Essential Architecture- Washington D.C.

National Archives, Washington




National Archives 700 Pennsylvania Ave, NW Washington, DC 20408








  The National Archives building Constitution Avenue facade.
  Interior of the National Archives
The United States National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is an independent agency of the United States federal government charged with preserving and documenting government and historical records. It is also charged with increasing public access to those documents. NARA is officially responsible for maintaining and publishing the legally authentic and authoritative copies of acts of Congress, presidential proclamations and executive orders, and federal regulations. The chief administrator of NARA, the Archivist of the United States, not only maintains the official documentation of the passage of amendments to the U.S. Constitution by state legislatures, but has the authority to declare when the constitutional threshold for passage has been reached, and therefore when an act has become an amendment.

Originally, each branch and agency of the U.S. government was responsible for maintaining its own documents, which often resulted in the loss and destruction of records. Congress established the National Archives Establishment in 1934 to centralize federal record keeping, with the Archivist of the United States as its chief administrator. The National Archives was incorporated into the General Services Administration in 1949, but, in 1985, it was made an independent agency as NARA.

Most of the documents in the care of NARA are in the public domain, as works of the federal government are excluded from copyright protection. However, some documents that have come into the care of NARA from other sources may still be protected by copyright or donor agreements.[1] NARA also stores classified documents and its Information Security Oversight Office monitors and sets policy for the U.S. government's security classification system.

NARA's holdings are classified into "record groups" reflecting the governmental department or agency from which they originated. The records including paper records, microfilmed records, still pictures, motion pictures, and electronic media.

Many of NARA's most requested records are frequently used for research in genealogy. This includes census records from 1790 to 1930 as well as ship passenger lists and naturalization records.

Facilities and exhibition

National Archives Building

The National Archives Building, known informally as Archives I, located north of the National Mall on Constitution Avenue in Washington, DC, opened as its original headquarters in 1935. It holds the original copies of the three main formative documents of the United States and its government: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, as well as a Magna Carta confirmed by Edward I in 1297 that is presented courtesy of the Perot Foundation. These are displayed to the public in the main chamber of the National Archives, which is called the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom. Flash photography of the documents is prohibited, because the flashes can over time fade out the documents. There are no lines to see individual documents (although there is a line to reach the rotunda itself) at the National Archives, and visitors are allowed to walk from document to document as they wish.

The National Archives Building also exhibits other important American historical documents such as the Louisiana Purchase and the Emancipation Proclamation, as well as collections of photography and other historically and culturally significant American artifacts.

National Archives at College Park

NARA facility at the University of Maryland, College Park.Due to space constraints, NARA opened a second facility, known informally as Archives II, in 1994 on the University of Maryland, College Park campus. The two institutions engage in multiple initiatives.[2]

Affiliated & Regional facilities
There are 10 Affiliated Archives locations across the US which hold, "by formal, written agreement with NARA" [3] , accessioned records. There are also fourteen (14) Regional Archives facilities across the country with available research rooms and two major facilities in St. Louis, Missouri which comprise the National Personnel Records Center. However, the National Archives Building in downtown Washington still contains such record collections as all existing Federal Census records, Ship Passenger Lists, military unit records from the American Revolution up to the Philippine-American War, records of the Confederate Government, the Freedmen's Bureau records and pension/land records.

Presidential Libraries
NARA also maintains the Presidential Library system, a nationwide network of libraries for preserving and making available the documents of U.S. presidents since Herbert Hoover. The Presidential Libraries include:

Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in West Branch, Iowa
Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library in Hyde Park, New York
Harry S. Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri
Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, Kansas
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, Massachusetts
Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas
Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, California
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan
Jimmy Carter Presidential Library in Atlanta, Georgia
Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California
George Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas
William J. Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas.
The National Archives maintains a Nixon Presidential Materials Project at its Archives II facility in College Park, Maryland. The "Nixon Project" is currently (2007) transferring all of their materials to the newly-opened Richard Nixon Presidential Library & Museum in Yorba Linda, California.

2006 Controversy over Reclassification
Main article: U.S. reclassification program
In March 2006, it was revealed by the Archivist of the United States in a public hearing that a memorandum of understanding between NARA and various government agencies existed to "reclassify", i.e withdraw from public access, certain documents in the name of national security, and to do so in a manner such that researchers would not be likely to discover the process.[4]

Alliance with Google
On 24 February 2006, NARA released a press release announcing a joint venture with Google to digitize and offer NARA video online for free.

Other Partnerships
On 10 January 2007, the National Archives and Footnote launched a project to digitize historic documents and provide them online, read the press release.

On 30 July 2007, the National Archives announced it would make thousands of historical films available for purchase through subsidiary CreateSpace (formerly CustomFlix), which specializes in on-demand distribution of DVDs, CDs and books.[5]

Archivist of the United States
The Archivist of the United States is the chief official overseeing the operation of the National Archives and Records Administration. The first Archivist, R.D.W. Connor, began serving in 1934, when the National Archive was established by Congress. The Archivists served as subordinate officials in other government agencies until the National Archives and Records Administration became an independent agency on April 1, 1985.

^ - privacy and use
^ - IT conference sponsors
^ Affiliated Archives page of
^ (2006-04-11)
^ Thousands of National Archives Films to Be Made Available Through CustomFlix Labs. Retrieved on 2007-08-03.

Anyone who has cleaned out a family attic knows the difficulty of deciding what is worth keeping and what can be discarded.

Imagine the task of sifting through the accumulated papers of a nation's official life -- growing by billions of pieces a year -- and determining what to retain and what to destroy.

