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Aug 15, 2018 Washington, DC —
This month, leaders from presidential sites and libraries across the country as well as presidential descendants will convene in Washington for the Presidential Sites Summit. To celebrate this historic meeting, the White House Historical Association has released the latest episode of The 1600 Sessions podcast: “Preserving Presidential History”, exploring the role of the National Archives and the Archivist of the United States in the collection and preservation of presidential records and objects.
In this fascinating discussion, White House Historical Association President Stewart McLaurin speaks with David S. Ferriero, the 10th and current Archivist of the United States, about his oversight of the National Archives, which collects and preserves presidential history in the nation’s capital and across the country where items are housed in various presidential libraries.
Ferriero outlines the origin and purpose of the National Archives, which has collected and preserved records of the United States since 1934: “It wasn't until the Franklin Roosevelt administration that this country got serious about its records… Roosevelt, who I'm convinced was a closet archivist himself…signed the legislation in 1934 that created the National Archives. He also hired the first archivist, Robert Connor.” Ferriero describes difficulties Connor had as he was wandering around town and trying to figure out where the records were and discovered that they were stored in attics and basements and subject to fire, theft and floods.
McLaurin and Ferriero also reflect on the organized system of presidential libraries and their relationship with the National Archives, unique to the United States: “We're often visited by archivists and other folks and foreign governments to learn about the presidential library system…there have been attempts to model what we have but I don't believe any country has created legislation that mandates the collection of presidential papers by its government.” McLaurin notes the importance of accessibility to these records for scholars, students, researchers, and journalists. From August 27-30, representatives from presidential libraries will gather in Washington for the Presidential Sites Summit, hosted by the White House Historical Association, to discuss topics such as the digitization of records, the importance of education and philanthropy, and presidential history through memory.
Ferriero also discusses the National Archives and its successful system for engaging and teaching students in Washington and across the country: “I'm especially pleased and interested to see the work that goes on in those presidential libraries that are on campuses…there's great opportunities for collaboration with faculty and students and with policy centers.” At home in Washington, he has found an innovative way to engage young historians: “When I became the archivist and walked into that [Archives] rotunda I said ‘Aha! There it is. Sleep over right here on the floor of this rotunda’… And twice a year we now have in October and February, about 100 kids with an adult who spend the night with us. They come on a Saturday night and we have a whole evening's worth of activities for them- scavenger hunt, readings, film, all kinds of activities.”
When asked about the scope of digitizing the records of modern presidents, Ferriero gives a startling perspective: “We started collecting e-mail during the Reagan administration, so between Reagan and Bush 41, about 2.5 million e-mail messages, twenty million from the Clinton White House, 210 million from Bush 43, and 300 million from the Obama administration. So that tells you the direction that we are headed. And that also tells you what keeps me up at night in terms of being able to manage large electronic files and ensure that they are going to be available in perpetuity.”
As the National Archives tackles 21st century recordkeeping, continues its involvement with presidential libraries and universities across the nation, and inspires future generations of Americans to connect with past presidents, the mission of the National Archives remains the same – to ensure that records and history are maintained, preserved, and made available forever.
About The 1600 Sessions
In this podcast series, White House Historical Association President Stewart McLaurin interviews luminaries, historians, and eyewitnesses to history about America’s most famous residence and office—the White House. Each episode includes a prominent guest or guests to discuss varying facets of White House history, including insights from former staff and many other topical issues.
About the white house historical association
First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy envisioned a restored White House that conveyed a sense of history through its decorative and fine arts. She sought to inspire Americans, especially children, to explore and engage with American history and its presidents. In 1961, the White House Historical Association was established to support her vision to preserve and share the Executive Mansion’s legacy for generations to come. Supported entirely by private resources, the Association’s mission is to assist in the preservation of the state and public rooms, fund acquisitions for the White House permanent collection, and educate the public on the history of the White House. Since its founding, the Association has given more than $45 million to the White House in fulfillment of its mission.
To learn more about the White House Historical Association, please visit WhiteHouseHistory.org.