About the National Archives

Prepared remarks of Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero at a book lecture. National Archives Building, Washington, DC

Who is the Archivist?

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.

The AOTUS Blog
What's an Archivist?

November 10, 2010

Good afternoon. I am David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and welcome to the National Archives and to the William G. McGowan Theater.

Today’s program coincides with the opening of part 2 of “Discovering the Civil War,” an exhibition commemorating the 150th anniversary of that war. I hope you will take the opportunity to visit it upstairs today or sometime before April 17.

Before we get to today’s program, I’d like to alert you to two other programs relating to the Civil War that will take place in this theater soon.

Tonight at 7 o’clock we’ll have a special showing of Buster Keaton’s classic 1927 silent comedy The General, with live piano accompaniment.

And on Saturday, November 20, we will host a day-long symposium called “The Civil War: Fresh Perspectives.”

You also won’t want to miss the special display of the original Emancipation Proclamation. Because of the document’s fragility, we can display it only a few days a year, and tomorrow through Sunday, November 14, is your chance to see it in the O’Brien Gallery.

To learn more about these and all of our public programs and exhibits, consult our monthly Calendar of Events. There are copies in the lobby—along with a sign-up sheet so you can receive the Calendar by regular mail or e-mail. You’ll also find brochures about other National Archives programs and activities.

Another way to get more involved in the National Archives is to become a member of the Foundation for the National Archives. The Foundation supports the work of the agency, especially its education and outreach programs. Pick up your application for membership in the lobby.

And last—visit the Archives Shop one floor up or through Archives.gov. You’ll find an assortment of products and publications relating to the National Archives and its holdings.

The final section of the “Discovering the Civil War” exhibit opening today—“Remembering”—recalls the beginnings of the National Cemeteries as the final resting places for Union soldiers and officers killed during the Civil War.

In his book On Hallowed Ground, today’s speaker relates the history of the most famous of these—Arlington National Cemetery.

Before the first burial, though, Arlington was the site of a settlement for ex-slaves, and one of the documents on display upstairs shows the layout of Freedmen’s Village. Although intended as a temporary refuge, the community lasted for 30 years and eventually supported a school, a hospital, and churches.

Most people, when they think of Arlington Cemetery, visualize row after row of matching white headstones and assume that it must always have been this way. But there is much more to the cemetery’s history, as the story of the Freedmen’s Village illustrates.

Along the way to becoming our nation’s most honored resting place, Arlington has evolved from plantation to Army headquarters to haven for freedmen to cemetery. The many people who lived there—and the thousands who are buried there—all have their own stories. We at the National Archives are proud to be caretaker for the records that tell those stories and many others. Writers such as Robert Poole bring these stories to light and make them present to us again.

Our guest author today, Robert M. Poole, is an editor and writer whose assignments for Smithsonian and National Geographic have taken him around the world. A native of North Carolina and a veteran journalist, his stories have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Smithsonian, and National Geographic. In 2001 he retired as executive editor of National Geographic after a 21-year career but remains a contributing editor at Smithsonian.

Would you please welcome Robert Poole…