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Top 10 National Archives Web Sites

The National Archives is a behemoth of information.

There are 10 billion or so pages of documents and hundreds of thousands of reels of motion picture footage, all spread out among regional archives, Presidential libraries, and Federal Records Centers to name a few.  But the National Archives family is bigger than just that: we’ve also got the Federal Register and administer the Electoral College, along with the National Declassification Center and plenty of other organizations.

Because of this, navigating through the National Archives—digitally or otherwise—can get a little intimidating. That’s why we here at Pieces of History have put together a top 10 list of some of our favorite haunts in the digital world of the National Archives. By no means is this an official list, or a complete one, or an authoritative compendium/finding aid/compass to navigate the Archives. But it isn’t a bad place to start. Have a NARA website you love, but we missed? Let us know!

fr2010) The Federal Register. Admittedly, this might not look like much now, but FR 2.0, a private/public web site overhaul of the Federal Register, goes live on July 26 and will blow your mind. The sneak peeks show a sleek and user-friendly website that has finally harnessed the power of the contents of the Federal Register.  So what is the Federal Register? It’s the newspaper of the Federal Government, created by President Franklin Roosevelt to inform the public about everything that’s going on in the Federal Government.


9) Regional History from the National Archives. Flu pandemics, giant earthquakes, Elvis! The National Archives across the country has a bevy of interesting artifacts, of which just a few gems are shared on this site. Of particular enjoyment is Atlanta’s antiquated booklet that was intended to “assist male bosses in supervising their new female employees at RCA plants.”


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8 ) The Presidential Timeline. Herbert Hoover never looked so good! A collaborative project within the Presidential library system, this flash web site has photo galleries, exhibits, and resources for educators relating to each of the Presidents within the Presidential library system at the time of its creation (12, all told). Each section on the Presidents highlights a world event that defined that President’s legacy (Vietnam for Ford, the Depression for Hoover, the Iranian hostage crisis for Carter), complete with original documents. (Mr. Hoover has a pretty kickin’ blog, too, if you haven’t seen it.)



featuredex7) Featured Exhibits. While you have to be in Washington, DC, to catch the latest exhibit on at the National Archives, the retinue of related online exhibits is enough to spend an entire day sorting through, from eyewitness accounts of the assassination of Abe Lincoln to some peculiar images of how Americans used to work.




fb6) Facebook. The National Archives Facebook pages are fantastic forums for folks to share their latest archival discoveries and get tips from experts and fellow researchers. Highlights include the Foundation for the National Archives‘ “Mystery Monday,” anything put out by the experts at the Preservation Programs of the U.S. National Archives who are making old new again, and the National Archives at Chicago, which manages to post on everything from locating headstones and mafia history to Cracker Jack discoveries.


arc15) ARC. It may not have the pizazz of Flickr or YouTube, but the Archival Research Catalog (ARC) remains the authoritative gateway to all things archival, be it documents, video, photos or audio. ARC might take a bit of getting used to, but where else does a search for “palm tree” return  pictures of a baby Gerald Ford, indigenous art, and an abandoned car in the tropics? (For more user-friendly searches in the meantime, our Flickr and YouTube pages do the trick but aren’t nearly as extensive.)


jfk-podcasts4) Presidential Podcasts. Is that JFK in your pocket, or are you just happy to have discovered that some of our Presidents’ most memorable speeches are available as podcasts? The Harry S. Truman and John F. Kennedy Presidential Libraries—along with  “Presidential Archives Uncovered,” which has a smattering of speeches from the Presidential libraries—have dozens of audio and video clips of some of the most famous speeches in American history.


3) DocsTeachdocsteach This web site of teachers, by teachers, and for teachers shall not perish from our servers anytime soon. The recently opened DocsTeach is a veritable playground for instructors to build, share and (respectfully) pilfer lesson plans from one another to help educate students. The glossy interface, ease of use, and ability to collaborate has taken history out of textbooks and into the 21st century.


our-docs2) Our Documents. A while back, US News and World Report, in partnership with the National Archives, asked a swath of Americans to vote on what they considered the 10 documents most essential to democracy in America. The 10 “milestone documents,” along with 90 other significant documents are all presented here, with explanation, in high resolution copy.




digvault1) The Digital Vaults. Voted by Time magazine as one of the 50 best web sites on the Internet, the National Archives Experience’s “Digital Vaults” is like touring the dendrite connections of an Archivist who just knows too much. Clicking one document in the archival ether shows a handful of documents related to the one you clicked–either by chronology, subject, or even media type. For those looking for more structure, select the “pathways” button at the bottom and get a guided tour of, well, pretty much anything (Little House on the Prairie, Abraham Lincoln, war propaganda, etc.)

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