Recently I came across a story about an archives in a box of Corn Flakes. A woman in Tennessee had stored some 400 letters written by former German prisoners-of-war who had lived in camp near the state’s southern border. After the war was over, many of the POWs wrote to the people in the community, often addressing the Americans as family, such as “aunt” or “uncle,” asking for help, and sharing the stories of their lives.
The family donated the letters to Lipscomb University in Nashville, and through a small re-grant from the Tennessee Historical Records Advisory Board made possible through the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), they are being transcribed, translated, and made available in digital form online. See the ABC News story here.
I am constantly surprised at what turns up from work supported by the National Archives through the NHPRC. Not just the small gems that turn up through the state boards, but large-scale projects as well—from the creation of municipal archives in cities like Boston, Seattle, and San Antonio to the publication of the papers of 16 U.S. Presidents on microfilm, print, and online editions. And it has enabled the National Archives to fund professional development for archives and historical editors and in research and development in electronic records management, Encoded Archival Description, and much more.
In turn, this investment helps historians write new histories—including several Pulitzer Prize books; teachers introduce primary source materials in the classroom; and family historians and local historical societies discover lost treasures.
As Chair of the Commission, I get to see first-hand how this work complements the mission of the National Archives. Through a small, but catalytic, grants program we make access happen and help tell the American story in so many different ways.
Over the past year, we have been engaged in a Strategic Planning process and have developed a preliminary framework of goals for the future. I invite you to take a look at a short presentation on NARA’s YouTube channel. And to read the preliminary framework at our Annotation blog.
Briefly put, the framework looks for the Commission to make access happen; to encourage people to become Citizen Archivists and engage directly in archives; and to enable the National Archives to provide leadership opportunities.
The Plan is open for discussion. We have scheduled webinars, are holding sessions at national conferences, and welcome your input. We’re listening. We want your ideas.