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: email@example.com
We also collect and make available historical interviews conducted by staff such as ones by Philip C. Brooks, Sr. (1970s), Rod Ross (1980s), and the National Archives Assembly's Legacy Committee (2000s).
National Archives History Office Interviews
Margaret "Peggy" Adams worked at the National Archives from 1987-2013. In her oral history, Ms. Adams talks about her time at the National Archives working with electronic records.
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.
Philip C. Brooks, Jr. transferred to the National Archives in 1971 from the Smithsonian Institution where he began his career in archival and museum administration. Among his positions were Assistant to the Executive Director and Labor Relations Officer, Assistant to the Assistant Archivist for Public Programs, and Director of the Education Division. From 1983 until his retirement in 1996, Brooks served as a Senior Archives Specialist with the Office of Federal Records Centers. Brooks also served as an historian-archivist for the Presidential Inaugural Committee on three occasions.
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.
After a career in the U.S. Navy, Alex Daverede came to the National Archives in 1996 as an archives technician in the Initial Processing and Declassification Division. After working with military records for many years and participating in the Career Intern Development System (CIDS), he became a supervisory archivist with the newly established National Declassification Center (NDC). Daverede retired in 2019 as NDC’s senior archivist.
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.
Marvin Kabakoff left part-time teaching to start his career at the National Archives in 1977 at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. During his interview, Kabakoff discusses training, record centers, and decisions about permanent records, as well as the positives and negatives of sampling records.
David Kepley worked for the National Archives for 36 years and was chief of four different branches. In his interview, Kepley discusses the Archival Research Catalog (ARC), traces the origins and development of NARA’s Electronic Records Archives (ERA), and talks about NARA’s independence from GSA.
Barbara Larsen devoted 10 years to NARA as a volunteer eventually working full time for 14 years at the National Archives at Kansas City.
Alan Lowe began his career at the National Archives in 1989 at the Reagan Library. In his oral history Lowe discusses his career at the National Archives with Presidential Libraries, especially related to the Ronald Reagan, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and George W. Bush libraries. Lowe left the National Archives in 2016 for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.
Nancy Malan started her career at NARA in Still Pictures in 1968. She retired in 2006 after 38 years having worked in Public Programs, Central Reference, and the Regional Archives.
Ed McCarter began his nearly 40-year career at the National Archives in 1975 as a student temp in the General Archives Division in Suitland, Maryland. From 1977 to 1980 he was an Archivist for the Office of Military Government, United States (OMGUS) Project in the General Archives Division. In 1980, he became an Archivist in the Still Pictures unit where he spent the remainder of his career. He retired in 2014 as the Chief of the Still Pictures Branch.
Richard McCulley was the first, and to date only, Historian at the Center for Legislative Archives at the National Archives in Washington, DC. In his oral history, Richard details his time as Center Historian and the evolution of the Center for Legislative Archives, from when he was hired in 1993 until just before his retirement in 2016.
David McMillen was External Affairs Liaison at the National Archives from 2006-2013, and Special Assistant for the National Archives from 2013 until his retirement in 2017. Previous to coming to the National Archives David worked at the Census Bureau and on the Hill.
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.
Chuck Piercy was at the National Archives for seven years (2008-2015) holding the positions of Deputy Chief Information Officer, Acting Chief Information Officer, and Executive for Business Support Services. In his interview he talks about his time at the National Archives with particular attention to electronic records.
Marvin Pinkert was the Director of Museum Programs for 11 years starting in December 2000 to oversee the re-encasement of the Charters of Freedom and manage the creation of the National Archives Experience, which culminated with the creation of the permanent exhibit The Public Vaults and the opening of the McGowan Theater.
Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler began working as a senior conservator in the National Archives conservation lab in 1985, and retired as its chief in 2016. Her interview covers her role in caring for the Declaration, Constitution, and Bill of Rights (collectively known as the Charters of Freedom) including the Charters re-casement project; the Iraqi Jewish Archives; and changes in the conservation lab over the course of her 30-year career.
Rod Ross came to the National Archives in 1977 as an archives technician for the Office of Presidential Libraries. He was an archivist for the Nixon Presidential Materials Project from 1978-83, the White House Liaison Office from 1983-84, and the Washington National Records Center in Suitland from 1984-86. While in Suitland, Ross led the National Archives Oral History Project from 1985-86. After two years as a supervisory archivist in the Library and Printed Archives Branch, Ross moved to the Center for Legislative Archives where he worked as an archivist until his retirement in 2017.
John Scroggins began his 36-year career with the National Archives in 1962 as a student trainee at the Military Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. Over the years he held numerous positions in Washington, DC, and in the field. When he retired in 1998, he was Special Assistant to the Assistant Archivist for Human Resources and Information Services.
Tasha Thain was the Director of NARA's Corporate Records Management for two years, from June 2014 - June 2016. She worked in records management for 18 years prior to coming to NARA.
Ken Thibodeau worked for the National Archives for 22 years. He began his career in 1975 working in the Machine-Readable Archives Division and, later, he was Director of the Electronic Records Archives (ERA) program from its inception in 1998. He also led the effort to implement the George W. Bush Presidential Library's electronic record system.
