Oral History at the National Archives
National Archives Oral History Project
The National Archives Oral History Project collects the historical experiences, insights, and perspectives of staff and former staff. The interviews help us understand the agency’s culture, work practices, decision-making processes, historical actions, and events, and they also help preserve the institutional memory of the National Archives. We will continue to add transcripts to this website.
If you are interested in participating in the project as an interviewer or interviewee, or have suggestions on possible interviewees, contact the National Archives History Office: firstname.lastname@example.org
National Archives History Office Interviews
Eugene L. Bialek served as a volunteer staff aide for the National Archives Navy Maritime Unit at the National Archives in Washington, DC. Previously, Mr. Bialek worked as an oceanographer for the Navel Oceanographic Office at the Washington Navy Yard for 25 years.
Bruce Bustard was a senior curator with the National Archives Exhibits staff in Washington, DC. He worked for the agency for over 30 years, starting as an archivist on April 1, 1985—the day the National Archives became an independent agency.
Susan Cummings started her NARA career in 1994 at the Washington National Records Center in Suitland. During her time at the Archives she worked in various offices including the Policy and Planning staff, the Office of Regional Records Services, the Office of Records Services, Research Services, and Agency Services.
Bill Davis started his 32 year career at the National Archives in the Legislative Diplomatic Branch working with State Department Records. After working in the Library and Printed Archives Branch and on the Archival Publication Staff he came to Legislative Archives in 1988 where he worked until his retirement in 2016.
Michelle Dozier came to the National Archives in 2001 as the Archives.gov team leader on the Web Program staff, and later became the Web Program Manager. She ended her NARA career in 2015 as a Digital Analyst in the Office of Innovation.
Nancy Fortna started her career at the National Archives in 1987 as a Microfilm Operator in the Office of Federal Record Centers on K Street in Washington, DC. During her 27-years at the National Archives she held numerous positions including in the Professional Development and Training Office, and the Life Cycle Management Office. Nancy ended her NARA career in the Customer Services Section at Archives I where she helped develop the “Know Your Records” education program and the annual National Archives’ Genealogy Fair.
Benjamin "Ben" Guterman worked for the National Archives for 24 years. After starting as an intermittent student employee, Ben spent most of his career as a writer-editor working on various publications including Prologue magazine.
Doris Hamburg was Director of Preservation Programs from 2001 until her retirement from the National Archives in 2016. In her oral history she discusses Preservation Programs at the National Archives and interesting projects she was involved with during her tenure.
Michael L. Jackson was an Exhibit Designer at the National Archives from 1994-2014. In his oral history he explains his duties and responsibilities as an Exhibit Designer, as well as the major projects he was involved with during his time at the National Archives.
Jennifer Nelson held numerous positions at the National Archives including Deputy Chief Operating Officer, Special Assistant to the Chief Operating Officer, Acting Executive for Research Services, Director of Archival Programs in the Office of Regional Records Services, and Web Program Director in Policy and Communications, among others.
Don Wilson started his National Archives career at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and in 1981 became the first Director of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library. In 1987 President Ronald Reagan nominated and the U.S. Senate confirmed Wilson to be the first Archivist of the United States after the National Archives regained its independent agency status in 1985.
National Archives Veterans Interviews
In commemoration of Veterans Day, Erik Moshe, an intern with the National Archives History Office—and veteran—conducted a series of oral history interviews with veteran National Archives employees:
Philip C. Brooks Interviews
The National Archives’ first major attempt to document its own history through oral interviews began in 1969. The Archivist of the United States, James “Bert” Rhoads, asked staff to suggest names for an oral history project covering the agency’s early years. In late 1971 he asked Philip C. Brooks, recently retired director of the Harry S. Truman Library, to embark on the first large-scale National Archives oral history project.
Over the next two years, Brooks interviewed several high-level former staff, including fourth Archivist of the United States Robert Bahmer. Most of Brooks’s subjects had come to the National Archives when the agency first began hiring staff in 1935. The 15 completed interviews provide vital insight into the agency’s formative years.
For more information, consult the files related to this project in the Record Group 64, Records of the National Archives.
Herbert Angel came to the National Archives in 1936 as the Assistant Director of Publications. Angel worked in various capacities for both the National Archives and later the General Services Administration. He eventually became Deputy Archivist of the United States and served from 1968 until his retirement in 1972. Angel’s oral history covers initial staff selection and hiring at the National Archives, and the agency’s development in its early years.
|Robert Bahmer came to the National Archives in 1936 as a deputy examiner. After departing the National Archives during the mid-1940s, he returned to the agency as Deputy Archivist in 1948, eventually becoming Archivist of the United States in 1965. Bahmer’s oral history covers both the early years of his career, and his time as Deputy and Archivist of the United States. Bahmer left the National Archives in 1968.|
G. Philip Bauer became a research assistant with the Survey of Federal Archives, a Works Progress Administration project, in 1936. He came to the National Archives the following year. Bauer’s oral history covers his career at the National Archives, including the period when the agency was moved into the General Services Administration. Bauer left the National Archives in 1965.
