Site search

Site menu:

Find Out More

Subscribe to Email Updates

Archives

Categories

Contact Us

Tag: State Department

Ten years after a call for help, Iraqi Jewish documents go on display

In June of 2003, the National Archives Preservation Programs received a call for help from Iraq. Sixteen American soldiers had found tens of thousands of documents and 2,700 Jewish books while searching in the flooded basement of Saddam Hussein’s intelligence headquarters. The historic material was soaking wet.

And so Doris Hamburg and Mary-Lynn Ritzenthaler boarded a C-130 cargo plane and flew to Iraq.

“It was fascinating and exciting,” said Hamburg, Director of Preservation Programs at the National Archives. “We didn’t know quite what we were heading toward—but we were told everything would be fine.”

Materials being rescued in the flooded basement.

Materials being rescued in the flooded basement.

After Hamburg and Ritzenthaler arrived in Baghdad, they went to a warehouse on the banks of the Tigris River. Inside the warehouse was a freezer truck, and inside that truck were 27 metal trunks.

The trunks held masses of documents and books that had been submerged in four feet of water in the flooded basement of Saddam Hussein’s intelligence headquarters in Baghdad. And although the contents had been frozen to preserve them, Hamburg and Ritzenthaler could smell mold when they climbed into the truck.

“Freezing is a common way to stabilize materials when they become wet,” said Ritzenthaler, Chief of the Document Conservation Laboratory. “They acquired a freezer truck—it was quite a feat in those days in Baghdad to find a truck and to … [ Read all ]

Facial Hair Friday: Portrait of the Artist with a Mustache

This self portrait, with carefully groomed mustache in the center, is a glamorous photo of a hardworking, groundbreaking photographer. James Stephen “Steve” Wright was from a working-class family in Washington, DC. By the 1940s he was head of photographic operations for the Federal Works Agency.

But like many young black men at the time, he began at the very bottom of the career ladder, working at the Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works (FEAPW) as a messenger and chauffeur. However, unlike other young black men at time, Wright worked for FEAPW Administrator Harold Ickes, who fought battles over segregation and discrimination, and who hired like-minded people into his agency. Wright moved on to assembling newspaper clippings and eventually was recruited by the FEAPW photographic head Hyman Greenberg.

In an interview with Nicholas Natason, Wright recalled that “In those days, it was tough for a black man even to become a file clerk in the government . . . You had to mind your P’s and Q’s, because there were lower-level whites who resented the fact that you were doing photography at all and were waiting for you to stumble.”

Steve Wright, precedent-setting photographer for New Deal agencies and the Department of State, shown during his Federal Works Agency days.

But Wright was extremely good at his job; he was efficient, diplomatic and organized. As the … [ Read all ]

Constitution 225: It was secret, but we know about it

Voting Record of the Constitutional Convention, 1787 (ARC 301680)

Today’s post was written by National Archives volunteer Paul Richter. It is part of a series tracing the development of the Constitution in honor of the 225th anniversary of this document on September 17, 2012.

In the earliest days of the Constitutional Convention, the delegates agreed their proceedings would be secret.

As the convention drew to a close, several delegates expressed concern that the opposing viewpoints—intentionally encouraged by the convention rules and captured in convention records—would encourage opposition to the Constitution if they became public knowledge. They briefly considered destroying the convention records before deciding it was important to preserve them as proof of what had transpired there.

Just before signing the Constitution on September 17, the delegates voted to give all convention papers to George Washington. He was directed to keep them until a Congress was formed under the Constitution and directed him what to do with the records.

Eventually, Washington gave the records to the State Department for safekeeping. The State Department transferred custody of the records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses and the Constitutional Convention to the National Archives after its creation in 1934.

Of course, the source of much of our information about the Constitutional Convention’s proceedings is James Madison’s journal, which, unlike the voting record shown here, was not … [ Read all ]