Stanley "Stan" Tozeski worked for the National Archives at Boston for 24 years. He worked as an archivist and especially enjoyed working on the military and court records and was later general assistant to Jim Owens.
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.
Jim Zeender first came to the National Archives in 1979, and after leaving for three years returned to the Office of Presidential Libraries. He became an exhibit registrar in 1985, a position he held until his retirement in 2020. In his oral history he talks about his 35 years working on National Archives exhibits and document loans.
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:
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 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.
Sherrod East started with the Library of Congress in 1933 and transferred to the National Archives in 1937. In his written statement, East discusses the many reorganizations of the National Archives and the various changes, especially related to World War II records.
W. Neil Franklin came to the National Archives in 1936 as a Special Examiner, and when that office was abolished he became an Associate Archivist for the Division of Veterans Administration Archives. He was Chief of the Division of Navy Department Archives from 1943-44, Chief of the General Reference Division from 1944-1962, and Chief of the Diplomatic, Legal, and Fiscal Branch from 1962-1966. In 1966 he became an Archivist in the Territorial Papers Branch, a position he held until his retirement in 1972.
Herman Friis began his career at the National Archives in 1938 as a Geographer-Archivist in the Division of Maps and Charts. During World War II he served in the Army Air Corps in the China-Burma-India Theater. In 1946, Friis returned to the National Archives to be Assistant Chief of the Division of Cartographic Records. In 1952, he became Chief of that Division, and later Chief Archivist of the Technical Records Division. Friis became Director of the Center for Polar Archives in 1967, a position he held until his retirement in 1976.
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.
Jess Larson was the first Administrator of the General Services Administration (GSA) serving from 1949 to 1953. From 1949 to 1985, the National Archives and Records Service was under GSA. In his interview Larson discusses the National Archives incorporation into GSA.
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.
In 1935 Archivist of the United States R. D. W. Connor appointed Paul Lewison deputy examiner, with responsibility for appraising non-current federal records, chiefly those of labor-related agencies. Three years later Lewison became director of the Division of Department of Labor Archives. In 1947 he was promoted to director of the Industrial Records Division, with the added responsibility for appraising, accessioning, and managing the archives of the Department of Commerce and regulatory, social, and scientific agencies. Lewison retired in 1960 and passed away in 1988.
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.
Fred Shipman was one of the first professionals the Archivist of the United States R. D. W. Connor selected in 1935. In 1936, Shipman was appointed Chief of what became the Division of State Department Archives. In 1938, Shipman became involved with President Roosevelt’s plans to establish a Presidential Library, and on July 16, 1940, Shipman became the first Director of the FDR Library. In 1948, he left to take a position within the National Security Resources Board. Shipman’s interviews consist of three parts: Part I conducted on March 27, 1973,Part II conducted on May 23, 1973,and Part III conducted on June 24, 1973.
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.
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.
Charlene Bickford started at the National Archives in 1967 and moved to the First Federal Congress Project five years later. In the interview, Bickford discusses NARA’s independence from General Services Administration (GSA), the Emergency Committee to Preserve the National Archives, the Coalition to Save our Documentary Heritage, and the First Federal Congress Project.
At the time of the interview, Mary Ann Chaffee was an examiner with the Division of Economics and Government of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). In her interview, she discusses OMB’s involvement in the split between the General Services Administration (GSA) and the National Archives.
Stephen Daniels was on the Republican staff of the House Government Operations Committee. In his interview, Daniels discusses the legislation in the House and Senate regarding the independence of the National Archives as well as the oppositions from the Internal Revenue Service and the Justice Department.
Stanley Falk was a federal historian. Falk discusses his involvement with Page Putnam Miller in regards to the Archives independence bill. Also discussed is Falk’s career as an Air Force Chief Historian.
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.
Edward Gleiman was a counsel for the Subcommittee on Government Information, Agriculture and Justice of the Government Operations Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. In his oral history he discusses the Presidential Records Act of 1978 and the independence of the National Archives from GSA.
Gerald Haines was an archivist from 1974 to 1984 in the Diplomatic Branch of the National Archives. He later worked for the National Security Agency as a historian. Haines discusses the Emergency Committee to Save the National Archives in response to Admiral Freeman’s efforts of decentralization. He also discusses the differences of attitudes between archivists and senior management, journeyman archivists versus subject specialists, as well as the role of the National Archives Assembly.
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.
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.
Robert McConnell served as Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs. McConnell discusses the independence of the National Archives from GSA, particularly the Justice Department’s opposition.
Page Putnam Miller was the director of the National Coordinating Committee for the Promotion of History (NCC). Miller was very involved in the independence movement of the National Archives and discusses this along with other individuals involved in the movement.
Marion Morris was the staff assistant for Senator Charles McCurdy Mathias on the Subcommittee on Governmental Efficiency and the District of Columbia, which is a subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs. Morris discusses Senators Mathias, Mark Hatfield, and Thomas Eagleton’s collective role in the National Archives independence movement and the atmosphere on the night of passage of S. 905, the National Archives and Records Administration Act.