This function is performed by the National Archives, a federal institution that holds the power of life or death over the wide-ranging records of the United States government.

Although the National Archives was not established until 1934, its major holdings date back to 1775. They capture the sweep of the past: slave ship manifests and the Emancipation Proclamation; captured German records and the Japanese surrender document from World War II; journals of polar expeditions and photographs of Dust Bowl farmers; Indian treaties making transitory promises; and a richly bound document bearing the bold signature "Bonaparte" -- the Louisiana Purchase Treaty that doubled the territory of the young republic. In short, the National Archives preserves the record of the nation's civil, military, and diplomatic activities. On permanent display are the Great Charters: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and the Bill of Rights.

The National Archives keeps only those federal records that are judged to have an enduring value -- about 2 to 3 percent of those generated in any given year. By now, they add up to a formidable number, diverse in form as well as in content. There are about 3 billion pages of textual material; 5 million still pictures, including Civil War photographs by Mathew Brady; 91 million feet of motion picture film reaching back to the inauguration of President William McKinley in 1897 and including documentaries, combat footage, and news-reels; 70,000 sound recordings including congressional hearings, news broadcasts, Supreme Court arguments, Tokyo Rose's radio propaganda from World War II, and the Nuremberg trials; 2 million cartographic items; and 9 million aerial photographs. All of these materials are preserved because they are important to the workings of government, or have long-term research worth, or provide information of value to ordinary citizens -- for example, military service and pension records, federal census schedules, and ship passenger lists recording the arrival of immigrants.

Although the National Archives was created primarily for use by government, its rich stores of material are available to all: historians interpreting the past, journalists researching stories, students preparing term papers, Indian tribes pressing claims, and persons tracing their ancestry or satisfying their curiosity about particular historical events. The National Archives serves as the nation's memory for a multitude of purposes.

Concern for the perservation of the records of the nation was expressed early. "Time and accident," Thomas Jefferson had warned, "are committing daily havoc on the originals deposited in our public offices." A century of such admonition went unheeded however. Tentative plans for an archives were developed before World War I following a number of damaging fires in government buildings, but the outbreak of the war delayed the project. It was not until the Great Depression that historians and others concerned with the preservation of the nation's records saw their hopes realized.

The task of designing an archives building was given to the distinguished architect John Russell Pope. He set out to create a structure that would be in harmony with other great Washington landmarks -- the White House, Capitol, Treasury Building and Lincoln Memorial -- and at the same time express the significance, safety, and permanence of the records to be deposited inside. One has only to look at the great Corinthian columns (72 of them weighing 95 tons apiece) and at the classic facade, pierced by bronze doors a foot thick and 40 feet tall, to know that Pope succeeded.

Ground for the building was broken in 1931, the cornerstone was laid by President Herbert Hoover in 1933, and the staff moved in to work in 1935. The building was equipped with 21 levels of steel and concrete stack areas, windowless and temperature-controlled for document preservation purposes and protected with fire safety devices. Provided also were technical facilities in which deteriorating documents could be restored and frequently needed records reproduced.

Most important to the new agency was the professional staff. Carefully recruited and trained, it faced in those early years the mammoth task of devising policies and operating procedures for the new institution and of collecting and inventorying a 160-year backlog of records, many of them packed helter-skelter into scattered attics and basements. Yet in less than a generation, the National Archives became a model for preserving the permanently valuable records of the nation. This achievement is the more remarkable given the undreamed-of growth of the federal government and the proliferation of paperwork during this period.

There were added responsibilities: publishing the Federal Register, a daily record of government proclamations, orders, and regulations; operating the Presidential library system for the papers of the Presidents beginning with Hoover; running a Government-wide program to ensure adequate documentation and appropriate disposition of government records; reproducing selected records on microfilm to make them more readily available to the public; and administering a nation-wide network of 14 records centers, in which records are often held temporarily pending a decision to keep or destroy.

Two centers are national in scope: the Washington National Records Center at Suitland, MD, a suburb of Washington, and the National Personnel Records Center of St. Louis. The others are regional in character and are part of a National Archives centers system. These centers also house field archives branches. The holdings of these archives are chiefly of regional interest but also include microfilm copies of many of the most important records in the National Archives.

Under the dome on the Constitution Avenue [side] is the Rotunda, where the great documents of America's formation, written in flowing script on sheets of parchment, are permanently displayed. The pages of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights are sealed into individual bronze and glass cases in which air has been replaced by protective helium.

Light filters prevent fading. At closing time, the documents are lowered from their marble setting into a vault below the floor. On the side walls of the Rotunda are two murals: Thomas Jefferson presenting the Declaration of Independence to John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress, and James Madison presenting the Constitution to George Washington, President of the Constitutional Convention. Other exhibits in the Rotunda and the Circular Gallery highlight major events in the nation's history.

The National Archives Building has numerous sculptural decorations and inscriptions, but the words on the base of one statue have become identified with the institution itself. Cut into the stone are these words from Shakespeare's The Tempest: "What is past is prologue." There is no better reason for preserving the documentary materials of the American experience.

Hours For Visiting And Studying

The Exhibition Hall is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. except during winter months (the day after Labor Day through March 31) when the Exhibition Hall is closed at 5:30 p.m. The building is closed on Christmas Day. The Pennsylvania Avenue entrance provides access to the central Research and Microfilm Research Rooms, which are open Mondays through Fridays from 8:45 a.m. to 10 p.m., and on Saturdays from 8:45 a.m. to 5:15 p.m.; the rooms are closed on federal holidays.