Discovering the Past to Preserve for the Future: The National Archives and American Economic History

Author: Elliot Drago

School/Organization:

Parkway West High School

Year: 2007

Seminar: American Capitalism

Keywords: America, capitalism, Internal Revenue Services, National Archives, social studies

School Subject(s): Social Studies

This curriculum unit is appropriate for any high school social studies classroom. The first two sections apply general ideas to the subject of American history, government or economics, whereas the final section could be used not only in a typical history class, but also in a sociology or psychology course setting. It should be noted that many of NARA’s records (especially those pertaining to industry) can also be used in a mathematics class.

The purpose of this curriculum unit is to provide a background for historical analysis (especially in the field of historical preservation, and why the Archives saves what it saves) to convey an overall appreciation of the democratic process in which documents are collected and stored. The resources of NARA enable instructors to access actual records for study within the classroom; a field trip to one of NARA’s facilities can enhance the overall learning experience. Finally, instructors have the ability to use this unit for alternative purposes as well, such as critically examining cultural and historical memory, and determining what types of records should be saved from today’s world.

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Full Unit Text
Overview

I am a high school social studies teacher in the School District of Philadelphia.

This is my first year as a teacher. My prior experience includes working for the National Archives and Records Administration for two summers during the latter part of my college career. There I learned the value and meaning behind preserving America’s historical legacy. Students’ exposure to primary sources ebbs and flows throughout high school. A chief concern of mine while completing this unit was to make the history come alive–to make history seen and touched in ways more available than in the pages of a textbook. Units like mine allow history to become a tangible resource, specifically by the thorough use and study of primary sources. Finally, I believe that it is important to understand the means by which we “remember” the past.  Institutions such as the National Archives lend a hand to America’s cultural and political memory by storing the records of important events for the future. This curriculum unit aims at teaching students about the value of memory, the maintenance of memory, and how we remember.

With the assistance of historian Professor Walter Licht of the University of Pennsylvania I chose key documents from the National Archives that bear on the history of American capitalism. Though the National Archives is well known for its maintenance of census records, they only compromise a small amount of its total holdings. Most of the records within the National Archives contain valuable economic and legal information, such as records of bankruptcy cases, the Internal Revenue Service, and the National Resources Planning Board, to name a few. Therefore, a major focus of the unit deals with both large and small scale economic information.

Rationale

This curriculum unit focuses on the function, resources, and necessity of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). The first part of this section centers on the function of the National Archives and Records. It begins with a brief introduction to NARA, defining it as the government agency responsible for the collecting, storing, documenting, and preserving of government and historical records. The second part to this section is an account of the United States record-keeping history, starting with a summary of the government’s methods to collect and preserve records prior to the creation of NARA, the reasons for the creation of NARA, and ending with the present-day function of NARA. This second part on resources applies the historical backdrop to NARA to the wealth of information from which the government gathers records. A brief explanation of the types of records that the government collects, stores, documents and preserves, as well as a short summary of the various record groups contained within NARA are also included. The final part of this section treats the process by which records are chosen to become a part of the National Archives. It also seeks to answer the question, “Why do we need the National Archives?” and delves deeper into the relationship between cultural and historical memory.

Part One: The Function of the National Archives and Records Administration A Definition of the National Archives and Records Administration

Traditionally, an archive is a repository of important public and historical records. It is a place where ordinary citizens can go to explore “firsthand data, and evidence from letters, reports, notes, memos, photographs, and other primary sources.”1 Founded through the National Archives Act of 1934, the National Archives and Records Administration serves to store and maintain important historical records. However, before the creation of the United States’ National Archives, some believed that the terms “archives” and “hall of records” were one in the same, when in fact they are not synonymous. To avoid this confusion, an archive is an “institution devoted to preserving and administering records of enduring value for everyone’s benefit,” whereas a “hall of records” is designed to provide a safe storage for historical records that would remain under the control of the original agencies.2 The central task of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is to preserve and maintain historical materials and make them available for research.3 Additionally, NARA serves as “the storehouse for those federal papers and records judged to be of permanent value 4.” The Archives’ role encompasses “all phases of the management of current records” and the responsibility to make available the records for both civilian and government use.5

An Account of the United States’ Record-Keeping History until 1933

After the American Revolution, the newly created United States government had little time to focus energies on preserving records, though it had an excess of records to maintain.6 Crafting a government and holding it together, establishing alliances, serving a myriad of different ideas from millions of constituents, expanding, avoiding conflict, creating conflict, securing peace: this “busyness” during the opening days of the Republic prevented it from establishing a definitive storage facility for its records.7 However, concern never lacked for the caretaking or gathering of records.8 Protoarchivists such as Charles Thompson labored in the late 1700s to start an archives. As secretary to the Continental Congress (and luckily for all, “a careful record keeper”), Thompson sought to record the government’s business for posterity, and by common agreement served as the main custodian and preserver of the “archives of the Continental Congress and the central government under the Articles of Confederation.”9 Understanding the importance of historical preservation, George Washington also acted as an powerful agent for the “safety and preservation of these prized records;” America had only just begun to write its history, and for it to be cherished, it had to be properly maintained.10 However, America would not be so lucky as to have an abundance of such preservationist-minded men in government in the 19th century. By 1800, the archives situation in the United States did not differ too much from Europe. 11 Both Americans and Europeans faced the same woes affecting national archives, many of which were not curtailed until the present day: fires unrestrained in open hearths had a proclivity to jump out and start large conflagrations in record storehouses; insects developed a taste for historical literature; water seeped through unchecked holes in wooden warehouse roofs; attempts to use chemicals to “preserve” vital records acted against preservation and the temptation of thieves (which remains with us today) to begin their own home collections. With the noticeable plethora of problems facing government records, developing countries on both sides of the ocean needed a solution, and one that relied upon the establishment of a “safer” (but by no means invulnerable) method of storage. Europeans acted first and with greater efficiency in their efforts to modernize their preservation. French, German, English and Dutch archivists quickly developed an “impressive body of archival theory and practice.”12 Their archival advancement left Americans in a state of alarm, though on the state and local levels, measurable archival preservation and management occurred sporadically; little or no changes were effected on the national level.13 By 1810, the modest care that government records received prompted a Congressional committee to complain that early records were “in a state of great disorder and exposure; and in a situation neither safe nor convenient nor honorable to the nation.”14 The investigation into the matter produced the first “definite attempt” to procure housing for the nation’s records.15 More importantly, the committee brought to light the idea that a country’s greatness must be visible for future generations, and that part of this greatness depends on the method of preserving its historical legacy.

