NARA's Role in Presidential Transitions in Prologue Magazine
Press Release · Monday, December 29, 2008

Washington, DC

When a President leaves office, the National Archives is the agency that takes control of the records and begins preparing them for inclusion in the outgoing President’s library.

“The National Archives moves the wealth of materials documenting the inner workings of the government at its highest policy level,” Nancy Kegan Smith writes in the Winter issue of Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives and Records Administration. “Preserved by the National Archives in the Presidential libraries will be the records of the tragedies, the problems, the successes, and the evolution of policies that affect the nation and the world during the Presidential administration.”

Smith is director of the Presidential Materials Staff of the National Archives, which administers the 12 existing Presidential libraries. Records of the George W. Bush Administration will be transferred to the National Archives on January 20, 2009, and will eventually be deposited in a National Archives-run Bush Library to be built in Dallas.

In “Escorting a Presidency into History,” Smith traces the role of the National Archives from one President to another, beginning in 1939, when Congress accepted Franklin D. Roosevelt’s gift of his Presidential library and the land in Hyde Park, New York.

The Winter issue also includes a photo feature showing how our modern Presidents and their families relaxed have when they go to Camp David, about 50 miles north of Washington in the Maryland mountains.

In “Archival Vintages for The Grapes of Wrath,” Dan Nealand writes of the Great Depression of the 1930s, when the Dust Bowl conditions—ruined crops and repossessed homes—sent many destitute families to California—a chapter in American history immortalized in John Steinbeck’s revered novel.

But Steinbeck’s Tom Joad and the other characters in this classic novel were based on real people, according to Nealand, director of the National Archives Regional Archives in San Bruno, CA. Nealand mined the archived holdings to find the reports of Tom Collins, a government official who was in charge of some of the migrant labor camps of refugees from places like Oklahoma and Texas.

“Steinbeck and Collins saw, documented, and toiled to alleviate mind-numbing, spirit-killing poverty, squalor, epidemic disease, malnutrition, and outright starvation among a vast valley assemblage of least 100,000 (historical estimates vary)—often lacking even subsistence in the most abundant ‘food-basket’ of the nation,” Nealand writes.

Nealand writes that “there are indications that Steinbeck believed that basing many of his fictional California migrant scenes and contexts on historical documents like the Collins reports might help when the firestorm of criticism rained down following publication of his novel.” Criticism did indeed follow the publication of The Grapes of Wrath, but it remains an American classic, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for novel in 1940 and a major factor in Steinbeck’s selection for the Nobel Prize for Literature decades later.

For four decades, Prologue has shared with readers the rich resources and programs of the National Archives, its regional archives, and the Presidential libraries.

Each issue features historical articles—drawn from National Archives’ holdings and written by noted historians, archivists, and experts—as well as articles explaining and describing many of the National Archives’ activities and programs as the nation’s recordkeeping agency. The Washington Post has said, “Prologue . . . can be regarded quite literally as an invitation for further study. It is also consistently absorbing reading.”

A one-year subscription to Prologue costs $24, and you can order in a number of ways:

  • Call 1-800-234-8861 or 202-357-5482.
  • Go to the subscribe page, print out the order formOpen order form PDF file, and mail it to Prologue,
    National Archives Trust Fund (Cashier) NAT,
    8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740-6001.
  • Order online.
  • Fax credit card orders to Prologue at 202-357-5918.

Single copies of Prologue are available at the Archives Shop or at the Cashier's Office in the National Archives Building in Washington or at the Publications Sales Office at the National Archives at College Park. Single copies are also available in the shops at some Presidential libraries.

For more information about the National Archives and its programs and exhibits, go to

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For press information, contact the National Archives Public Affairs Staff at 202-357-5300.



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