Resources for Research and Teaching from
the National Archives and Records Administration
By Paula Nassen Poulos and Bill Blakefield
It has been a pleasure for us at the National Archives and
Records Administration (NARA) to work with a variety of
researchers in the educational community over the years,
including many of you in this room.
Some of you have visited NARA to do research for books,
articles, dissertations or theses; to find material for
classroom lectures or teaching units; to locate images for
photo essays or film documentaries; or to create educational
products for your publishing company to market. And while you
were at the Archives, some of you probably took the time to
try to locate a grandmother or uncle on a 1920 census schedule
or in ship passenger arrival records.
Whatever your research purpose, you no doubt visited one of
the more than 30 facilities operated by NARA across the
country, including the National Archives Building in
Washington, DC; the National Archives at College Park, MD; 13
regional archives; 14 federal records centers; 9 presidential
libraries from the Hoover administration to Reagan (the Bush
Library is scheduled to open in the fall of 1997 in College
Station, TX); and the Nixon presidential materials staff
housed at Archives II.
Last January, NARA made a move toward reducing your need for
travel by launching its world wide web site. Through this
online resource, NARA intends--as stated in its Mission
Statement--to provide ready access to essential evidence
documenting the rights of American citizens, the actions of
federal officials, and the national experience--regardless of
where the records are or where the users might be.
This morning, we would like to highlight some of these efforts
Demonstration of Web Site/Home Page (URL:http://www.nara.gov)
As we demonstrate the features of this site today, we will be
focusing on their value for research and teaching. We will be
looking at the types of information and primary sources that
are available and discussing ways that instructors and
students might use these tools to enrich their teaching and
Select: National Archives and Records Administration/The
We begin with this page as a reminder of the embarrassment
of riches that NARA's holdings represent: 4 billion pieces
of paper from the executive, legislative, and judicial
branches of the federal government; 300,000 reels of motion
picture film; more than 5 million maps, charts, and
architectural drawings; more than 200,000 sound and video
recordings; more than 9 million aerial photographs; nearly
14 million still pictures and posters; and approximately
7600 computer data sets.
This volume of archival records presents real challenges to
both NARA and researchers (as many of you have experienced
first-hand). Whether records are processed and researched
traditionally on site or downloaded from a web site, the
need remains for each of us to try to find the most
effective way to control, present, select, and use these
Select: Regional Archives; then Presidential Libraries. Here
we find general descriptions of each system, names and
locations of facilities, hours, directions, and data about
records. We encourage researchers to keep in mind that
individual regional archives and Presidential libraries have
records that are unique to a geographical area or to a
president and can be key to their research; Washington, DC, is
certainly a good destination for research but not always the
right one or the best one.
Select: Historical Records of Government Agencies/Guide to
Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States.
This is the online version of the 3-volume Guide published in
1995. It covers all types of records from the 3 branches of
goverment; describes the administrative history of agencies
keeping the records; and gives the extent, location, and
details of more than 500 record groups. It is important to
consult the Guide early in the research process to see if NARA
has records on your topic or to help in defining and focusing
your topic. This online version offers convenience and
removes the need to try to find a library that has the Guide.
Select: Historical Records of Government Agencies/Information
about Records Retained by NARA's Regional Archives/Northeast-
New York/Guide to Records. Here we find a general description
of records in the region's holdings, finding aids, a list of
record groups, and descriptions of individual record groups.
Locating this type of information is an integral part of the
research process. Retrieving it electronically saves time and
Select: Historical Records of Government Agencies/Information
about Records Retained by Presidential Libraries/Eisenhower
Library. Here we can learn the extent of information provided
in the library's oral history finding aids, finding aids to
Eisenhower's papers and records, finding aids to other
manuscript collections, and reference manuals. It is important
for researchers to visit this site if they are conducting
research on Eisenhower's presidency or topics related to the
period covered by his administration.
If we were to take the time to select the FDR Library in
Hyde Park, we would find similar information about its
holdings, as well as information about World War II and a
link to The New Deal Network. This network was launched in
October by the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute in
partnership with The FDR Library, Marist College, and IBM;
it will continue to be developed over the next three years.
It will offer documents and curriculum packages for
students, teachers, and scholars.
The Harry S. Truman Library is also involved in an exciting
project. The Independence Missouri School District was
recently awarded a 5-year Technology Challenge Grant from
the Department of Education to put primary sources online
from the library's holdings. Students and others will be
able to use these sources to critically investigate such
decisions of Truman as why he dropped the bomb on Japan or
fired MacArthur. New curricula and online instructional
lessons will also be developed; they will be able to be
adapted for any level of teaching.
Select: Legislative for information about NARA's Center for
Legislative Archives. It is the repository and reference
center for the historically valuable records of the U.S.
Congress, dating from the First Congress to modern congresses.
It includes general information for researchers, Guides to the
Records of the House and Senate, and links to associated web
sites such as the Senate and the House. It has important
Select: NAIL (NARA Archival Information Locator). NAIL is an
online searchable database funded through the support of Sen.
