About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for "From Gutenberg to Google: The History of Our Future"

McGowan Theater, National Archives Building, Washington, DC
March 28, 2019 

Good evening, and welcome to the William G. McGowan Theater at the National Archives. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and I’m pleased you could join us for tonight’s program, whether you are here in the theater or joining us through Facebook or YouTube.

Before we hear from Tom Wheeler about his new book, From Gutenberg to Google: The History of Our Future, I’d like to tell you about two other programs coming up next week.

On Monday, April 1, at 7 p.m., we will join with the One Woman, One Vote Film Festival to present a preview screening of The Best of Enemies, a new feature film starring Taraji P. Henson and Sam Rockwell. Based on a true story, The Best of Enemies centers on the unlikely relationship between an outspoken civil rights activist and a local Ku Klux Klan leader who reluctantly co-chair a community summit about desegregating schools in Durham, North Carolina.

And on Friday, April 5, at noon, journalist and author Susan Page will be here to tell us about her new biography, The Matriarch: Barbara Bush and the Making of an American Dynasty.

Check our website, Archives.gov, or sign up at the table outside the theater to get email updates. You’ll also find information about other National Archives programs and activities.

Another way to get more involved with the National Archives is to become a member of the National Archives Foundation. The Foundation supports the work of the agency, especially its education and outreach programs. Visit its website—archivesfoundation.org—to learn more about the Foundation and join online.

* * *

In his new book, From Gutenberg to Google, Tom Wheeler looks back at two revolutions—Johannes Gutenberg’s 15th-century invention of movable type and then the invention of the telegraph and steam-powered railroads in the 19th century—and uses them to bring perspective to today’s rapid changes in network communications.

Our holdings here at the National Archives don’t go back quite as far as Gutenberg, but they do encompass the range of technology that has transformed communications from pre-industrial times to today. Benjamin Franklin and other colonial printers used presses that were virtually unchanged from Gutenberg’s time. Newspapers, pamphlets, and broadsides were critical means of communication during the American Revolution and the early Republic. The Declaration of Independence, for example, was printed as a broadside on the night of July 4, 1776, distributed throughout the colonies, and read both privately and to assemblies of people.

The next transformative development in rapid communication—the telegraph—is well represented in our holdings. Tom has previously explored the role of telegrams during the Civil War in his book Mr. Lincoln’s T-Mails. As we move through the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries, the records in the National Archives reflect the increasingly rapid changes in communications networks.

Our biggest challenge as an archives is accessioning, preserving, and continuing to make accessible the huge volume of electronic records created by the federal government. This most recent communications revolution has had a transformative impact world-wide. Not only are we dealing with born-digital records, but the public’s expectations of online access drives us to digitize traditional records and ensure that they can be found and used.

Gutenberg’s press may not have changed much between the 15th century and the 18th, but the digital revolution has occurred in our own lifetimes. Let’s bring up Tom Wheeler now and hear what he has to say about where we’ve been and what’s next.

* * *

Tom Wheeler is a businessman, author, and was Chairman of the Federal Communication Commission from 2013 to 2017. For over four decades, Wheeler has been involved with new telecommunications networks and services.

He has testified before Congress on issues related to net neutrality, and his commentaries on current events have been published in the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, and numerous other leading publications.

A visiting fellow at Brookings and a senior Research Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School, his previous books include Take Command: Leadership Lessons from the Civil War and Mr. Lincoln’s T-Mails: The Untold Story of how Abraham Lincoln Used the Telegraph to Win the Civil War.

Tom served on President Obama’s Intelligence Advisory Board before being named to the FCC. Presidents Clinton and Bush each appointed him a Trustee of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. And—most important for us—he is the former Chairman and President of the National Archives Foundation and current member of its Board of Directors.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Tom Wheeler.