Of all documents and materials created in the course
of business conducted by the United States Federal government,
only 1%-3% is so important, for legal or historical reasons
that they are kept by us forever. By 1926, it was clear
that a national storehouse was needed, so Congress authorized
the Public Buildings Act to create the National Archives
in Washington DC. Of all the Washington DC sights, none
is more demonstrative of our beloved Freedom of Information.
The neoclassical structure of the US National Archives
itself, is one of the most imposing Washington DC sights.
Designed in the 1930s by John Russell Pope (also the architect
of the National
Gallery of Art and the Jefferson
Memorial) it provides a striking architectural illustration
of the style known as beaux arts. Over seventy Greek columns
adorn its four sides, and enormous doors made of bronze
open onto Constitution Avenue. A statue on a pedestal,
signifying Heritage, The Past, Guardianship and The Future,
marks each entrance.
As a government office, the National Archives in Washington DC is responsible for meticulously reviewing the ongoing documentation pertinent to our nation"s official business, deciding what to save and what to eliminate. The US National Archives is public; anyone may come here and conduct genealogical research, or any other historical inquiry. The famous "Roots" series began here, as author Alex Haley sifted through two centuries of documents pertaining to the census, military, immigration, customs and maps. Photos and films have also been donated throughout history, bringing the research alive.
A recent renovation, known as "The National Archives Experience," has transformed the great domed hall and added current exhibit spaces that make it much easier for children and wheelchair-bound visitors to see and appreciate the Charters of Freedom. These include the Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Fourteen new document cases trace the story of the creation of the Charters and the ongoing influence of these fundamental documents on the nation and the world.
Millions come every year to use the National Archives in Washington DC"s public vaults, whether for genealogical purposes, to read presidential notes and journals, or to find military records for veterans, to prove their eligibility for benefits. Exhibits here feature interactive technology and displays of documents and artifacts to explain our country"s development in the use of records, from land records, from Indian treaties to presidential websites. The recently designed exhibit area includes a theater that, during the day, regularly shows theatrical movies showing the connection between democratic freedoms and archives in people"s lives.
When visiting Washington DC, the birthplace of democracy as we know it, visiting the US National Archives serves as a fascinating reminder that we live in an open society, where people who want answers are entitled to public information with which to find them.