Citizen Archivists: Engage with and Explore the Archives


An independent researcher is any civilian,
not a government employee, who operates out of the National Archives performing research
for themselves, clients or practically anyone. I’m Jonathan Webb Deiss, I am an independent
researcher. I was lucky enough to be hired to research
some Revolutionary War records and had to look in the records of the Senate. I found
a diary in those files that was dated 1780. It was put in the records of the Senate in
1836 and basically lay unrecognized until this day. I apparently was the first person
to understand its importance and its significance and flag it. And I call that a “citizen archivist.”
I’m David Ferriero. I’m the Archivist of the United States. We have ten billion
items in the Archives collection. And we don’t have the staff to actually work through and
read every piece of paper that we have in the collection. So that’s why engaging the
people who are actually using the collection is a way for enhancing what we know about
them. What I’m doing now is inking, this is a
stage in comics that comes after penciling. My name is Jon White. I’m an educational
cartoonist and designer, living here in Washington, D.C. The National Archives maintains a feature
on their website called, “Today’s Document.” What I thought to do in early 2010 was to
take each one of those pieces a few times a week and reinterpret it with an eye for
a younger audience. I don’t think anyone has yet drawn General
Washington just after the Battle of Trenton eating a burger. We’re actually experimenting with the various
kinds of activities to engage citizen archivists. We’ve just launched a wiki, an interactive
website, where we can encourage our researchers to share with us what they learned. We’re doing some volunteer work, digitizing
the enlistment papers of Indian scouts. We will be putting the records online and linking
them to the new “Our Archives” wiki. This is my website, “todaysdocument.com.”
The actual event here is the impeachment of Andrew Johnson. This is a scene from, I suppose,
a heaven of great presidents. You’ll notice that Andrew Johnson is ostracized. We’ve all seen these documents on microfilm
and we’ve all seen them in reproductions but to actually find one is extremely rare.
It’s been pulled from the records, it was sent to conservation who then did some preservation
work on it and it’s now currently in the vaults. It’s locked away. Give us some ideas of other ways that we might
involve you in this “citizen archivist” program.

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