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 for you.

Demonstration of Web Site/Home Page (URL:

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 learning.

Select: National Archives and Records Administration/The Records

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 materials.

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 effort.

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 research value.

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 often.

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 them.

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.