Friday, September 12, 2014

Visiting the National Archives, Southeast Region

By Margaret Duncan, Ed.D.

Recently, I was able to visit and tour the National Archives Southeast Region, located just south of Atlanta. My tour guide was Joel Walker, the Archives Education Specialist.  I have been fortunate enough to have spent a great deal of time at the Archives in the last decade, thanks to being part of several Teaching American History grants.  There is plenty to do and see, as well as research at the archives.

NARA Educational Specialist Joel Walker
The National Archives is free to use and has changed over the years in how it accommodates researchers.  When originally built in 2005, it boasted a large Microfilm Research Room.  However, over time the area repurposed to hold temporary exhibits and the microfilm stations were scaled down to compliment the adjoining Archival Research Room.  Some of the exhibits it has hosted include We'll Back Our Boys: The Southern Home Front During WWII and the Secret City in the Tennessee Hills: From Dogpatch to Nuclear Power.

The archives has extensive microfilm holdings that are used frequently by researchers for genealogy research and general historical interest.  It boasts the largest collections for the Tennessee Valley Authority, NASA, and Atomic Energy.  It also recently acquired a large amount of documents from NASA, including the Challenger investigation photos.  Currently, the facility has over 180,000 cubic feet of archival holdings dating from 1716 to the 1980s.  There are literally stacks of textual records, maps, photographs (in its own cold storage), and architectural drawings.

One of the challenges of the archives is combating public perception versus reality.  Much of the public who visit the Archives expect it to be a family history or genealogical society center.  In other words, a physical  In fact, Joel noted that many visitors think NARA operates, when in fact they don’t., digitizes much of the NARA documents, and has an agreement with the Archives making access to its website free of charge when accessed within the Archives.

Moving past the perception problems, Joel mentioned that a lot of people do indeed visit and use the Archival Research Room.  Over the last decade, the archives has made a concerted effort to reach out to universities.  As such, local universities like Clayton State, Georgia State, Georgia Tech, and Emory use the archives frequently.  The universities often send students to complete research at the facility and at times have even held classes in the large meeting space.   

Joel is also responsible for creating the yearly symposiums at the Archives.  The annual September symposium has had attendees from multiple states and universities.  The 2014 Seminar is titled The Valley of the Dams: Impact and Legacy of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is about the story of the TVA.   The symposium will cover the creation and the continuation of the TVA.  According to the literature, “Its impact on the electrification of the South, national defense, the evolution of the post-war economy, the environment, and the development of alternative power sources, among other topics, make the records of the Tennessee Valley Authority worthy of analytical investigation. The staff of the National Archives at Atlanta invites you to take part in our third annual scholarly symposium promoting the rich historical records within our holdings.”  The symposiums in the past have attracted participants from several states and have been standing room only crowds. 

As a teacher, one of the wonderful holding of the Archives that I have used in my classroom is the World War I Draft Cards.  At NARA SE Region, every WWI draft card is located in the facility except for Alvin York’s, his is on display in Washington.  There are also a number of WWI public debt scrapbooks, and propaganda posters. 

Overall, whether as a teacher or a citizen, the National Archives SE Region has something for you to experience and research.  We highly recommend taking a trip through time in the Archives.


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