What is Past is Prologue: Appointing the first Historian of the National Archives

Earlier this year, Jessie Kratz was appointed Historian of the National Archives—our first!  Jessie has been with the Archives nearly 15 years—most recently on staff at the Center for Legislative Archives.

Over the years, many staff members have informally filled that role in various capacities and I want to thank them for recognizing the importance of our own history.  Ironically, the National Archives, the repository of the nation’s history, had no historian of its own.  I have come to appreciate the work that the historians across the Federal government do and am so pleased that we join the ranks of those Agency and Congressional historians.

Upon accepting the job, Jessie’s first priority was to create the National Archives History Office to ensure our agency’s history is retained. She is working to make sure the official records created by the National Archives are preserved and accessible for research.

What is Past is Prologue statue

“What is Past is Prologue”, inscribed on Future (1935, Robert Aitken) located on the northeast corner of the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of user: Salticidae on Flickr

Jessie’s office will also be accepting non-record material— this includes memoirs, collections of original photographs and letters, memorabilia, diaries, maps and other historical documents that help tell the story of the National Archives but would not otherwise be preserved in the official records of the National Archives. Please contact her if you would like to donate any material you feel is important to our agency’s history.

Part of Jessie’s role is to educate both Archives staff and the public on the history of the National Archives and the importance of its role in our government. Internally, Jessie writes for staff blogs and a recurring column in the staff newsletter, Declarations, about topics related to Archives history. Through these efforts, Jessie hopes to help build employee morale and play her part in making the National Archives a great place to work.

She is also laying the groundwork for a program for National Archives oral histories. She is now chair of the National Archives Assembly’s Legacy Committee—the entity that had previously conducted agency oral histories. She is working with the committee to put existing oral histories online, and to build a strong oral history tradition at the National Archives moving forward.

Jessie has also provided an important service to the National Archives through her involvement with other agency historians and professional organizations.

For instance, she serves as the National Archives representative to the Society for History in the Federal Government (SHFG), the professional organization of academic and government historians that promotes the use of archival holdings in historical research. The National Archives has had a long relationship with the SHFG, and she will build on that relationship.

For the public, Jessie has created a new, customer-friendly National Archives History Office website. There, you can learn about past Archivists, look at historical photographs of the National Archives Building in Washington DC, consult a historical bibliography or browse through a timeline of the National Archives history.

Jessie will add more content to this website in the coming months. She has created a new public email address: Archives.Historian@nara.gov to answer public reference requests. She has already taken on a number of research requests from both the public and staff, including researching National Archives history for me.

To assist with the myriad of activities in which her office is involved, Jessie established a History Office intern program and hired her first, unpaid intern—more information about the History Office internships can be found here: http://www.archives.gov/about/history/internships.html

Now that the History Office is up and running, Jessie is looking towards other long term projects—such as coordinating with the Public Programs staff to organize conferences and lectures on National Archives History, developing regular public programs and staff orientations, and writing articles and other publications about the History of the National Archives.

You’ll be hearing more from and about Jessie as she takes charge of our history.  Send her your suggestions and ideas.


3 thoughts on “What is Past is Prologue: Appointing the first Historian of the National Archives

  1. Congratulations to Jessie Kratz! I have appreciated her expertise in the congressional collections world and wish her all the best in this new venture.

  2. Kudos to Jessie and her work in opening the office and hitting the ground running. As her office matures, I agree: it would be nice to see more internal outreach (noon time lectures, articles, etc.) and external outreach at MARAC and SHFG, etc. and in articles.

    What might be a good way to dive in, would be to have her office ask staff for suggestions for topics. i know she would receive many great suggestions that also could support her information-gathering efforts.

  3. Congrats again to Jessie, whom I very much enjoyed meeting and congratulating earlier this year! As a former NARA employee, now a Fed historian and member of SHFG, I really like the way David’s post sets out vision, goals and objectives. And John, you make some really good points. NARA already works with SHFG and MARAC and this adds ways to do even more. I would add, Jessie could ask past as well as present NARA staff for suggestions for topics. Some topics suggested by present and former staff might be more doable than others. But the value in engagement, right there, would make it worth in reaching out. Another cool way to get us involved is to invite present and former staff to provide identifying information for images in the great History section in NARA’s Flickr feed to which the History Office links.

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