John Parisi served as minority counsel on the Subcommittee on Government Information, Justice and Agriculture of the House Government Operations Committee. In his interview, Parisi discusses the issue of the National Archives’ independence in relation to Representative Thomas Kindness and Representative Frank Horton.
Thomas Persky worked for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as the Commissioner’s Assistant for Legislative Liaison. In his interview, Persky discusses the independence of the National Archives specifically regarding the concerns of the IRS.
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.
At the time of the interview, Ira Shapiro was an administrative assistant to Senator Jay Rockefeller, but previously was an assistant for Senators Gaylord Nelson and Thomas Eagleton. In his interview, Shapiro discusses his work for Senator Eagleton on Archives independence. Also discussed are the Presidential Records Act of 1978 and the National Archives and Records Administration Act of 1984.
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.
Gordon Wheeler worked for the Legislative Affairs Office within the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). He provided perspective on the Archives independence from OMB and his experience working in OMB’s Legislative Reference Division.
From 2005-2014 the National Archives Assembly (NAA)—a professional organization of past and present Archives employees—undertook the Legacy Project. The project collected oral history interviews of nearly 40 NARA staff and donated them to the National Archives. Please note these transcripts were made by NAA volunteers and may contain minor spelling and editorial errors.
Barbara O'Neil Brett started with the National Archives in February of 1975 as an Archives Technician in the Declassification Division. During the interview, O’Neil Brett discusses her career with other agencies in the Federal Government and her return to NARA. Also discussed are her experience working in the federal government as a woman, her work in Declassification Division, Machine-Readable Archives Division and in Customer Service.
Thomas Elton Brown discusses his career that started in 1976 with the Machine-Readable Branch and his time in administrative staff. As part of his work, he describes the changes to the CIDS program as well as training and qualifications for archivists. Also discussed is the Electronic and Special Media Records Services Division.
Fynnette Eaton was the Change Management Officer for the Electronic Records Archives Program (ERA) at the National Archives. She was interviewed in 2008.
Frank Evans first came to the National Archives in 1963. He held numerous positions within the National Archives, in addition to working eight years for UNESCO (1976-1984). Evans returned to the National Archives in 1984 and retired in 1995 as Deputy Assistant Archivist for Records Administration. He was interviewed in 2006.
Meyer Fishbein worked at the National Archives for nearly 40 years, from 1940-1980 with a break when he served in World War II. Fishbein is most notable for recognizing the value of machine-readable records (now known as electronic records).
Cynthia “Cindi” Fox began her career at the National Archives in January 1979 as a cooperative education (COOP) intern and became a permanent employee in January 1980 as a Career Intern Development System (CIDS) archivist. She worked as a reference and projects archivist and appraiser in several departments, then held various management positions: Staff Development Officer for the Office of National Archives (1987-1989), Director of the Administrative staff for the office (1989-93), Director of Preservation for the agency (1993-95), and Chief of the Old Military and Civil Records Unit (later Archives I Textual Unit) (1995-2010). She retired in January 2010. In the interview, Fox discusses her career and how NARA changed during her tenure.
Rose Gabel started at the National Archives in 1970 doing secretarial work in the Public Affairs Office. Discussed are the changes in secretarial work and the differences between Archives I and Archives II. Gabel also discusses 9/11 and the riots in DC in 1968.
In her oral history Judy Koucky talks about her early career with the Society of American Archivists. She started at the National Archives in 1974. She discusses her work in Record Group administration including decisions about Record Groups and breaking Record Groups apart to form separate ones.
Michael Kurtz started at the National Archives in 1974 in Records Declassification. Discussed is the formation of the National Declassification Center, work at Suitland, the move to Archives II, the independence of that National Archives from GSA, along with the differences in administration between the different Archivists of the United States.
Robert Kvasnicka started at the National Archives in 1957. Kvasnicka discusses the creation of guides, preliminary inventories, and the Indian-White Relations Conference held at the National Archives. Also discussed is Kvasnicka’s experience describing records and providing reference services.
J. William Leonard was the Director of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO). Leonard discusses records withdrawn from the National Archives, and the protocols put in place for agencies to withdraw records. He also discusses his career at the Department of Defense (DoD) and classification of records, especially in relation to post 9/11 Commission records.
Mike McReynolds was at the National Archives for 32 years, working in reference and ending his career as the Deputy Director of the Center for Legislative Archives. McReynolds discusses training, FBI records, and the start of the Legislative Division.
In his oral history Tim Mulligan discusses his 34-year career at the National Archives including his work on the Captured German Record materials.
Virginia Purdy started at the National Archives as the Director of Popular Publications and Exhibitions in the Education Programs department. In her oral history Purdy discusses the Women’s History Conference, the National Archives Assembly, and the Society of American Archivists.
John Taylor was a long-time archivist who started his career at NARA in 1945 in the War Records Office becoming the de facto expert on World War II military intelligence records. He worked at NARA for 63 years until his death in 2008.
Richard Wood began working for the Washington National Records Center in Suitland, Maryland in 1977 for the General Archives Division. He focused on projects and records appraisal helping to establish and formalize accessioning procedures.