: 278157

United States Narcotic Farm, Fort Worth, TX; National Archives Identifier: 278157

Spending time in archives

I love spending time in archives. There’s an electric anticipation: what details, questions, and surprises await release from the stacks? Several times a day, NARA colleagues rolled out carts with my requested materials. Rows of boxes, some packed to capacity with onionskin paper sheets, held remnants of lifetimes, places, and cultures. Simultaneously daunting and enticing, the collection at Fort Worth took over my daily life for the week. Thankfully, helpful staff helped steer me towards materials I wouldn’t have located on my own, and shared in the excitement when I discovered those “aha” sources—the gems that answer a troubling question or that breathe humanity into a shadowed past. Recommendations for tasty places to eat and visit while in Fort Worth, in addition to a terrific tour of the facility, underscored the value of community that sustains this regional archive, and our broader work in history.

Many thanks to all the folks at NARA-Fort Worth for a great and productive experience.

After 10 years of providing online access to the National Archives’ holdings the Archival Research Catalog (ARC) is permanently retiring on August 15th.

You can still search descriptions and digital content using our Online Public Access search

Search for National Archives Records Online

Search for National Archives Records Online

Online Public Access contains all of the descriptions and digitized content that was in ARC.  Online Public Access also searches our web site,, and the web sites of the Presidential Libraries for information related to your search.  Your search results will be grouped into categories based upon the type of information we have that is relevant to your search:

  • Digital copies of records
  • Descriptions of records
  • Web pages on
  • Web pages on the Presidential Libraries’ websites

We will be sharing information and tips for using Online Public Access over the next few weeks here on NARAtions.  if you have any questions about using Online Public Access please leave a comment.

Fourth of July gathering at the home of Mayor Bob Fowler of Helen, Georgia, near Robertstown, after a holiday parade.


Ah, summer! Just the thought of it brings to mind ocean waves, picnics at the park, umbrellas by a poolside. And, of course, the 4th of July! Whether you’re barbecuing with a couple of friends  or taking a trip to the nation’s capital to see the museums and monuments, take a moment and dig through some history with us about the 4th of July.

That’s right—we’re reprising the Fourth on Foursquare! So look out for documents and photographs all celebrating Independence Day – from fireworks to cartoons to presidents. We’ll have a link to the document at each tip and location, so make sure to follow our Foursquare page tips to discover a little bit more about the 4th of July every day.

Today’s post comes from Victoria Blue, staff writer at the National Archives

Seven months after Hurricane Sandy swept over the Caribbean and up the Eastern seaboard of the United States, communities affected by this destructive storm are still working to rebuild their lives.

Today, we remember the past and present of the storm’s impact with Historypin’s newest project: “Hurricane Sandy: Record, Remember, Rebuild.” You can learn more about the project in Historypin’s video:

The Hurricane Sandy project is a shared online collection of local history as captured by individuals and cultural heritage institutions alike. Anyone can contribute images to the Historypin project to tell the story of their communities and neighborhoods before, during, and after Hurricane Sandy.

The National Archives contributed more than 30 digital images from our holdings to the Hurricane Sandy project.  These images document areas along the East Coast as they existed before the storm. Visit the project page to see images from our holdings pinned to their original locations on the map:

Hurricane Sandy project sreenshot

“The National Archives is proud to partner with Historypin for the Hurricane Sandy project. This project speaks to our mission of preserving records and making them available to the public,” said Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero. “While the National Archives’s buildings generally fared well in the storm, we know that many did not. Our staff have reached out to state archivists, and worked with other agencies to coordinate records recovery operations. It’s critical that these chapters in our nation’s history, no matter how devastating, are not forgotten.”

Other collaborators include Google, the Metropolitan New York Library Council, the Society of American Archivists, and the American Association of State and Local History. Local libraries and historical societies also shared photos of Sandy and other hurricanes reaching back to 1938.

You can view the project, explore memories of Hurricane Sandy, and make your own photo contributions at

Throughout this past year, the National Archives and Federal agencies have been working to implement the Digital Government Strategy by improving digital services to better serve you.

We’ve worked toward specific milestones that improve access to government information and we launched to report on our progress.  We sought your ideas for improvement in August and now you can see our progress toward making available mobile apps and web APIs.

Mobile:  We’ve mobile optimized, released a mobile site for Presidential Documents, and a mobile app called “To the Brink: JFK and the Cuban Missile Crisis,” which makes available photos, documents, and recordings from the related exhibit.

Presidential Docs Mobile Site

To the Brink Mobile App

To the Brink Mobile App 

Web APIs: We’ve expanded the API to include the Public Inspection Desk and integration with  We’ve also included created an interactive dataset and API for Executive Orders from 1994 to 2012 on     

We continue to increase the records we make available on sites like Wikipedia and Flickr, which have robust mobile and web API capabilities.  These projects, in addition to our work on the Digital Public Library of America, greatly expand public access to government records.

Engaging Developers:  We launched to promote innovative uses of our data and tools in the public and private sectors.  We’re participating in the National Day of Civic Hacking on June 1-2, 2013, by sponsoring several challenges related to visualizing historical datasets and developing a mobile app for researchers to easily upload digital images of historical records.  We’re looking forward to see what innovative solutions might be developed by the public.

National Day of Civic Hacking

All of our efforts, however, are only a piece of the larger Federal Government effort to improve digital services.  You can check out other agencies’ developer hubs and new mobile services and APIs, including a new API for the State Department’s Office of the Historian Ebook Catalog, which contains all of the ebooks from the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series.

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