Pork and Fort Sumter: New Ways of Relating to our Documents

At the National Archives and Records Administration, our unique role as the nation’s records keeper is critical to the success of the President’s open government initiative.  Our work serves American democracy by safeguarding and preserving the records of our Government, ensuring that the people can discover, use, and learn from this documentary heritage.  I think this role is the most important, but then again, I might be a little too biased.

As the Archivist of the United States, I’m concerned that records management is not taken more seriously by Federal departments and agencies.  In my last post, I pointed to specific concerns found in a recent self-assessment report, including improper destruction of records.  I’m also concerned that more Americans aren’t troubled by this state of affairs.  One reason why Americans might not be more concerned is that they aren’t really aware of what happens to government records and why they are important.

I think it’s time we create new ways to tell our story.  Transparency, participation, and collaboration can help us change the way we talk about our work and our institution.  I’m challenging us to take a new approach and start communicating in more collaborative ways.

Recently, I discovered the website, “Today’s Document (Illustrated)” by Jon White.  Jon has taken our “Today’s Document” RSS feed and develops an illustration that is somehow related to the document.  He manages to make seemingly staid documents relatable and funny.  His fresh take on presenting history and highlighting documents makes an impression on those who might not be reached by traditional presentations of our records.

Jon uses the following National Archives’ record entitled, “Telegram from Major Robert Anderson to Hon. Simon Cameron, Secretary, announcing his withdrawal from Fort Sumter, April 18, 1861.”


In Jon’s take on the document, he sees that the Major mentions that pork was the only provision left.


As an educational designer, and someone I consider a citizen archivist, Jon White is helping people relate to our documents in a new and engaging way.  Keep in mind that we need different ways to help Americans discover and relate to their documents.

Jon says on his website, “I always took the stories of American exceptionalism to heart.”  I thank you, Jon, for building your own kind of American exceptionalism and inspiring others to do the same.

As an institution, we are often challenged by forces outside our own walls.  This is a fundamental aspect of an open government.  Citizens can contribute and enhance the work we do.  Embracing this and welcoming it will encourage participation and collaboration.  This isn’t Fort Sumter, we’re not under attack.  Let’s be open and see what ideas come in.

Are you aware of other unique projects that are helping people relate to records?

For Further Information:

We have provided the previous links because they have information that may interest you.  These links are not an endorsement by the National Archives of the opinions, products, or services presented on these sites or any sites linked to them.  The National Archives is not responsible for the legality or accuracy of information on these sites, the policies, or for any costs incurred while using the sites.

2 thoughts on “Pork and Fort Sumter: New Ways of Relating to our Documents

  1. As the wife of a British archivist, I’ve got a real appreciation now for the work you people do. We’re going to come and visit the National Archives in the US at some stage.

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