The Record - March 1998

NARA Online

Presidential Correspondence Available on National Archives Web Site

The National Archives and Records Administration has made available on its web site selections from two vastly different Presidential collections: correspondence between Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, and letters from Harry Truman to Bess Wallace Truman.

The 518 documents from the correspondence between Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill date from the outbreak of World War II in Europe through June 1942. This assemblage of correspondence, cables, and telegrams from the President's Map Room Files is one of the premiere collections of papers in the archives of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park, New York. The letters characterize the unique friendship of two of the greatest world leaders of this century, and detail the nuances of alliance, leadership, and decision-making while chronicling the events of World War II.

The Harry S. Truman Library in Independence, Missouri, maintains 1300 surviving handwritten letters from Harry S. Truman to his wife Bess Wallace Truman written over a period of 50 years. Of these "Dear Bess" letters, 23 have been digitized by NARA. Dating from 1910 to 1919, these 23 letters document Truman's prolonged courtship of Bess Wallace; his farming career and business ventures; his misadventures with his 1911 Stafford automobile; and his service as an Army officer in France during World War I. In one letter, Truman calls himself a "clodhopper" with ambitions to be the President of the United States; in another, he assures Bess that French women "cannot hold a candle to American girls."

The Roosevelt and Truman material is among more than 4,000 recently digitized images from the Still Pictures Branch located at the National Archives at College Park; the Pacific Alaska Region (Seattle); the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library; and the Harry S. Truman Library. These images are part of NARA's ongoing Electronic Access Project, which currently includes 24,000 digitized documents.

Besides the 24,000 digitized documents, more than 37,000 descriptions are currently in NAIL (NARA ARCHIVAL INFORMATION LOCATOR). By mid-1999, approximately 120,000 items will be digitized and available electronically. The Electronic Access Project will enable anyone, anywhere, with a computer connected to the Internet to search descriptions of NARA's nationwide holdings and view digital copies of many important documents. The project is funded by the U.S. Congress with the support of Senator Bob Kerrey of Nebraska.

    Other highlights of the recently added materials include:

  • 2,843 additional photographs documenting American environmental issues of the 1970's;

  • 71 recreational maps, 193 panoramic photographs, 217 "historical photos," and documents created by the Pacific Northwest Region of the United States

    Forest Service, 1920-1971;

  • 41 photographs of Native Americans and the archaeology of the Southwestern United States, 1879-1894.

NARA Announces New Digital Classroom Projects

The National Archives and Records Administration announces two new digital classroom projects on its education Web site - Women Suffrage and the 19th Amendment and The Amistad Case.

Women Suffrage and the 19th Amendment presents documents, teaching suggestions, and links to related Web sites: online.

Beginning in the mid-19th century, several generations of woman suffrage supporters lectured, wrote, marched, lobbied, and practiced civil disobedience to achieve what many Americans considered a radical change in the Constitution. Militant suffragists used tactics such as parades, silent vigils, and hunger strikes. The records of the National Archives reveal much of this struggle. This is the latest in a series of digital classroom exercises that NARA has produced for teachers and students on its education Web site.

Another recent subject covered include exercises on the Amistad case online. The dramatic story of the Amistad, featured in a major motion picture, began in February of 1839, when Portuguese slave hunters abducted a large group of Africans from an area now known as Sierre Leone and shipped them to Havana, Cuba, a center for the slave trade. This abduction violated many international. Fifty-three Africans were purchased by two Spanish planters and put aboard the Cuban schooner Amistad for shipment to a Caribbean plantation. On July 1, 1839, the Africans seized the ship, killed the captain and the cook, and ordered the planters to sail to Africa. On August 24, 1839, the Amistad was seized off Long Island by the US brig Washington. The planters were freed and the Africans were imprisoned in New Haven, CT, on charges of murder. The case eventually went to the Supreme Court, where former President John Quincy Adams argued the right of the accused to fight to regain their freedom. The Supreme Court decided in favor of the Africans, and 35 of them were returned to their homeland. The others died at sea or in prison while awaiting trial.

Other subjects covered on the education Web site include exercises on Watergate and poster art from World War II. For a full listing, visit online.

Web Site Schools Surfers in Alaska History

By Peter Porco

One of the greatest moments in Alaska history boils down to a pair of humble-looking documents: the handwritten purchase treaty that gave Alaska to the United States in March 1867 and the scrawled check for $7.2 million that the country paid to Russia in August 1868.

Earlier this month, photographs of both sides of the canceled check and part of the purchase treaty made their debut appearance on the Internet. The documents and other artifacts of Alaska history were posted to a National Archives web site that features a "digital classroom" based on the state's history.

A computer image cannot do full justice to the check's elaborate handwriting, and it is difficult to read some of it. Those who can, however, will learn that the monumental document was made out to Edouard de Stoeckl, Envoy Extraordinary. It was de Stoeckl, the Russian tsar's negotiator, who signed the treaty with William Henry Sward, the United States secretary of state. The word "Russia," however, is nowhere in sight.

Three-ton Nugget of Native Copper Found in Bed of Nugget Creek

"Three-ton Nugget of Native Copper Found in Bed of Nugget Creek."
(NARA, 111-AGD-83; Miles Album #700; RG 111, Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer)

When the check was shown seven years ago at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art, a visitor posed the question to exhibit curator Barbara Sweetland Smith: Did the tsar actually get the funds? Or did de Stoeckl perhaps take the money and, say, move to Hawaii?

The possibility of uncovering a new historical scandal momentarily excited Smith, a specialist on Russian history. But she quickly caught herself.

"If he did, I'm sure we'd have heard of it by now," she said.

The National Archives and Records Administration has posted the artifacts as a new digital classroom called "Migration North to Alaska." The site's material include photographs, letters, drawings, and other documents centered on the history of immigration to Alaska and its effects.

Browsers can see photos from the Gold Rush, drawings of dog sleds, and children's letters to President Dwight Eisenhower that accompanied their proposals for a new US flag to accommodate the 49th state.

The idea behind the digital classroom stems from the 1998 National History Day contest titled "Migration in History: People, Ideas, Culture."

"Alaska has so much great stuff," said Lee Ann Potter, an archives education specialist in Washington, DC.

The documents, and the questions posed alongside - "Can you think of other treaties that have prompted migration?" for example - lead students to make historical connections and learn about the types of material they need to examine for their research, Potter said.

"A treaty is a great example of one of the reasons people migrate - these are political reasons because there's now land available to settle," she said.

The $7.2 million canceled check, however, was a particularly inspiring historical moment for Potter personally.

"I taught American history for six years and I would try to teach the kids how important history is to their lives," she said.

"When I joined the National Archives a year and a half ago, they took me into the vault, and to have someone show me the canceled check was just too much. History suddenly became tangible."

Other digital classrooms set up by the agency explore aspects of the Amistad slave rebellion, topic of a new Stephen Spielberg movie; the US Navy, which will celebrate its 200th birthday next year, and baseball legend Jackie Robinson in his role as civil rights activist. Visit the "Migration North to Alaska" site online.

Peter Porco is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. This article is reprinted courtesy of that newspaper.