Researchers are invited to the next researcher meeting on Friday, September 28, 2012 to meet with Research Services Executive Bill Mayer. The meeting will be held at the National Archives at College Park (Archives II) at 1:00 PM in lecture rooms B and C. See you there!
Today’s post comes from Pascal Massinon, 2012 National Archives Legislative Archives Fellow. Stay tuned to NARAtions as Pascal provides updates on his research and experience at the National Archives.
Dry fingers, dusty hands, and dirty knees. Common ailments for record collectors scouring through “new arrivals” bins and passed over shelves for rare used LPs. Historians don’t always favor vinyl, but many of us are compulsive record collectors of one kind or another. Hoarders all, we’re on the lookout for elusive documents, long-lost insights, and words that haven’t been read since they were first put to paper.
The obsessiveness required to hunt down both rare LPs and historical documents hit home when I joined archivist Kate Mollan into the stacks at the National Archives. Needles in haystacks come to mind, since the vast quantity of records produced by Congress makes clear cataloguing nearly impossible. According to last year’s Annual Report, the Records of the U.S. Senate take up almost 80,000 cubic feet of space, and in 2011 alone, the Senate sent another 2,523 cubic feet of new records. Whereas collections at the Library of Congress, presidential libraries, or University special collections can be described down to the folder or document level, the contents of the National Archives’ holdings, especially for materials from 20 to 30 years ago, are near mysteries.
A view of the stacks at the National Archives
To give you a sense of the heroic work performed by archivists to find materials for researchers, the finding aids that Kate found suggested that there were over 200 boxes of materials related to the Senate Commerce Committee from the 97th to 104th Congresses. Looking for anything on the hearings held by the Communications Subcommittee related to Digital Audio Tape in the late 1980s and early 1990s? Well, you might just have to open every one of those boxes to see what’s in their folders. All told, we might have opened nearly 300 boxes to find two folders worth of DAT documents.
One of the more striking lessons to learn in archival research is just how futile it is to strive for comprehensiveness in the amassing of your personal archive. I’m not sure historians always want to talk about it, but there’s always luck and happenstance involved when trying to track down materials, and for every bit of good fortune, bad luck can’t be far behind. Boxes can be mislabeled, documents can be filed incorrectly, a letter might finish after the first page, or a tantalizing document that’s part of a longer series might only appear on its own.
But the ideal of completeness lingers, the search for archival nuggets remains obsessive, and so the photocopies and photographs take up more and more space in filing cabinets and hard drives, waiting to be processed into coherent ideas and narratives. As much as we might yearn for readily accessible complete discographies, there’s no comprehensive iTunes Store or Spotify for historical documents yet (though they are coming, with the increasing digitization of government publications, historical newspapers, and the like), so the search happens in finding aids, the archival stacks, and the dusty boxes. Forgive my romanticism, but I’d hardly want it to be any other way…
Today’s post comes from Stephanie Greenhut, Education Technology Specialist, in the Education and Public Programs division.
It’s almost Constitution Day! This September 17th marks 225 years since the signing of the United States Constitution in Philadelphia in 1787. At the National Archives we’re commemorating the occasion throughout September with special programs, online media, and learning materials.
If you’re interested in brushing up on your knowledge of the Constitution, try our brand new United States Constitution course on iTunes U.
In it you’ll discover our multi-touch book for iPad – Exploring the United States Constitution – as well as blog posts, articles, videos, documents, and activities in the DocsTeach App for iPad. The course can be accessed for free with the iTunes App for iPad or from http://itunes.apple.com/us/course/united-states-constitution/id559398926
You will learn about the Constitutional Convention, drafting and ratifying the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the three branches of our Federal government, and how the National Archives is preserving our Constitution.
You will see the legislative, executive, and judicial branches in action in Exploring the United States Constitution. In this book we’ve compiled a selection of writings published over the last three decades by our education staff. Each chapter features one or more of the billions of records in the holdings of the National Archives and connects it to the role of one of the branches of government as laid out in the Constitution.
For instance, the resolution proposing the 26th amendment that extended the vote to 18-year-olds demonstrates Congress’ job of initiating amendments, according to Article I of the Constitution. Congressman Abraham Lincoln’s “spot resolutions” challenged President Polk and called into question his actions undertaken as “Commander in Chief,” the role of the President according to Article II. And Supreme Court cases, exemplified in a letter about a book ban, resulted in the doctrine that “free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre,” and showcase the role of the judicial branch based on Article III. These are just three of 22 chapters all about the functions of our government according to the Constitution.
For information about special events and public programs at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, to access teaching and learning resources, and to connect with the National Archives through social media, visit our Constitution Day page.
by John on August 31, 2012
Today’s post comes from guest blogger Doug Remley, who is a student research room technician in Research Services (RD-DC) at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC. Doug offers a history lesson on how the Census Bureau celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Future posts will include some of the unique findings from the census schedules that were a part of the 1926 exhibit. Some of these findings are stories of general interest, while others may be helpful to genealogists researching their families today.
In 1926, the United States celebrated the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence with a world’s fair in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Not only was the Sesquicentennial Exhibition a celebration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the birth of our country; it was also a celebration of the great changes that had occurred in the world since the Centennial Celebration that had been held in Philadelphia in 1876.
Like other world’s fairs, the planners of the exhibition invited industrialists, manufacturers, and inventors, as well as governments from all over the world to come to Philadelphia and set up exhibits displaying recent changes in technology in America and around the world. A joint resolution in the U.S. Congress provided the funding for the participation of the U.S. Government departments and agencies. This resolution authorized government agencies to prepare for the Exhibition Association “such exhibits as it might be in the interest of the United States Government to display.” Congress appropriated $1,186,500 for the selection, purchase, preparation, transportation, arrangement, safekeeping, exhibition, and return of Government exhibits.