The next half century brought numerous stumbling blocks that stunted the growth of an archives, with fire acting as the main antagonist. Early in the republic, Congress allowed for the publication of key records in order to avoid putting all of its historical eggs in one highly flammable wicker basket. 16 During the War of 1812 the British burnt down many of the public buildings in Washington, and though many were rebuilt by 1820, many were too small and/or inadequately fireproofed to be considered archival repositories. 17 Several massive fires that occurred in the 1830s – especially one at the Treasury Building in late March of 1833, and another in 1836 that destroyed the Post Office and Patent Office – led then secretary of the Treasury Louis McLane to inform President Jackson that there was “no proper security for the public archives” and that the State, War, and Navy departments were “altogether insecure.”18 Westward expansion, war with Mexico, and securing land in California and the Southwest, led to the growth of both records and the size of the federal government: by 1860, the US had admitted eleven new states to the Union and tripled in population.19 Vast swaths of acquired territory did nothing to solve the lack of space for records back in Washington. For most of the 19th century, each government agency held responsibility for the caring of its own records, and many of these sites were insufficient for preservation.20 The Civil War led to the typical massive compilation of records common during conflict, further exacerbating the problem of space. So many records were collected in fact, that by the 1870s some federal officials were suggesting that “useless papers” should be destroyed.21 Astoundingly, federal record holdings from 1861 to 1916 grew from 108,000 to 1,031,000 cubic feet.22 The sheer number of records created during this period ironically brought the issue of a central fireproof repository – known as a “hall of records” – to the forefront.23 After a large fire in the Interior Department in 1877, several Congressmen proposed legislation that called for the creation of a fireproof “hall of records” that would contain both old and new records from federal agencies.24 During the McKinley administration, Congress considered ideas passed around for two decades before directing Treasury Secretary Lyman J. Gage to draw up plans for such a repository.25 Gage’s 1898 plan for a building with 4 million cubic feet of capacity grew to 5 million cubic feet under his successor, Treasury Secretary Leslie M. Shaw.26 Much of the momentum that picked up during the beginning of the twentieth century was due in large part to two men: historian J. Franklin Jameson and Senator Henry Cabot Lodge. Jameson worked closely with the American Historical Association (AHA) during the late 1890s to further the preservation of source materials relating to American history.27 Both Jameson and the AHA encouraged a “hall of records” in order to serve the public.28 By 1904, Secretary Shaw had secured a plot of land in Washington D.C. “as a site for the hall of records.”29 1906 may be seen as a “landmark” in the history of what would become the National Archives.30 With Jameson’s urging, Lodge proposed legislation to finally solidify the appropriation for the hall of records, noting that the site had been purchased two years earlier.31 The draft of the legislation came from genealogist Lothrop Withington, who had been inspired by the archival work of England’s Public Record Office.32

Unfortunately, Withington’s bill never reached the Senate floor. However, public demand for action increased in 1907 with the release of a second edition of Waldo G. Leland’s Guide to the Archives of the Government of the United State in Washington.33 Leland and Jameson were now the chief figures of the national archives movement. During the next few years Jameson enlisted the support of the AHA (and later, President Theodore Roosevelt), contending that the National Archives should be directed by scholars, similar to the European method of records management.34 In 1913, Congress agreed to the “preparation of plans for a national archives building” and both Leland and Jameson agreed that the authorization contain a provision that the new building would emulate the sophisticated European examples.35 The outbreak of war prevented inspection of European archives, but the post-war years featured unique shortcomings and victories. First, on January 10, 1921, a fire destroyed the 1890 census records in the Commerce Department Building.36 For the next two years not a single brick for the National Archives was laid. In 1923 Jameson and his allies faced a new set of challenges. During a Congressional debate Senator Reed Smoot sought to break the stalemate over the archives question by suggesting that the old Pension Office building be converted into the Archives.37 Jameson found this plan unacceptable, fearing that any of the now-decrepit buildings would “sink” into the ground if given the Herculean task of storing almost 150 years worth of federal documents.38 The debate lingered on during through Coolidge administration. Though supportive of the building of facilities to house federal records – and the archives movement in particular – most of the energy expended by Coolidge was initially snuffed out in the House of Representatives, where Congress long had their constituents first, and the federal government last.39 With the grim fate of the nation’s records on the line, Jameson even went so far as to seek funds from private investors, which ultimately failed.40 Luckily for all, deep within the Committee on Public Buildings and Grounds’ list of expenditures (over $225,000,000) lay a space reserved for almost $7,000,000 towards a national archives building.41 Signed into law by President Coolidge on May 25th 1926, the bill allowed for the Secretary of the Treasury to determine both the location of and amount to be spent on the new public buildings sprouting up across the country.42 Subsequently, Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon increased the funds to more than $12,000,000.43 The United States was now to officially have a National Archives. At the groundbreaking of the National Archives building in Washington D.C. on February 20th, 1933, President Herbert Hoover stated:

“…there will be aggregated here the most sacred documents of our history, the originals of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. Here will be preserved all the other records that bind State to State and the hearts of all our people in an indissoluble union. The romance of our history will have living habitation here in the writings of statesmen, soldiers and all the others, both men and women, who have builded (sic) the great structure of our national life … Devoutly the Nation will pray that it may endure forever, the repository of records of yet more glorious progress in the life of our beloved country.44

Simply put, the country allowed the first century and a half of its history to slip away before deciding that the preservation of documents was of a vital necessity.45

Part Two: The Resources of the National Archives and Records Administration Where does NARA get its records?

