Research in the Archives

Last week 27 people traveled from all over the country, and even across the Atlantic Ocean, to visit the FDR Library’s research room. They came to interact with the estimated 17 million pages of primary source materials housed here within nearly 400 separate manuscript collections related to the Great Depression, the New Deal, and World War II.

FDRL Research Room
A view of the FDR Library research room on Tuesday, June 26, 2012.

FDR strongly believed that the records of government — those created by presidents, civil servants, and citizens alike — should be preserved, organized, and kept open for future generations. In developing this Library, he envisioned an institution both an archives and museum, to become a center for the study of the entire Roosevelt era.

In 1939 as plans for the Library were still being drawn, Roosevelt said of his voluminous papers:

I have destroyed practically nothing. As a result, we have a mine for which future historians will curse as well as praise me. It is a mine which will need to have the dross sifted from the gold.

He went on to say that neither he nor any scholar of his age could do that “sifting” task appropriately.  Instead, we:

[…]must wait for that dim, distant period […] when the definitive history of this particular era will come to be written.

Today’s generations of researchers are some of the very people FDR sought to reach.

FDRL Research Room
Research topics on Tuesday included education policy analysis; a study of the “Clergy Letters” detailing New Deal programs in rural communities; and Harry Hopkins’ wartime correspondence.

Vision for the Future of Democracy

71 years ago the Nation’s first Presidential Library opened its doors to researchers and museum visitors. In June of 1941 the threat of world war loomed heavily over the opening day proceedings. In his dedication address FDR said:

And this latest addition to the archives of America is dedicated at a moment when government of the people by themselves is being attacked everywhere. It is, therefore, proof—if any proof is needed—that our confidence in the future of democracy has not diminished in this Nation and will not diminish. 

There are now 13 Presidential Libraries within the National Archives and Records Administration, including one for every U.S. President since FDR.

Above: Watch a newsreel reporting on the Library opening

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