Lester Cappon was a historian, archivist, and documentary editor. He was Director of the Virginia Historical Records Survey from 1936 to 1937. While never employed by the National Archives, Cappon’s interview provides an outside perspective of the agency. For this interview, Cappon answered written questions Philip Brooks had sent him.
Collas Harris was one of the very first persons to be hired by the National Archives in December 1934. He was the agency’s first Administrative Officer (later renamed Executive Officer). His oral history covers his role in overseeing the operations of the National Archives during his two stints, 1934–42 and 1948–52.
Oliver W. Holmes came to the National Archives in 1936 as a deputy examiner. After working in various divisions at the National Archives, Holmes became Director of the National Historical Publications Commission in 1961. In his oral history, Holmes talks about his time before coming to the National Archives and the agency’s early years through World War II. Holmes retired from the National Archives in 1972.
H. G. Jones was Director of the North Carolina State Department of Archives and History. He wrote the book Records of a Nation, which included a history of the National Archives. While most oral histories Brooks collected were with staff, Brooks included Jones to explore how the National Archives interacted with other professional organizations.
Herman Kahn came to the National Archives in 1936 as a deputy examiner. During his more than 30 years with the agency, Kahn served in various capacities, including Director of the FDR Library. In his oral history, he discusses his path to the National Archives, personalities at the agency, and the early Presidential libraries. Kahn retired from the National Archives in 1968.
Guy Lee came to the National Archives in 1942 as an editorial assistant for the Division of Information and Publications. Lee was at the National Archives for four years. His oral history covers his career before coming to the National Archives and reference services at the agency during his brief tenure.
Thad Page was the first Administrative Secretary at the National Archives serving from 1935 to 1947. Page went on to become Chief of the Legislative Reference and Records Division. His oral history covers the tenures of Archivists R.D.W. Connor, Solon Buck, and Wayne Grover. Page retired from the National Archives in 1960.
Ernst Posner was a German archivist of Jewish descent who fled to the United States during World War II. He secured a position teaching archival administration at American University, and was key in helping the National Archives safeguard its records when the United States entered the war. Posner’s interview consists of his written answers to a list of Brooks’s questions.
Marcus Price came to the National Archives in 1935 as the Assistant Director of Archival Services. Price went on to become the director of a number of divisions within the National Archives. In his oral history, Price talks about how the National Archives was organized in its early years as well as some of its personalities. Price retired from the National Archives in 1960.
Karl Trever was hired as an archivist for the National Archives in 1936. He made his way through various divisions at the National Archives retiring in 1964 as the Special Assistant to the Archivist for Presidential Libraries. Trevor’s interview provides insight into the agency’s early years from the perspective of a staff member and includes one of his favorite memories: the Constitution and Declaration of Independence coming to the National Archives in 1952.
Rod Ross Interviews
In November 1984, Archivist of the United States Robert Warner appointed archivist Rod Ross to conduct oral histories to document the agency's General Services Administration (GSA) years, 1949–1985.
Ross completed 22 interviews with former National Archives and Records Service (NARS) employees as well as individuals outside the agency who had been instrumental in securing independence from GSA. In addition, Ross "grandmothered" into the collection a 1982 interview with longtime and beloved employee Sara Jackson.
Transcripts were not made for most of the interviews but instead we have summaries (with the exception of the James Rhoads interview which we have transcribed in its entirety). As we scan the summaries they will be available on this web page. The original audio recordings are in RG 64 (Records of the National Archives) with the Motion Picture, Sound, and Video unit.
Robert H. Bahmer was the fourth Archivist of the United States. Ross interviewed Bahmer on November 6, 1985, at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC.
James L. Gear was a chemist in the National Archives Document Preservation Branch. Ross interviewed Gear on April 16, 1985, at Gear's home in Annandale, Virginia.
Sara Jackson was a longtime National Archives employee who worked in various capacities including for the Military Archives Division and the National Historical Publications & Records Commission. Ross interviewed Jackson on July 5, 1982, at her home in Washington, DC.
Leroy Harvey worked from many years at the Records Center in Alexandria, Virginia, and later at the Washington National Records Center in Suitland, Maryland. Ross interviewed Harvey at Harvey's home in Silver Spring, Maryland.
James Berton "Bert" Rhoads was the fifth Archivist of the United States. Ross interviewed Rhoads on December 29, 1984, in Chicago at the Hyatt Regency in Illinois Center at the 99th annual meeting of the American Historical Association.
James “Jimmy” Dent Walker was a well-known genealogical consultant at the National Archives. He was particularly noted for his knowledge of military and pension records, and his ability to uncover sources important to African American genealogy. Ross interviewed Walker on March 27, 1985, at the DAR Building in Washington, DC.