About the National Archives

Discovering the Civil War Archivist RemarksRemarks of Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero at the press preview for the exhibit, "Discovering the Civil War," National Archives Building, Washington, DC.

April 27, 2010

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.

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(The Archivist was introduced by Susan Cooper, Director of Public Affairs and Communications for the National Archives.)

Thank you, Susan.

Good morning, and welcome to the National Archives. In my nearly six months on the job here, I’ve presided over countless meetings and briefings about the challenges the Archives faces in the years to come. And I’ve been able to duck into lots of workplaces to see what the staff is doing. It’s been enlightening and fun to see what goes on every day and meet the people who keep the Archives going.

But today is different. It’s my first opportunity to open a National Archives exhibit here in Washington. And I could not have asked for a better debut. “ Discovering the Civil War” commemorates the 150th anniversary of the opening of the transformative event of the 19th Century.

This exhibit is remarkable in several ways: 

First, it draws from one of the richest reservoirs of records in our holdings —millions of official documents, photographs, maps and letters about the Civil War. We hold not only the records of the Union forces but also the so-called “Rebel Archives”— captured Confederate records. And we have the records of the Freedmen’s Bureau, the agency charged with assisting African Americans in the transition from slavery to citizenship.

Second, the exhibit uses these records in creative ways that inspire people, young and old, to explore further. The very concept that there are still new discoveries to be made about the Civil War— that research is an adventure— advances our institutional goal of increasing interest in and access to the nation’s records. The clever use of modern lenses, like social media, to take a fresh look at the 19th Century makes this exhibit truly distinctive.

Finally, the exhibit has a scope and scale worthy of its subject matter. Today we preview one half of what will be a 6,000 square foot national traveling exhibit – the largest traveling exhibit we have put together in decades.

It’s also an exhibit that is the result of many months of tireless work by our dedicated and creative exhibits staff, which once again has produced what I know will be a memorable and rewarding experience for our visitors.

We are honored to kick off the city-wide promotion being coordinated by “Destination DC” to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. And next May we will launch the national tour at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.

In the interim, “Discovering the Civil War” will make the records and research in the exhibit accessible to a national audience through its own web site, a new educational tool kit, and an exhibit catalog.

An exhibition of this magnitude would simply not be possible without our public/private partnership. I want to extend my deep thanks to Ken Lore and the board members of the Foundation for the National Archives for their steadfast support of this project. This is a perfect example of entrepreneurship in the public interest.

There are a number of board members who have themselves written about or studied the records of the Civil War. But none has had quite the impact of the Foundation Board Vice President, Ken Burns.

As a young man, Ken Burns came to the National Archives intent on making discoveries in our records that would bring the Civil War to life for the first generation of Americans to have no living memory of the participants.

Ken’s work here, and at archives, libraries and battlefields across the nation, led to the most watched series in PBS history and well-deserved Emmy recognition. This September will mark 20 years since tens of millions of Americans sat transfixed in front of their televisions, watching a documentary about a subject they thought they had forever left behind in classrooms years before.

He has set the bar high for us in documenting the Civil War. Please join me in welcoming a man who knows the true value of our records.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Ken Burns.