The National Archives building located in Washington D.C. holds about 30 percent of all records comprising the National Archives, and is the main repository for the nation’s most valuable records of the federal government.46 The Washington D.C. branch houses the “Charters of Freedom,” which are the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and the Bill of Rights. In 1968, the National Archives and Records Administration was divided into eighteen different branches, with each branch serving its member states. Some records of regional importance were transferred from the original Washington D.C. branch to member branches.47 Each branch collects between 1 percent and 5 percent of all the “documents and materials created in the course of business conducted by the federal government.48 The NARA branch located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is known as the MidAtlantic Region. This branch serves Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. Federal courts and agencies within these states retire about 5 percent of their records that are no longer needed for the courts’ or agencies routine work. These records are preserved because they have “continuing practical value for government operations,” protect “public and private rights,” and have important research value for “those interested in the social, economic, or political development of States served by the regional archives.”49 What types of Records does NARA store?

The National Archives and Records Administration stores millions of cubic feet of valuable non-current federal records. Between 1-3 percent of all federal records are considered to be of such historical and legal importance that they must be preserved by the National Archives.50 Below is a short list of the types of records that the Archives has in its holdings:

  • Court documents Cultural artifacts Maps
  • Census records Selective service records Labor and union records
  • Patent applications Immigration and Naturalization Records

Historians, scholars, and students have used the countless records of the National Archives to write research papers, essays, and many famous historical books and articles.51 The exceptional staff of archivists that serve the regional branches, paired with both the accessibility and meticulous preservation efforts have and will continue to allow historians to successfully fulfill their research endeavors.

Part Three: The Record Choosing Process of the National Archives

How Records are Chosen

When the National Archives came into existence in 1934, the only task assigned to the Archivist of the United States was to personally inspect the holdings of any and all government agencies.52 Following the inspection the Archivist would work with the National Archives Council – composed of the chairmen of the Senate and House committees on record keeping, Library of Congress, and Smithsonian Institution – to define both the classes of materials to be relocated to the National Archives, and to regulate this transfer of government records.53 Finally, the act gave the Archivist the ability to accept records of historical importance from private sources.54 The National Archives most prestigious positions were those of the deputy examiners in the Accessions Division.55 These staff members had the task of visiting federal agencies to “survey, appraise, and arrange…pertinent federal records” for the Archivist of the United States.56 Another position – special examiner – joined the Accessions Division during the late 1930s. The role of the special examiner is to review “useless” records that are to be destroyed by various federal agencies. In the early years of the National Archives, the top priorities for records acquisition and what actually came to the new Archives building in Washington D.C. were “two different things.”57 Originally, many records that were attained during this period were from the Washington D.C. area, yet some federal agencies across the United States were eager to part with their records due to a lack of storage space.58 For example, the Archives spent an “inordinate” amount of time classifying many Food and Drug Administration’s records that came from all over the United States; many of these records were disposed of in later decades.59 When it came to records that were clearly of great value – in this case, records from the Veteran’s Administration –the processing and reference services of the National Archives were stretched to their limits.60 The acquisition of these records led to a large number of requests from veterans – as many as 25,000 requests per month.61 Today the staff of the National Archives handles and receives records from individual federal agencies. The Records Management division within the National Archives functions to work alongside these federal agencies. Each federal agency creates its own “record schedule” to determine which records are of lasting importance. That being said, federal agencies rely upon individual choice as to what is to be kept or discarded. The best example of an individualized record schedule comes from the military, in particular the army’s “Army Records Information Management System.” It is important to stress that the records schedules change not only agency by agency, but individual by individual. Records that are sent to the National Archives first go to a Federal Records Center located either on-site or close to a National Archives branch. The role of the Federal Records center is to categorize, maintain, and prepare the records for permanent holdings. The Federal Records Center also serves as a storage facility, and places certain time limits on how long they keep the records in pre-permanent condition. The reason for the

time limits comes from the fact that there are thousands of records shipped to the Federal Records Center each year and that there is only so much storage space. Finally, once records leave the Federal Records Center, they become the official property of the National Archives Branch to which they are sent. This means that any and all records in the regional archive branch are subject to preservation or disposal, depending on the needs of the branch.

“Why do we need the National Archives?” Cultural and Historical Memory

The National Archives functions as the working historical memory of the United States. As soon as a record has been deemed of historical importance, it becomes an uniquely American memory. This memory serves as one of the beauties of the Archives in that it allows ordinary citizens to access important government records. Many of these records become intertwined with cultural memory, and combine “complex political stakes” with varying “meanings.”62 These meanings contain a certain degree of “changeability,” yet their aesthetic and historical meaning tend to remain constant once they are placed in the National Archives.63 Countless examples of memory can be found in the Archives, and these records can be defined as both historical and cultural in purpose. For example, old maps on record at the Archives can show the historical importance of the map (e.g. the boundaries) and the cultural importance (e.g. who lived where) of the map. Besides maps, immigration records, court proceedings, and census records allow for open discussion and dissemination on the part of the researcher and the general public. The entanglement of American history (the archives) and American cultural memory (individual perception) blurs the distinction between the two, and have the ability to create an interesting narrative that can not only be retrieved, but relived.64

This curriculum unit focuses on the function, resources, and necessity of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). The first part of this section centers on the function of the National Archives and Records. It begins with a brief introduction to NARA, defining it as the government agency responsible for the collecting, storing, documenting, and preserving of government and historical records. The second part to this section is an account of the United States record-keeping history, starting with a summary of the government’s methods to collect and preserve records prior to the creation of NARA, the reasons for the creation of NARA, and ending with the present-day function of NARA. This second part on resources applies the historical backdrop to NARA to the wealth of information from which the government gathers records. A brief explanation of the types of records that the government collects, stores, documents and preserves, as well as a short summary of the various record groups contained within NARA are also included. The final part of this section treats the process by which records are chosen to become a part of the National Archives. It also seeks to answer the question, “Why do we need the National Archives?” and delves deeper into the relationship between cultural and historical memory.

