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Prepared remarks of Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero at the inaugural meeting of the Founding Fathers Advisory Committee. Washington, DC.

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David S. Ferriero
David S. Ferriero The Archivist of the United States is the head of our agency, appointed by the President of the United States.

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What's an Archivist?

December 13, 2010

Good afternoon. 

I am delighted to welcome you to the inaugural meeting of the Founding Fathers Advisory Committee and to formally thank its three members for agreeing to serve.

We are guided in our work by the official charter of the Advisory Committee.

It states that you will “serve as a deliberative body to advise the Archivist of the United States on the progress of the Founding Fathers editorial projects funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, a part of the National Archives. 

“The purview includes, but is not limited to, advising and making recommendations to the Archivist on issues related to the goals and completion of the projects, their funding sources, and their performance and productivity.”

The Presidential Historical Records Preservation Act of 2008 authorized me to establish this committee to study and advise on the progress of the five ongoing projects as they publish – in print and online – authoritative editions of the writings of Adams, Franklin, Jefferson, Madison and Washington.  The Hamilton project is complete, although it is not yet online.

The Committee is charged with reporting as well to the National Archives’ oversight committees in the House of Representatives and Senate. Any recommendations, resolutions or reports shall be made in writing and submitted by the Committee Chair.  You are requested to convene at least once a year in a public meeting, and the Committee itself shall be managed by a designated Federal official.  I am happy to designate Kathleen Williams to help you in your work.

Those are the formalities, but I would like to add a few words about your work.

In 1832, on the 100th anniversary of Washington's birth, a group of concerned citizens formed the Washington National Monument Society and began collecting donations.

By the mid-1830s, they had raised more than $28,000 and announced a competition for the design of the memorial.  The design by Robert Mills was chosen in 1836, but excavation for the monument did not begin until 1848. 

Thirty-seven years later, on George Washington’s birthday, the monument was dedicated.  Three years after that—in 1888—the Washington Monument was open to the public.  It only took 56 years from start to finish.

It takes a long time to build a grand monument, and the history of such enterprises is fraught with many unforeseen calamities and delays.

The Founding Fathers projects are monuments as well.  Since the 1950s, teams of editors have painstakingly constructed these monuments word by word. I marvel at their vision and craftsmanship, their scholarship and dedication.   

They have performed a great service to our nation and to our understanding of history through primary source materials. I want to be very clear in my admiration for them and their accomplishments.

At the same time, however, we now have tools at our disposal that allow for access to the original materials – the remaining stones in our monument, if you will.  We have ways of opening up collections and archives so that the public can see and read the unedited papers alongside the work that has been accomplished to date. 

And we all wish to see the remaining monuments completed –- fully annotated editions of the writings of Franklin, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison that will join the Hamilton edition. 

We also have heard clearly from Congress and from other funders a desire for more expeditious progress and for open access. 

To that end, a cooperative agreement between the NHPRC and Rotunda, the University of Virginia’s Electronic Imprint, will allow for free unrestricted access to the already published volumes.  In a few short years, we hope to have all the Founders Online.

This is a start.  The challenge before us now is how to make additional progress, how to complete these monuments as soon as possible and open them to the public. 

I look forward to your recommendations and thank you each for your public service in this important national endeavor.

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