In the archival world, October has been recognized as American Archives Month. Join in the cross-country festivities by finding an event near you.
Continuing the Legacy of the American Archive
America’s archives hold the treasures of our past, provide transparency in our present, and build insight into our future. So file away that dusty belief that archives are relics of the past that have long since lost their modern relevance.
Archives have risen from the rubble of misconceived redundancy to build a bridge that unifies our past with our present. They remain a cultural stronghold. As technological capabilities grow, so does archival accessibility for the greater public good.
What Are Archives?
Our first thoughts when we reflect on archives, their mission, and their purpose may lead to likening them to a library. This makes sense—libraries are where we find ourselves inquiring about topics, learning, and gathering information. However, archives have a significant uniqueness when compared to a library. While you may pore through books to acquire information at a library, it is less likely that you will find primary sources (or first-account records) on the shelves for your perusal.
Archives are where primary sources bloom. Primary sources—letters, photographs, postcards, recordings, film, maps, and the like—are paramount to archival collections. Archives are a location (physical or digital) where we can connect with historical content as well as current records.
Archives play an integral role in preserving our cultural heritage, ensuring that we have reliable information assets to support individuals’, governments’, and societies’ increasing information needs, such as genealogical records and ledgers. The archive is the entrusted caretaker of these resources.
You may start to see the parallel between archival collections for public consumption and your own personal collections of items. As individuals, when we gather items that hold intrinsic value—for example, when we document occurrences and events in our life or the lives of those close to us—they form meaningful collections of artifacts. A personal collection of artifacts is an archive in its own right.
This is only an overview of what an archive is; the totality goes far deeper. If archives have piqued your interest, October is the time to discover the archival institutions in your area.
American Archives Month
American Archives Month is a time to draw attention and pay tribute to the individuals and institutions that safeguard and preserve our country’s cultural heritage and historical and living records. There are many ways you can participate in American Archives Month, whether you reside in an urban, suburban, or rural community. On a national scale, there is the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Its holdings are diverse: veterans’ service records, genealogy records, and America’s founding documents, to name a few. Most states and large cities also have designated archival holdings, whether the institution housing them or the collection is officially titled an archive or not.
There’s no formal archival institution in your area? No problem. Your community may have a historical society. Historical societies are rich with artifacts and ephemera and act as their own local or regional archive. A fitting example is our nation’s first organization of this kind, the Massachusetts Historical Society, which includes archival resources such as presidential papers, photographs, and manuscripts. Your local historical society may even have events planned for American Archives Month.
Events Highlight: The Sacramento Archives Crawl
One of the most innovative and relatable ways to engage a broad audience in archive exploration can be found in Sacramento, Calif., and is known as the Sacramento Archives Crawl. We can only speculate that it was inspired by a pub crawl—although in this case, with a cultural heritage twist.
On Oct. 6, the Sacramento Archives Crawl will give participants a firsthand look at archival and special collections materials while providing enlightenment on the relevancy and necessity of archives. As visitors go from archive to archive, they will bring along their trusty archival-sanctioned passport to collect stamps as they view artifacts of interest. According to the event’s blog, “Crawlers tour among four host archives in Sacramento, gathering stamps in their passports as they view treasures from dozens of archives and special collections libraries, visit with archivists, and go on special behind-the-scenes tours.” For more information, the Sacramento Archives Crawl also has a Facebook page.
Events Highlight: The National Archives
The National Archives provides online visitors with copious research tools, including a guide to federal records, the Access to Archival Databases (AAD) site, a microfilm catalog, and records that have been digitized by partners. If you plan to visit the National Archives in person, you will have additional resources at your fingertips.
For those on social media, the National Archives has done its due diligence in linking website visitors to its social media and digital engagement accounts as well as to those of its partner institutions across the country. It also has a webpage dedicated to American Archives Month and its corresponding events.
In addition, Oct. 3 will be Ask an Archivist Day. You can ask an archivist your questions via Twitter using #AskAnArchivist.
If you are looking for an in-person event, on Oct. 4, several archives in Washington, D.C., will be holding an Archives Fair. The theme is Crossing Generations, Bridging Communities.
Archives offer a great way to get involved in your community or state or even at the national level. Volunteering for a local archival site or historical society will bring you face to face with the value these organizations provide.
The National Archives even has a Citizen Archivist program that is not limited to American Archives Month. After registering online, you can “contribute to the National Archives Catalog by tagging, transcribing and adding comments to our records, making them more accessible and searchable,” according to the website.
The archival community works tirelessly to provide transparency and public access to resources. Assets recording our nation’s history as well as current events give us, as a people, insight into our cultural heritage—with the added benefit of their availability for future generations and use.