Part One: The Function of the National Archives and Records Administration A Definition of the National Archives and Records Administration

Traditionally, an archive is a repository of important public and historical records. It is a place where ordinary citizens can go to explore “firsthand data, and evidence from letters, reports, notes, memos, photographs, and other primary sources.”1 Founded through the National Archives Act of 1934, the National Archives and Records Administration serves to store and maintain important historical records. However, before the creation of the United States’ National Archives, some believed that the terms “archives” and “hall of records” were one in the same, when in fact they are not synonymous. To avoid this confusion, an archive is an “institution devoted to preserving and administering records of enduring value for everyone’s benefit,” whereas a “hall of records” is designed to provide a safe storage for historical records that would remain under the control of the original agencies.2 The central task of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is to preserve and maintain historical materials and make them available for research.3 Additionally, NARA serves as “the storehouse for those federal papers and records judged to be of permanent value 4.” The Archives’ role encompasses “all phases of the management of current records” and the responsibility to make available the records for both civilian and government use.5

An Account of the United States’ Record-Keeping History until 1933

After the American Revolution, the newly created United States government had little time to focus energies on preserving records, though it had an excess of records to maintain.6 Crafting a government and holding it together, establishing alliances, serving a myriad of different ideas from millions of constituents, expanding, avoiding conflict, creating conflict, securing peace: this “busyness” during the opening days of the Republic prevented it from establishing a definitive storage facility for its records.7 However, concern never lacked for the caretaking or gathering of records.8 Protoarchivists such as Charles Thompson labored in the late 1700s to start an archives. As secretary to the Continental Congress (and luckily for all, “a careful record keeper”), Thompson sought to record the government’s business for posterity, and by common agreement served as the main custodian and preserver of the “archives of the Continental Congress and the central government under the Articles of Confederation.”9 Understanding the importance of historical preservation, George Washington also acted as an powerful agent for the “safety and preservation of these prized records;” America had only just begun to write its history, and for it to be cherished, it had to be properly maintained.10 However, America would not be so lucky as to have an abundance of such preservationist-minded men in government in the 19th century. By 1800, the archives situation in the United States did not differ too much from Europe. 11 Both Americans and Europeans faced the same woes affecting national archives, many of which were not curtailed until the present day: fires unrestrained in open hearths had a proclivity to jump out and start large conflagrations in record storehouses; insects developed a taste for historical literature; water seeped through unchecked holes in wooden warehouse roofs; attempts to use chemicals to “preserve” vital records acted against preservation and the temptation of thieves (which remains with us today) to begin their own home collections. With the noticeable plethora of problems facing government records, developing countries on both sides of the ocean needed a solution, and one that relied upon the establishment of a “safer” (but by no means invulnerable) method of storage. Europeans acted first and with greater efficiency in their efforts to modernize their preservation. French, German, English and Dutch archivists quickly developed an “impressive body of archival theory and practice.”12 Their archival advancement left Americans in a state of alarm, though on the state and local levels, measurable archival preservation and management occurred sporadically; little or no changes were effected on the national level.13 By 1810, the modest care that government records received prompted a Congressional committee to complain that early records were “in a state of great disorder and exposure; and in a situation neither safe nor convenient nor honorable to the nation.”14 The investigation into the matter produced the first “definite attempt” to procure housing for the nation’s records.15 More importantly, the committee brought to light the idea that a country’s greatness must be visible for future generations, and that part of this greatness depends on the method of preserving its historical legacy.

The next half century brought numerous stumbling blocks that stunted the growth of an archives, with fire acting as the main antagonist. Early in the republic, Congress allowed for the publication of key records in order to avoid putting all of its historical eggs in one highly flammable wicker basket. 16 During the War of 1812 the British burnt down many of the public buildings in Washington, and though many were rebuilt by 1820, many were too small and/or inadequately fireproofed to be considered archival repositories. 17 Several massive fires that occurred in the 1830s – especially one at the Treasury Building in late March of 1833, and another in 1836 that destroyed the Post Office and Patent Office – led then secretary of the Treasury Louis McLane to inform President Jackson that there was “no proper security for the public archives” and that the State, War, and Navy departments were “altogether insecure.”18 Westward expansion, war with Mexico, and securing land in California and the Southwest, led to the growth of both records and the size of the federal government: by 1860, the US had admitted eleven new states to the Union and tripled in population.19 Vast swaths of acquired territory did nothing to solve the lack of space for records back in Washington. For most of the 19th century, each government agency held responsibility for the caring of its own records, and many of these sites were insufficient for preservation.20 The Civil War led to the typical massive compilation of records common during conflict, further exacerbating the problem of space. So many records were collected in fact, that by the 1870s some federal officials were suggesting that “useless papers” should be destroyed.21 Astoundingly, federal record holdings from 1861 to 1916 grew from 108,000 to 1,031,000 cubic feet.22 The sheer number of records created during this period ironically brought the issue of a central fireproof repository – known as a “hall of records” – to the forefront.23 After a large fire in the Interior Department in 1877, several Congressmen proposed legislation that called for the creation of a fireproof “hall of records” that would contain both old and new records from federal agencies.24 During the McKinley administration, Congress considered ideas passed around for two decades before directing Treasury Secretary Lyman J. Gage to draw up plans for such a repository.25 Gage’s 1898 plan for a building with 4 million cubic feet of capacity grew to 5 million cubic feet under his successor, Treasury Secretary Leslie M. Shaw.26 Much of the momentum that picked up during the beginning of the twentieth century was due in large part to two men: historian J. Franklin Jameson and Senator Henry Cabot Lodge. Jameson worked closely with the American Historical Association (AHA) during the late 1890s to further the preservation of source materials relating to American history.27 Both Jameson and the AHA encouraged a “hall of records” in order to serve the public.28 By 1904, Secretary Shaw had secured a plot of land in Washington D.C. “as a site for the hall of records.”29 1906 may be seen as a “landmark” in the history of what would become the National Archives.30 With Jameson’s urging, Lodge proposed legislation to finally solidify the appropriation for the hall of records, noting that the site had been purchased two years earlier.31 The draft of the legislation came from genealogist Lothrop Withington, who had been inspired by the archival work of England’s Public Record Office.32