Kerrey of Nebraska in response to a customer survey taken in
Nebraska in 1994. This study concluded that citizens wanted
information about NARA's holdings and services online and to
be able to access digital copies of select archival documents.
In July 1996, NARA announced to H-Net subscribers, and others,
that NAIL was operational. It currently contains more than
200,000 descriptions of records (predominantly audiovisual
material relating to the American West). By 1999, NARA plans
to incorporate 200,000 additional records into this
interactive database and to develop an electronic catalog of
NARA holdings nationwide. Researchers can presently search
records for key words or topics and retrieve digital copies of
textual documents, photographs, maps, and sound recordings.
There is also information in NAIL about the textual records
unit and special media units as well as procedures for
ordering records. Although NAIL represents only a fraction of
NARA's vast holdings at present, it is central to NARA's
ongoing efforts to provide access to its records. It is a
site that researchers and teachers will want to visit and use
As we move to the Electoral College site, you will note that
there are also opportunities to research the John F. Kennedy
Assassination Records Collection and current government
information published by NARA, including the Federal Register,
Code of Federal Regulations, and Public Laws. Information
added to your lectures or papers from this site would enhance
Select: Electoral College/A Procedural Guide to the Electoral College. The Office of the Federal Register, which is a component of NARA, coordinates the functions of the Electoral College on behalf of NARA, the States, Congress, and the American People; it has special responsibility for logging in and verifying Certificates of Ascertainment (which name the electors) and the Certificates of Vote. The Procedural Guide here provides a description of the role that each party plays in the electoral college process. The Electoral College Home Page also provides the electoral college box scores from 1788- 1992. The votes and box score for 1996 will be added next week after the votes are tallied in a joint session of Congress on January 9. This site has immediate appeal to students of all ages. We have learned, too, that newspapers, like the Herald Democrat of Sherman, TX, have also found it helpful in preparing feature stories on this topic.
Select: Grants/NHPRC. This site contains information for
research scholars that should not be overlooked. In addition
to describing the role of the NHPRC in providing funding for
the preservation and publication of America's documentary
resources, it offers a wide variety of information to grant
applicants, a list of commission-funded projects, and an
online version of its newsletter.
If you were to select Grants/Presidential Libraries, you would find similar information on grants available from Presidential Library Support Organizations for research projects.
We would like to spend our remaining time in the Visitor's Gallery--the Online Exhibit Hall and The Digital Classroom. Bill Blakefield is the developer of these two sites; they are receiving wide attention. The Online Exhibit Hall was recently designated as a Magellan 4-Star site, and the Los Angeles Times has called it "one of the most captivating sites online." Both the Online Exhibit Hall and the Digital Classroom are designed to feature a representative sampling of topics, time periods, and document types depicted in the nation's records; to capture viewer interest; and to provoke critical thinking and discussion. The images and information can be easily adapted for use in the classroom or incorporated into lectures, student papers, or personal study.
Select: Online Exhibit Hall/The Charters of Freedom, including
the Founding Fathers Page. Also American Originals; Powers of
Persuasion; a Featured Document/The Emancipation Proclamation.
Each is based on an exhibition created by one of NARA's units.
Select: The Digital Classroom. More than 20 years ago, the
National Archives education staff pioneered a program of
teaching with documents in the classroom that is now becoming
commonplace. They articulated their rationale for teaching
with primary sources in professional journal articles; created
learning packages featuring facsimile documents from NARA's
holdings that span our nation's history; presented workshops
on how to teach with documents; and conducted Primarily
Teaching, an 8-day institute to introduce K-16 educators to
archival research and pedagogical techniques for bringing
documents to life in the classroom. In the Digital Classroom,
you will find primary sources and lesson plans (which in the
future will be correlated to the National History Standards);
research activities for students (e.g., National History Day
participants/others new to archival research); educational
materials published by NARA for use in classrooms; and
opportunities for professional development. Next week, we
will add a new feature--documents with limited engagement. The
first will focus on inauguration trivia; then, documents about
Jackie Robinson, the civil rights advocate, to mark the 50th
anniversary of his integration of major league baseball.
Other records will follow.
Select: Introductory Exercise (ideas for introducing students
to historical documents found in their daily lives; physical
characteristics of a document; document analysis). Select:
Constitutional Issues: Separation of Powers (sample lesson:
historical background; letter sent by newspaper publisher,
Frank Gannett, to the Justice Department and then referred to
the Attorney General expressing concern that the real issue is
not judicial reform but the continued expansion of executive
power; and teaching suggestions [vocabulary, reading for the
main idea, the constitutional issue, thinking metaphorically,
techniques of persuasion, and suggestions for further study]).
We hope that you will visit our home page often to search for resources that meet your research and teaching needs. From time to time, you will see the format of our pages changing to make them more informative and user friendly, but our purpose will remain the same--to provide ready access to the federal record of our nation's history. Until you have a chance to return home and browse through our site, we encourage you to stop by either the H-Net booth or NARA's exhibit booth for a fuller explanation or demonstration of its features. We look forward to seeing you.