Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The State of the United States Archives

In his first State of the Archives address, Archivist of the United States David Ferriero quoted Robert Digges Wimberly Connor, the nation’s first archivist, on the state of country’s records in 1934:
…45.0 per cent of the total are infested with silverfish, cockroaches, and other insects, rats, mice, and other vermin, and exposed to such hazards as dirt, rain, sunlight, theft, and fire. More than…46.0 per cent of the total were in depositories that were dark, dirty, badly ventilated, crowded, and without facilities for work. Typical was the case of valuable records relating to Indian affairs which were found on dust-covered shelves mingled higgledy-piggledy with empty whiskey bottles, pieces of soap, rags, and other trash. In another depository crowded with the archives of the Government the most prominent object to one entering the room was the skull of a dead cat protruding from under a pile of valuable records. If a cat with nine lives to risk in the cause of history could not survive the conditions of research in the depositories of our national archives, surely the poor historian with only one life to give his country may be excused if he declines to take the risk.
Ferriero said, “we are at a similar crossroads in the history of the Archives in the challenges we face with the electronic records of the agencies we serve.”

Related to NARA, there is this from “Founders Early Access” at AHA Today:
Last year, Congress encouraged the National Archives to create an online forum that would make these documents more accessible to the public and historians alike. Working with the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities’ Documents Compass, “a nonprofit organization designed to assist in the digital production of historical documentary editions,” the National Archives recently released their newest project, Founders Early Access, through the Rotunda (the University of Virginia Press’ site for the publication of original digital scholarship). Founders Early Access features “digital editions of the papers of many of the major figures of the early republic are presented in a fully searchable and interoperable online environment.”