Unfortunately, Withington’s bill never reached the Senate floor. However, public demand for action increased in 1907 with the release of a second edition of Waldo G. Leland’s Guide to the Archives of the Government of the United State in Washington.33 Leland and Jameson were now the chief figures of the national archives movement. During the next few years Jameson enlisted the support of the AHA (and later, President Theodore Roosevelt), contending that the National Archives should be directed by scholars, similar to the European method of records management.34 In 1913, Congress agreed to the “preparation of plans for a national archives building” and both Leland and Jameson agreed that the authorization contain a provision that the new building would emulate the sophisticated European examples.35 The outbreak of war prevented inspection of European archives, but the post-war years featured unique shortcomings and victories. First, on January 10, 1921, a fire destroyed the 1890 census records in the Commerce Department Building.36 For the next two years not a single brick for the National Archives was laid. In 1923 Jameson and his allies faced a new set of challenges. During a Congressional debate Senator Reed Smoot sought to break the stalemate over the archives question by suggesting that the old Pension Office building be converted into the Archives.37 Jameson found this plan unacceptable, fearing that any of the now-decrepit buildings would “sink” into the ground if given the Herculean task of storing almost 150 years worth of federal documents.38 The debate lingered on during through Coolidge administration. Though supportive of the building of facilities to house federal records – and the archives movement in particular – most of the energy expended by Coolidge was initially snuffed out in the House of Representatives, where Congress long had their constituents first, and the federal government last.39 With the grim fate of the nation’s records on the line, Jameson even went so far as to seek funds from private investors, which ultimately failed.40 Luckily for all, deep within the Committee on Public Buildings and Grounds’ list of expenditures (over $225,000,000) lay a space reserved for almost $7,000,000 towards a national archives building.41 Signed into law by President Coolidge on May 25th 1926, the bill allowed for the Secretary of the Treasury to determine both the location of and amount to be spent on the new public buildings sprouting up across the country.42 Subsequently, Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon increased the funds to more than $12,000,000.43 The United States was now to officially have a National Archives. At the groundbreaking of the National Archives building in Washington D.C. on February 20th, 1933, President Herbert Hoover stated:

“…there will be aggregated here the most sacred documents of our history, the originals of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. Here will be preserved all the other records that bind State to State and the hearts of all our people in an indissoluble union. The romance of our history will have living habitation here in the writings of statesmen, soldiers and all the others, both men and women, who have builded (sic) the great structure of our national life … Devoutly the Nation will pray that it may endure forever, the repository of records of yet more glorious progress in the life of our beloved country.44

Simply put, the country allowed the first century and a half of its history to slip away before deciding that the preservation of documents was of a vital necessity.45

Part Two: The Resources of the National Archives and Records Administration Where does NARA get its records?

The National Archives building located in Washington D.C. holds about 30 percent of all records comprising the National Archives, and is the main repository for the nation’s most valuable records of the federal government.46 The Washington D.C. branch houses the “Charters of Freedom,” which are the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and the Bill of Rights. In 1968, the National Archives and Records Administration was divided into eighteen different branches, with each branch serving its member states. Some records of regional importance were transferred from the original Washington D.C. branch to member branches.47 Each branch collects between 1 percent and 5 percent of all the “documents and materials created in the course of business conducted by the federal government.48 The NARA branch located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is known as the MidAtlantic Region. This branch serves Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. Federal courts and agencies within these states retire about 5 percent of their records that are no longer needed for the courts’ or agencies routine work. These records are preserved because they have “continuing practical value for government operations,” protect “public and private rights,” and have important research value for “those interested in the social, economic, or political development of States served by the regional archives.”49 What types of Records does NARA store?

The National Archives and Records Administration stores millions of cubic feet of valuable non-current federal records. Between 1-3 percent of all federal records are considered to be of such historical and legal importance that they must be preserved by the National Archives.50 Below is a short list of the types of records that the Archives has in its holdings:

Court documents Cultural artifacts Maps
Census records Selective service records Labor and union records
Patent applications Immigration and Naturalization Records

Historians, scholars, and students have used the countless records of the National Archives to write research papers, essays, and many famous historical books and articles.51 The exceptional staff of archivists that serve the regional branches, paired with both the accessibility and meticulous preservation efforts have and will continue to allow historians to successfully fulfill their research endeavors.

Part Three: The Record Choosing Process of the National Archives

How Records are Chosen

When the National Archives came into existence in 1934, the only task assigned to the Archivist of the United States was to personally inspect the holdings of any and all government agencies.52 Following the inspection the Archivist would work with the National Archives Council – composed of the chairmen of the Senate and House committees on record keeping, Library of Congress, and Smithsonian Institution – to define both the classes of materials to be relocated to the National Archives, and to regulate this transfer of government records.53 Finally, the act gave the Archivist the ability to accept records of historical importance from private sources.54 The National Archives most prestigious positions were those of the deputy examiners in the Accessions Division.55 These staff members had the task of visiting federal agencies to “survey, appraise, and arrange…pertinent federal records” for the Archivist of the United States.56 Another position – special examiner – joined the Accessions Division during the late 1930s. The role of the special examiner is to review “useless” records that are to be destroyed by various federal agencies. In the early years of the National Archives, the top priorities for records acquisition and what actually came to the new Archives building in Washington D.C. were “two different things.”57 Originally, many records that were attained during this period were from the Washington D.C. area, yet some federal agencies across the United States were eager to part with their records due to a lack of storage space.58 For example, the Archives spent an “inordinate” amount of time classifying many Food and Drug Administration’s records that came from all over the United States; many of these records were disposed of in later decades.59 When it came to records that were clearly of great value – in this case, records from the Veteran’s Administration –the processing and reference services of the National Archives were stretched to their limits.60 The acquisition of these records led to a large number of requests from veterans – as many as 25,000 requests per month.61 Today the staff of the National Archives handles and receives records from individual federal agencies. The Records Management division within the National Archives functions to work alongside these federal agencies. Each federal agency creates its own “record schedule” to determine which records are of lasting importance. That being said, federal agencies rely upon individual choice as to what is to be kept or discarded. The best example of an individualized record schedule comes from the military, in particular the army’s “Army Records Information Management System.” It is important to stress that the records schedules change not only agency by agency, but individual by individual. Records that are sent to the National Archives first go to a Federal Records Center located either on-site or close to a National Archives branch. The role of the Federal Records center is to categorize, maintain, and prepare the records for permanent holdings. The Federal Records Center also serves as a storage facility, and places certain time limits on how long they keep the records in pre-permanent condition. The reason for the

time limits comes from the fact that there are thousands of records shipped to the Federal Records Center each year and that there is only so much storage space. Finally, once records leave the Federal Records Center, they become the official property of the National Archives Branch to which they are sent. This means that any and all records in the regional archive branch are subject to preservation or disposal, depending on the needs of the branch.

