About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for the Films of State conference

Good afternoon.

I am pleased to welcome everyone to the first ever virtual Films of State conference. This conference highlights the history, production, study and use of government films, and showcases the film holdings of the National Archives in new and innovative ways.

I want to thank the University of Maryland’s Cinema and Media Studies program, and Dr. Oliver Gaycken for his long time collaboration with the staff of the National Archives and for being a champion of NARA’s holdings and research opportunities. Dr. Martin Johnson of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill has also played a pivotal role in bringing this conference and its participants together. I also want to acknowledge and thank the NARA staff involved in this conference for their hard work and dedication in making it a reality.

Motion picture films were among the earliest records accessioned into the holdings of the National Archives, dating back to its inception in 1934. As was the case then and remains to this day, NARA was charged with preserving and making available the permanently valuable records of the agencies of the federal government, and other records of historical significance documenting the national experience. Dr. John G. Bradley, the first Chief of the Archives’ Motion Picture Division, recognized the importance of building a national collection of film and recorded sound materials consistent with NARA’s charge. Bradley’s tireless efforts to acquire and preserve such materials were continued by his successors throughout the decades, and still continue to this day. The collection now stands at over half a million reels of film, and is one of the largest film archives in the United States and around the world. Included among these holdings are some of the most iconic images in American history from Harlem’s Hellfighters in World War I, the Flag Raising on Iwo Jima, to the first steps on the Moon.

Despite historical challenges and limiting factors, the motion picture film holdings of NARA are among the most open and accessible in the world. In recent years, we have made great strides in further expanding that access and availability to the public and to our research communities. Our online resources have grown each year, and our online collections are growing with them.

Over the course of the past year, like the rest of the world, NARA staff has had to work separately from each other and in remote environments. Not only are we separated from each other, but we are largely separated from the holdings, the physical collections entrusted to us that are the lifeblood of our work. We have also been separated from our researchers, who visit our research rooms and make use of those holdings in a variety of ways.

This conference is above all an opportunity to connect. It is an opportunity to bring NARA staff and researchers together, and to celebrate what the film holdings have to offer. You will listen to and participate in panel discussions uniting scholarship in film history and production with archivists, preservation specialists, and education specialists. You will see film clips, film screenings, and other visual presentations that demonstrate the significance of NARA’s collection and the imagery that it contains. You will see familiar and unfamiliar images, representing both shared national experiences, as well as holdings yet to be discovered or utilized to their full potential. You will hear from NARA staff on newly available electronic resources, and new ways to access the holdings.

I am hopeful that this conference will bring participants together in the spirit of greater collaboration, and in furthering the importance of film preservation and access. I am positive that NARA can learn from researchers, and that researchers can learn from NARA staff. I am optimistic that this will be the first of many such conversations. The National Archives welcomes this opportunity to collaborate with all of you, and we appreciate your participation and presence this week.