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Archive for December, 2013

Top 14 Moments at the National Archives in 2013

Wow–what a year! Our editorial panel tried to limit this list to ten, but eventually we gave up and picked 14 instead. (For more great National Archives moments, check on out the Top 10 Innovative Moments of 2013.)

We also want to send a big thank you to the staff members of the National Archives across the nation, who worked so hard to make these moments possible. And a huge thank you to our partners, sponsors, researchers, visitors, and social media followers who share in our love of history. We are grateful to be able to make your history accessible to you in so many ways in 2013!

FOURTEEN

40th Anniversary of the Fire in the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis

If you have served in the U.S. military, your file is part of the holdings in the National Archives in St. Louis. Each year, staff respond to one million requests for direct military benefits and entitlements from veterans and their next of kin. In the Research Room, staff pulled more than 41,000 military personnel records.

And Preservation Programs in St. Louis responded to more than 200 daily requests for burned Army and Air Force records. The fire that swept through the sixth floor of the National Personnel Records Center on July 12, 1973, damaged and destroyed millions of documents. Each … [ Read all ]

One table, 300 documents to explore

When the David M. Rubenstein Gallery opened to the public on December 11, visitors found that the focal point of the Records of Rights exhibit isn’t a static document, but a 17-foot-long interactive table containing hundreds of digital documents.

“From the beginnings of concept development, our team wanted a central element for the exhibit,” curator Alice Kamps explained. “An interactive table seemed like a great way to bring interaction in and among our visitors. Once that platform was established, we had to figure out what we wanted it to do.”

Work on the table began about two years ago. The engineering and software aspect was handled by D&P Inc. and Second Story Interactive Studios. “I think it’s really cool!” Kamps said enthusiastically. “The design is beautiful. The table reacts to the visitor’s presence through motion-sensing cameras. And it allows visitors to express their emotional reactions to the documents with other visitors.”

Visitors can pick positive, negative, and neutral emotion terms to represent how they felt about the document they are viewing. Then, they “push” the document towards the center of the table, where it will appear on a series of monitors on the walls flanking the table. A pop-up will be displayed in the other screens, inviting other viewers to explore the documents, too.

Not only did the team need to get the technology to work, but … [ Read all ]

Celebrating the life of an ancestor who was a “12 Years A Slave”

This past summer, Vera Williams attended her annual family reunion and Solomon Northup Day. The day honors her great-great-great grandfather, Solomon Northup, a free black man who was kidnapped and forced into slavery in 1841. When Northup escaped, he wrote a book about his experiences and—most shockingly for that era—took his kidnappers to trial. The book was recently made into the movie 12 Years A Slave.

Solomon Northup Day was founded by Rene Moore, a local citizen of Saratoga Springs, NY, and has been celebrated for the past 15 years. Williams has helped organize family attendance to the events and manages a Facebook page for Solomon Northup Family and Friends. Relatives come together from across the country—including Williams’s own mother, who was honored this year as Northup’s oldest living descendant.

This year, the attendees included film executives, actress Lupita Nyong’o, and other representatives from the movie 12 Years A Slave. Moore had contacted Fox Searchlight Pictures to tell them about the annual celebration, and in turn the film company reached out to Williams to let her know they were doing screenings around country.

Guests at the Solomon Northup Day celebration in July were shown a trailer of the movie and comments from various people associated with the film including director Steve McQueen. Williams had the opportunity to speak with Nyong’o about her experience playing … [ Read all ]

The Bill of Rights: 14 Originals

Bill of Rights Day  is on December 15. The National Archives will celebrate on Friday with a naturalization ceremony. Today’s post comes from Jessie Kratz, the Historian of the National Archives.

On September 28, 1789, Speaker of the House Frederick Muhlenberg and Vice President John Adams signed the enrolled copy of the first proposed amendments to the new Constitution—the document later known as the Bill of Rights.

The final, signed copy contained the 12 constitutional amendments that Congress proposed to the states. Shortly after it was signed, clerks created 13 additional copies, which President George Washington sent to the 11 existing states and to Rhode Island and North Carolina—which had not yet adopted the Constitution.

The enrolled version of the amendments—the one signed on September 28, 1789—remained in New York until it was sent to Philadelphia when the seat of government moved there. In 1800 it came to the new capital of Washington, DC, and was only removed briefly during the War of 1812 when the British burned the capital.

The Department of State, previously responsible for safeguarding the Federal Government’s official records, kept the enrolled copy of the Bill of Rights until 1938, when they transferred it to the National Archives in 1938 along with other State Department records. The National Archives displayed the enrolled copy of the Bill of Rights several times until … [ Read all ]

From the Presidential Libraries: Hanukkah at the White House

Today’s guest post comes from Susan K. Donius, Director of the Office of Presidential Libraries at the National Archives.

Among the gifts from heads of state that are in the holdings of the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum is a menorah presented to President Truman by Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion. The menorah dates back to at least 1767, when it was donated to a synagogue in Buergel, Germany.

The menorah was used in the synagogue until 1913, when it was found broken in pieces.  A man by the name of Siegfried Guggenheim asked for the broken pieces and provided a replacement. The Guggenheim family restored the old menorah for their personal use, and brought it to the United States when they immigrated in the 1930s.  Eventually, the menorah was acquired by the Jewish Museum in New York.

When Prime Minister Ben-Gurion visited the United States in 1951, he searched for a suitable gift to give to Harry S. Truman in light of the President’s recognition and support of the State of Israel.  The Jewish Museum suggested the menorah, and Prime Minister Ben-Gurion presented it to Truman on his birthday, May 8, 1951.

In 1979, President Jimmy Carter participated in lighting a Hanukkah menorah on the Ellipse, just south of the White House.  Each President since then has commemorated Hanukkah at the … [ Read all ]