“Why do we need the National Archives?” Cultural and Historical Memory

The National Archives functions as the working historical memory of the United States. As soon as a record has been deemed of historical importance, it becomes an uniquely American memory. This memory serves as one of the beauties of the Archives in that it allows ordinary citizens to access important government records. Many of these records become intertwined with cultural memory, and combine “complex political stakes” with varying “meanings.”62 These meanings contain a certain degree of “changeability,” yet their aesthetic and historical meaning tend to remain constant once they are placed in the National Archives.63 Countless examples of memory can be found in the Archives, and these records can be defined as both historical and cultural in purpose. For example, old maps on record at the Archives can show the historical importance of the map (e.g. the boundaries) and the cultural importance (e.g. who lived where) of the map. Besides maps, immigration records, court proceedings, and census records allow for open discussion and dissemination on the part of the researcher and the general public. The entanglement of American history (the archives) and American cultural memory (individual perception) blurs the distinction between the two, and have the ability to create an interesting narrative that can not only be retrieved, but relived.64

Objectives

The social studies curriculum unit for high school students analyzes the function, resources, and necessity of the National Archives and Records Administration. Rather than introduce students to the whole range of documents preserved in the National Archives, students will be introduced to materials dealing with American economic history. Their social studies understanding of the economy will thus be enhanced by direct contact with primary sources. The unit takes these three parts and views them in terms of historical, economic and cultural memory, with a focus on the primary sources contained within the Archives. Students will also have the opportunity to study critically the importance of historical preservation, interesting economic events, and the meaning/value of cultural memory. Upon completion of the unit, students will have the skills to:

  • Construct a history of the National Archives
  • Define the function of the National Archives
  • Critically examine the utility of the National Archives
  • Understand the importance (and beauty) of accessibility to federal records; the right of a citizen to observe government
  • Acquire the ability to recognize and use a primary source
  • Attain the ability to study a single record and trace its effects over time
  • Study American economic history through primary source documents
  • Trace the effects of primary sources dealing with economic issues over time
  • Apply the resources of the National Archives toward research
  • Analyze the relationship between cultural and historical memory
  • Construct an individual conception of cultural memory
  • Become knowledgeable researchers themselves, and thus better historians

Standards

This unit will help fulfill Pennsylvania’s Academic Standards for Social Studies and reading, writing, speaking and listening. See appendix for details on each standard.

Strategies

The unit will consist of several key social studies skills, especially primary source analysis, historical interpretation, and critical thinking. The three lessons are designed to blend these skills. Also, the lessons are meant to provide ongoing examples of the importance of the National Archives and Records Administration. Primary source analysis provides the foundation of the curriculum unit. Students will use primary source documents drawn from three important events in U.S. history. In learning how to study these sources, students will develop a basic understanding of the function of the National Archives. To provide a better context, while researching these documents students will also be introduced to the history of the National Archives. All three of the primary sources are centered on American economic history. The first document that the students will analyze deals with Jay Cooke and the Panic of 1873. The second document will provide students with the opportunity to understand the ties between economics and politics during wartime via the Committee on Fair Employment Practices. The final document presents students with a court case that involves a struggle over brand names. As students learn how to analyze the primary source documents, they will then apply this skill towards historical interpretation. Accompanying this skill, students will study what types and which records the Archives stores. Finally, students will engage in critical thinking activities within the three lessons provided. Abstract concepts and ideas, such as seeking to define “cultural memory”, and the critical examination of the question, “Why do we need the National Archives?” will serve as enrichment activities that take the task of studying/understanding the National Archives a step further.

Classroom Activities

Lesson #1: Class Trip to the National Archives

Objective:

The objective of this lesson is for students to visit the National Archives MidAtlantic Branch in Philadelphia, PA. Once there, students will view the different types of documents and resources that the Branch has within its possession.

Procedure:

Typically this field trip will take one full school day. Prior to the trip, students should read and review the above stated rationale section in order to give them the proper context. The key to this lesson will be that the students will have the chance to probe various historical records themselves. Upon arrival, students will be given a short tour/presentation about the Archives from an Archives staff member.

During the trip, students will split into groups. Each group will complete one of the following activities:

  • Learning how to use a Microfilm machine for research
  • Using census roll sheets, students will briefly trace the history of several prominent Americans.
  • Studying census information – how far back can they trace their families?
  • View naturalization records – Given five newly naturalized immigrants from a certain time period (preferably the early 20th century), what does the naturalization process tell us about the time period?
  • Studying enumeration districts – Students will research the area of the city where they current live, using National Archives resources (especially enumeration blocks).
Assessment:

Students will present group presentations to the class.

Lesson #2: Jay Cooke and the Panic of 1873

Objective:

Students will learn about the effect of a small group of individuals on the country’s economy. This lesson will culminate with a mock bankruptcy trial, using Jay Cooke and the Panic of 1873 as an example.

