The National Archives Building in Washington, D.C. includes a rotunda with an exhibit hall and museum as well as a research building. Admission to the rotunda and exhibit hall is free. Visitors to the National Archives begin their tour at the McGowan Theater with a brief film highlighting the role of the National Archives in preserving American history. Visitors then continue to the rotunda, where they may view the United States Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights; collectively referred to as the Charters of Freedom. The Faulkner murals, two large murals in the rotunda, painted in 1936, offer a fictional representation of the presentation of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Other galleries include the David M Rubenstein Gallery, which is home to a permanent exhibition on Records of Rights. In this exhibit, visitors explore how generations of Americans defined and defended the Bill of Rights throughout the history of the nation. Original documents and reproductions are presented in an interactive exhibit debating issues such as free speech, citizenship, equal rights, and voting rights. In the Public Vaults, visitors are offered a simulation of what it’s like to go back into the vaults and stacks of the library for research. This exhibit also showcases some of the most fascinating letters, films, and videos from the collection and offers visitors a chance to make their own discoveries through interactive displays. In the East Rotunda Gallery, a select “featured document” is displayed in partnership with the National Archives Foundation.
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Visitors interested in the archives may use them to research family history and ancestry, military records, or federal records. The database may be searched online, in person, or through the use of a hired researcher. Each year, billions of documents are researched through the National Archives, including photographs, letters, audio recordings, maps, treaties, historical documents, and presidential papers. Examples of what one might find include the original arrest warrant for President John F Kennedy’s accused assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, or the notes from President Ronald Regan’s speech in 1987 at the Berlin Wall. The archives are popular with genealogists, who search past census records, immigrant arrival records, and naturalization records.
History: The National Archives and Records Administration, or NARA, was established in 1934 by President Franklin D Roosevelt. The purpose of the NARA is to serve as the record keeper of all federal documents deemed to have “enduring value.” On average, this is less than 3 percent of all materials and documents created in the course of government business. The archives building was designed by architect John Russell Pope, with the goal of complementing other national monuments such as the Lincoln Memorial, the White House, and the Capitol Building. In the 1960s, when the original building reached capacity, many of the archives were moved to regional archives in other states. An addition to the original building was designed in 1993 to accommodate the ever-growing collection. Current holdings span the 18th century to the present and are stored in almost 2 million cubic feet of space. The Records Administration manages the National Archives as well as the regional archives, the federal records centers and the Presidential Libraries.
Ongoing Programs and Education: The Archives Building offers a wide range of educational programming. Story time for children gives 3-5 year-olds the opportunity to practice listening skills, make crafts, and sing songs. The current theme is Race to Space, and there is a different theme each month. Help, I’m Stuck! offers visitors 20-minute genealogy consultation appointments at the microfilm research desk. Genealogy workshops are among the most popular offerings and inform attendees on how to best get started with genealogical searches. Lectures offer a wide variety of subjects. Ties that Bound: Founding First Ladies and Slaves examines the relationships between America’s first ladies and their slaves with the author Marie Jenkins Schwartz.
The Boeing Learning Center is the headquarters for student visits to the National Archives. In the resource room here, visitors may drop in to participate in interactive, hands-on activities such as white-glove handling and preservation of documents. In the Learning Lab, students work in replica storage and research spaces to learn about research and analysis via primary sources.
Past and Future Exhibits: Rotating exhibits at the National Archives Museum offer detailed explorations of records of the archives. Amending America is on display through September 2017 and explores the 27 times the Constitution has been amended, out of 11,000 attempts. The Featured Document Exhibit has in the past displayed such items as the credentials of Jeannette Rankin, the first woman to be sworn in as a member of Congress in 1917, and the Inaugural Bible, upon which George Washington was sworn in as President of the United States.
Back to: Washington, D.C.
700 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20408, Phone: 866-272-6272