Almost every government department participated. Each department was allotted an exhibit space and each agency under that department was given a portion of that space. Government agencies worked hard to create informative as well as visually appealing exhibits in the hopes of winning one of the coveted medals awarded for exceptional displays at the exhibition.
The U.S. Census Bureau, part of the Commerce Department, was an old pro when it came to creating exhibits at world’s fairs. In fact, as part of their sesquicentennial exhibit, the Census Bureau displayed a medal that had been awarded in San Francisco at the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition in 1915.
Using the decennial census, the Census Bureau exhibit showed the public the changes in the makeup of the United States over the last 150 years. The exhibit displayed numerous charts, maps, and graphs that showed everything from the centers of population and the expansion of large U.S. cities to a chart contrasting the differences in death rates from typhoid fever and automobile accidents.
At the center of the display was a counter that showed the estimated population of the U.S. at that moment. The number went up by one person every 20 seconds. At the time the photograph was taken in the second half of 1926, the population of the U.S. was estimated to be 117,589,970.
Six glass cases filled with examples of census books and pages covered each decennial census from 1790 to 1920. The Census Bureau chose to display pages showing the enumeration of famous people, especially U.S. Presidents and famous statesmen as well as interesting notations found by Census Bureau employees. In the cases of many famous people, notations were even made in the margins by the enumerator to accentuate that there was someone famous located on that page.
In honor of the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Census Bureau exhibit prominently displayed schedules from the first census taken in 1790 that enumerated signers John Hancock (Boston), Samuel Adams (Boston), Thomas Jefferson (Philadelphia), Edmund Randolph (Philadelphia), and Edmund Rutledge (Charleston).
In the 1800 census in Quincy, Massachusetts, John Adams Esq. is enumerated at the top of the first page with “President of the United States” in large lettering below it. While this might seem normal, the 1800 census did not ask about a person’s occupation. Since the 1790 census for Virginia was destroyed by fire in the War of 1812, this 1800 census is the first surviving census enumerating a sitting president.
Also on display at the exhibit were census schedules showing three of the most famous senators of the mid-1800s John C. Calhoun (1840 South Carolina), Daniel Webster (1850 Massachusetts), and Henry Clay (1850 Kentucky), as well as presidents Abraham Lincoln (1860), Theodore Roosevelt (1870), and Rutherford B. Hayes (1880).
One of the most interesting schedules was the 1860 enumeration of the White House. James Buchanan is enumerated at the beginning of the listing of the “President’s House.” On the following five pages, the entire foreign delegations of seven different countries are listed. This was the only time that foreign ministers and their delegations were listed as a part of the White House when it was enumerated.
The Census Bureau exhibit was a huge success at the Sesquicentennial Exhibition. When the awards were tabulated from official papers received from the Executive Jury of Awards, the Census Bureau was awarded with a gold medal based on its exhibit. The Census Bureau also helped the Department of Commerce as a whole bring home the grand prize.
Today’s post comes from Pascal Massinon, recipient of the 2012 National Archives Legislative Archives Fellowship. Pascal is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History at the University of Michigan, and will be using records at the National Archives to research his dissertation topic, “Home Taping: Participant Listeners and the Political Culture of Home Recording in the U.S.” Stay tuned to NARAtions as Pascal provides updates on his research and fellowship experience at the National Archives.
Sparse finding aids often require a more hands-on approach to the sprawling collections at the National Archives in downtown Washington, so legislative archivist Kate Mollan wanted me to join her in the maze of air-conditioned stacks. We were trying to track down some materials produced by the Office of Technology Assessment in the 1980s relevant to my dissertation project, “Home Taping: Participant Listeners and the Political Culture of Home Recording in the U.S.” “By the way,” she said, “the Historian at the Center for Legislative Archives, who’s been helping with the Fellowship you applied for, would like to meet you.”
Fast-forward two weeks, and after a long game of cat and mouse with Center Historian Richard McCulley, I was startled to be sitting in the office of David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States (AOTUS, in the acronymed parlance of DC). The Archivist told anecdotes about Marines stationed in Da Nang that received treasured reel-to-reel tapes from friends and loved ones back home. One woman, he remembered, sent her boyfriend a mixtape of songs featuring her name (was it Mary? I knew I should have taken notes…) so that he wouldn’t forget her while in Vietnam. When you write about the politics of home recording, you hear tape-related stories from all kinds of folks, and this was a great one to put in my back pocket for the future. But the Archivist didn’t just invite me to his office to share his tale of the mixtape. No, this surprise visit ended with the wonderful news that I’d be named the recipient of this year’s National Archives Legislative Archives Fellowship!
The next day, the staff at Center for Legislative Archives welcomed me to the fold by bringing me to a baseball game on a sweltering DC afternoon. The Nationals couldn’t figure out R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball (they wouldn’t be the first this year) and the Mets hit Gio Gonzalez pretty hard, but we still had a great time even as the Nats looked more like the Montreal Expos of yore than the leaders of the NL East that they’ve been this season.
Pascal (first row on the left) and National Archives staff members attend a Washington Nationals baseball game
Through the course of the fellowship, I’ll be using this blog to write about my experiences in the archives, share some research thoughts, post documents, and talk about some of the other archival trips I’ll be taking in the coming months. I’ve already done a bit of research in the National Archives, and I’m looking forward to sharing some of the stuff I’ve found so far. Stay tuned.