Procedure:

This lesson can be used in conjunction with the Reconstruction/Gilded Age chapters of standard American history textbooks. While studying the above chapters, students will research Jay Cooke and the Panic of 1873 in order to give context to the assessment. The final part of this lesson includes a review of the causes of the Panic of 1873 and the relationship between wealthy bankers and government. Jay Cooke (1821-1905) was a wealthy banker and financier. From 1861 to 1873 Cooke headed Jay Cooke & Co., one of the United States’ best-known banking houses. During the Civil War, Cooke’s family connections enabled him to become the chief agent of marketing bonds for the United States government.65 After the Civil War ended, Cooke entered general banking with branches in London and New York. With the profits that Cooke made from bank financing, he ventured into numerous projects involving railroad company speculation.66 The failure to finance a railroad route in the Pacific Northwest led to the subsequent collapse of his own firm in 1872.67 Cooke’s failures, as well as currency inflation, government waste, overinvestment in railroad companies and an adverse trade balance combined to precipitate the Panic of 1873.68 The Stock Market was closed for ten days while bankruptcy overtook many railroad companies. Thousands of other businesses failed and half a million workers lost their jobs. With the absence of organized public relief, a general economic depression devastated the United States for the next seven years.69

Assessment:

Students will perform a mock bankruptcy trial. One side will represent the banking community and Jay Cooke, while the other represents the United States government. Sample materials from the National Archives include the records of assets of Jay Cooke and Co. and a sample of testimony during the trial. Using a classic “mock trial” format, students want to firmly establish not only whether or not Jay Cooke and Co. were guilty, but the degree of their culpability.

Lesson #3: Records of the Committee of Fair Employment Practices

Objective:

Students will review letters and claims of racial/ethnic discrimination during World War II. The lesson will culminate with a research project.

Procedure:

This lesson can be used in conjunction with the World War II chapters of standard textbook. In 1941, civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph threatened to lead a march on Washington D.C. to protest racial discrimination.70 Previously, Randolph successfully fought to increase the minimum wage of Pullman Company porters.71 In the process he garnered the support of both civil rights leaders and ordinary African Americans. Randolph met with President Roosevelt in 1941, demanding that the President put an “end the grossly unfair treatment of Negroes in the armed forces of the United States,” and even threatening a march on Washington D.C. with 25,000 African Americans.72 In response President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802, which outlined the Committee on Fair Employment Practices. A definition of the Committee on Fair Employment Practices is:

“The Committee formulated and interpreted policies to combat racial and religious discrimination in employment; received, investigated and adjusted complaints of such discrimination; and assisted Government agencies, employers, and labor unions with problems of discrimination.”73

In 1948 President Harry Truman issued Executive Order 9981 expanding on the Roosevelt’s Order 8802; 9981 outlawed segregation in the armed forces.74

The key statement of Order 9981 is:

“Whereas it is essential that there be maintained in the armed services of the United States the highest standards of democracy, with equality of treatment and opportunity for all those who serve in our country’s defense…It is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin. This policy shall be put into effect as rapidly as possible, having due regard to the time required to effectuate any necessary changes without impairing efficiency or morale.”75

Executive Orders 8802 and 9981 preceded the legislation that would become the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination based upon race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

The following resources will be provided:

  • A memorandum from Fair Practice Examiner Mildred Greenblatt to Regional Director G. James Fleming assessing her field visit to Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company in Bloomfield, New Jersey.
  • A copy of a sample job application to the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Co., plus a copy of the revised application
  • Letters from Annie Sutherland to Harry J. Barron and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt regarding her husband’s status as a welder. Also, a letter from Barron to the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Co. outlining the objective of the Committee on Fair Employment Practices. Finally, copies of the advertisements used in Mrs. Sutherland’s letters.
Assessment:

Using idea’s and documents available on NARA’s website, students will choose an individual to research. The main focus of the research project will be the impact that an individual can have on a society. Using Annie Sutherland’s letters as an example, the students will study how individuals in America have the right to petition government on a number of issues. This will tie in with one of the overall themes of the curriculum unit: the accessibility of government via the National Archives.

Lesson #4: Civil Action: Anheuser-Busch Inc. v. Du Bois Brewing Co.

Objective:

Students will study a court case that battles over one of the most famous trade names in America: Budweiser. The lesson will culminate with a project concerning popular brand names. Procedure:
This lesson can be used in any section of a course on 20th century U.S. history. The following is a short summary of the case:

Before 1876, the term Budweiser simply represented any kind of beer brewed in Budweis, Bohemia that was sold in Europe and the United States. Therefore, many different breweries had the name “Budweiser” in the company name and/or logo. In this case, Anheuser-Busch Inc.’s (plaintiff) “Budweiser Lager Beer” came to be known and recognized as the “Budweiser” due to public acceptance and advertising. On this basis, the plaintiff claims that “Budweiser” cannot be used by any other brewing company. By 1905, although the other imitations of Budweiser beer had been forgotten, Du Bois Brewing Co. (defendant) introduced its own “Du Bois Budweiser Beer”. This beer met with certain success, and as a result, was taken to court by Anheuser-Busch. The plaintiff brought suit against the defendant in 1908, but withdrew the suit in 1909. Between 1909 and 1940, sales for both brands grew, with the plaintiff consciously aware that the defendant was making a profit from its Budweiser brand. However, after buying the Bohemian breweries that produced “Budweis” style beer, the plaintiff once again brought the suit to prevent the defendant from using the word in its present trade name.

Taken from “Statement of Question Involved”:

“Should the Courts forbid defendant any further use of the word “Budweiser” in the trade name of its beer?”

Students will review the following case documents from the United States Court of Appeals:

  • The Bill of Complaint
  • Statement of the Question Involved
  • Argument – The Controlling Question: Was “Budweiser,” in 1905, a Trade Mark Open to Lawful Use Only by the Plaintiff”
  • Plaintiff’s Exhibits – Other instances of the use of the “Budweis” name
Assessment:

What’s in a name? Students will discuss and form groups that analyze different popular brand names that are in the world today. By studying the above court case, students will choose a popular brand name and measure the company’s success over time. Ideally students will choose companies that have experienced ebbs and flows in success in order to better measure what it takes to become a recognized brand name. An alternate assessment would be to have students study brand names or products that didn’t achieve success, i.e. “New Coke” or “Clear Pepsi.”

Lesson #4: What would you want to put in the National Archives?

Objective:

The objective of this lesson is for students to decide upon five objects that they would put into a personal archive or time capsule.

Procedure:

This lesson can be used in conjunction with any social studies class. During the course of the curriculum unit students will learn about the different types of records that the government stores in the National Archives. As amateur historians, the students will take into account the influence of these unique records and their effects on cultural memory. This lesson blends the goals of preservation with the individuality that each student can offer to create their own archives or time capsule. The key question that this final lesson seeks to answer is, “What five objects would you want to preserve in your personal archives/time capsule, and why?” The following is a set of questions that the students may choose to explore while choosing their five items:

  • Are your items recognizable? Will people outside of your peer group understand why you picked these items?
  • Do your items serve as a personal need, or a societal need?
  • Describe the thoughts of someone finding your archives in 100 years.
  • What types of objects would be in the archives/time capsule 100 years ago?
  • Should everyone be required to keep their own archives?
  • How does subjectivity play a role in your selections?
  • Why do people want to preserve their memories through records?

When picking the five objects, students should focus on the long-term effects of their choices, i.e. how would someone respond to the discovery of their archives 100 years from now.

Assessment:

The students will complete their list and answer the questions from above. Students will also want to explore the overarching question of the curriculum unit, that is “Why do we need a National Archives?”

Annotated Bibliography/Resources

Teacher Bibliography

Author Unknown. Court Case Information for Court Bicentennial PSAs. Philadelphia: National Archives and Records Administration, 1976. The National Archives MidAtlantic Branch’s official description of Jay Cooke’s bankruptcy case.

Blake, Kellee J. and Nancy Malan . Guide to Records in the National Archives – MidAtlantic Region. Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1995. A guide to the records that the National Archives Mid-Atlantic Branch holds in storage.

“Executive Order 9981 – 50th Anniversary of the Desegregation of the Armed Services.” Truman Library – Executive Order 9981 . 1998 . Harry S. Truman Library . 21 May 2007. <http://www.trumanlibrary.org/9981.htm> . The Harry S. Truman Presidential Library website, which contains information on Truman’s terms as President.

Gondos Jr., Victor . J. Franklin Jameson and the Birth of the National Archives 19061926 . University of Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981. This book focuses on historian J. Franklin Jameson’s role in the creation of the National Archives during the early part of the 20th century.

Jones, H.G. The Records of a Nation: Their Management, Preservation, and Use. New York: Atheneum, 1969. An account of the Federal government’s record-keeping organization: the National Archives.

Levy, Burton . “The Bureaucracy of Race: Enforcement of Civil Rights Laws and its Impact on People, Process, and Organization.” Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 2, No. 1. (Sep., 1971): 77-105. An article discussing the issue of civil rights and how the struggle for civil rights affected government policy.

Licht, Walter. Industrializing America: The Nineteenth Century. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995. A detailed argument over the definition of industrialization in the United States during the 19th century.

Sturken, Marita . Tangled Memories. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997. A study of public, cultural, and historical memory/events and their effects on preservation and memorials.

The Transformation of the Racial Views of Harry Truman. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, No. 26 (Winter, 1999): 28-30. An article that discusses how the role of race in impacted Truman and his presidency.

Villard, Oswald Garrison . “Phylon Profile, XIII: A. Philip Randolph.” Phylon, Vol. 8, No. 3. (3rd Qtr., 1947): 225-229. A brief article reviewing the work of Civil Rights Leader A. Philip Randolph, in particular his threatened march on Washington D.C.

Viola, Herman J. The National Archives of the United States. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. , 1984. A picture-driven overview of the types of records that the Archives has in its holdings.

Walch, Timothy . Guardian of Heritage . Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1985. A collection of articles and essays that analyze the growth and impact of the National Archives.

Teacher Web Resources

U.S National Archives and Records Administration <http://www.archives.gov/>This is the main site for the National Archives. It includes answers to frequently asked questions, activities for students and teachers, as well as resources for researchers.

Student Bibliography Student Web Resources

U.S National Archives and Records Administration <http://www.archives.gov/>This is the main site for the National Archives. It includes answers to frequently asked questions, activities for students and teachers, as well as resources for researchers.

Appendices-Standards

The Curriculum Unit emphasizes the following Pennsylvania Academic Standards for History:

8.1 Historical Analysis and Skills Development

8.1.9. GRADE 9 A. Analyze chronological thinking B. Analyze and interpret historical sources. C. Analyze the fundamentals of historical interpretation. D. Analyze and interpret historical research.

8.1.12. GRADE 12 A. Evaluate chronological thinking B. Synthesize and evaluate historical sources C. Evaluate historical interpretation of events D. Synthesize historical research

8.2 Pennsylvania History

8.2.9. GRADE 9 A. Analyze the political and cultural contributions of individuals and groups to Pennsylvania history from 1787 to 1914. B. Identify and analyze primary documents, material artifacts and historic sites important in Pennsylvania history from 1787 to 1914. C. Identify and analyze how continuity and change have influenced Pennsylvania history from the 1787 to 1914.

8.2.12. GRADE 12

A. Evaluate the political and cultural contributions of individuals and groups to Pennsylvania history from 1890 to Present. B. Identify and evaluate primary documents, material artifacts and historic sites important in Pennsylvania history from 1890 to Present. C. Identify and evaluate how continuity and change have influenced Pennsylvania history from the 1890s to Present. D. Identify and evaluate conflict and cooperation among social groups and organizations in Pennsylvania history from 1890 to Present.
8.3 United States History

8.3.9. GRADE 9

A. Identify and analyze the political and cultural contributions of individuals and groups to United States history from 1787 to 1914. B. Identify and analyze primary documents, material artifacts and historic sites important in United States history from 1787 to 1914. C. Analyze how continuity and change has influenced United States history from 1787 to 1914.

D. Identify and analyze conflict and cooperation among social groups and organizations in United States history from 1787 to 1914.

8.3.12. GRADE 12

A. Identify and evaluate the political and cultural contributions of individuals and groups to United States history from 1890 to Present. B. Identify and evaluate primary documents, material artifacts and historic sites important in United States history from 1890 to Present. C. Evaluate how continuity and change has influenced United States history from 1890 to Present. D. Identify and evaluate conflict and cooperation among social groups and organizations in United States history from 1890 to the Present.