We’re thrilled to share that we reached 100,000 followers at around 9pm on Friday night. Apologies for the delay in sharing our news, as some of us were off the grid over the weekend, enjoying National Trails Day.
Thanks again to everyone who has helped make Today’s Document a success! As we work towards getting another 100k Tumblr users hooked on history, please let us know:
Why do you follow Today’s Document? What do you like/dislike — and how can we make it even better?
The Prime Crew for the NASA’s First Manned Skylab Mission Meet the Press in a Final Briefing Prior to Isolation for the Coming Launch of Skylab II, 05/01/1973
Skylab, the first American space station, was launched unmanned on May 14, 1973. This photo is of the prime crew for the first manned Skylab mission at a final briefing prior to isolation for the coming launch, which occurred on May 24, 1973. The astronauts are (L. to R.) Charles Conrad Jr., Commander, Paul J. Weitz, Pilot, and Dr. Joseph P. Kerwin, Science Pilot.
Ethan Allen and his Vermont militia, the Green Mountain Boys, accompanied by Benedict Arnold, captured Fort Ticonderoga in New York from its small British garrison on May 10, 1775, in the second major engagement of the American Revolution.
A plan of Fort Ticonderoga in July 1758 during the Seven Years War. (111-SC-94756)
Controlling the southern end of Lake Champlain, the fort had been a strategic linchpin during the earlier French and Indian Wars but had later fallen into disrepair. However, the artillery pieces captured with the fort would prove key months later, when they were removed and used to break the siege of Boston, liberating it from British occupation.
Now a reconstructed museum, Fort Ticonderoga existed only as ruins in the years following the war. Read more about the fort and a would-be veteran in the compelling A Soldier of the Revolution; Or, Will the Real Isaac Rice Please Stand Up from the National Archives’ Prologue Magazine.
(Ed. note - visited Fort Ti this past summer, along with the “jr. curator.” -D)
Did you see Today’s Document featured on Storyboard?
Hopefully our followers will enjoy this behind-the-scenes profile of our work!
Something else I really wanted to stress was when it comes to sharing these items with the public, we’re just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the effort that’s gone into making them available. Countless National Archives staff have spent hours archiving, describing & digitizing these materials. If it weren’t for their efforts, nobody would be seeing these documents unless they visited the Archives in person.
On that note, don’t forget our Archives colleagues on Tumblr, including:
- U.S. National Archives
- Our Presidents
- Preservation at the National Archives
- Congress in the Archives
- Riverside Tumblrweed Times
- Archivist of the United States
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the rest of the Today’s Document team, my partner in crime, Suzanne Isaacs, and Meredith Stewart (Today’s Document emeritus). Also, for the record, I am not an archivist, merely an IT Specialist (in gov-speak) with a background in history and educational technology.
And a very special thanks to Laura Sikes Jambon for the opportunity to talk her ear off about Today’s Document — and we love that tagline “10 Billion Documents, 1 Day at a Time.” We may just be using that later…
10 Billion Documents, 1 Day at a Time
The United States National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has turned to Tumblr in an effort to make its collection of over ten billion historical documents more accessible. Since 1934, the Archives have protected the country’s most precious documents, including the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Emancipation Proclamation. As “America’s record keeper,” the agency also keeps track of the American government’s daily business. Every federal office is required to report their activities in detail to the NARA, whose staff is then responsible for deciding which of these materials will be saved and made public. This means the Archives are continually growing. Only about 1-3% of documents submitted annually make the cut, and those that do can affect the shape of contemporary politics as well as historical memory.
Accordingly, the NARA faces the constant threat of politicization as an independent agency responsible for federal oversight. The Archives clashed with the Clinton administration when one of the President’s advisors, Sandy Berger, stole and destroyed NARA documents related to terrorist plots. During the second Bush presidency, the Archives were accused of weakness in their negotiations with the executive branch over access to public records; the New York Times said they could use some “spine-stiffening.” Bush’s administration defended their practices on grounds of national security.
More recently, on his first day in office in 2009, President Obama issued a letter to all federal agencies and departments calling for “transparency and open government.” He urged the use of “new technologies to put information about [goverment] operations and decisions online and readily available to the public.” Proclaiming “[i]nformation maintained by the Federal Government … a national asset,” this transparency memo prompted major internal changes at the National Archives.
Following instructions “to disclose information rapidly in forms that the public can readily find and use,” archivist Darren Cole, a web designer with a background in educational technology, helped start the NARA’s popular Today’s Document site two years ago. Social media users have responded with enthusiasm to the agency’s public history blogs. One follower raved, “How am I supposed to work knowing that there is a National Archives tumblr?! It’s like intellectual heroin!” I spoke to Cole about the success of Today’s Document,which is now one of ten Tumblrs dedicated to showcasing the Archives’ holdings.
How did you decide to start a Tumblr blog?
I first came up with Today’s Document several years ago as a way to repurpose some existing web-friendly content as our own take on a “Today in History”-type feature. Two years ago, during our Agency-wide transformation to meet President Obama’s Open Government directive, some colleagues suggested revamping Today’s Document by capitalizing on social media to get more user engagement. We tried it as a traditional blog but soon switched to Tumblr. We realized the visual format might be a better fit and would let the records speak for themselves. It totally took off.
What are the goals of the site? Why write about these documents?
Broadly speaking, we’re following the directives of our strategic plan by educating, engaging, and building public awareness of our holdings, and also meeting the new expectations of the public by improving access. So long as we’re getting comments from people who have learned something new about U.S. history, become aware of the Archives, or are simply impressed that we’re even on Tumblr, I think we’ve fulfilled our mission.
How has your blog been received by the Tumblr community?
At last count, we’ve had 12 posts featured on the Tumblr Radar, so of course the response to those has been phenomenal. I think our first post to ever get on the radar — Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Olympics — holds a special place. It’s a great story and a great photo, and the Radar experience was a rush. We were still fairly new to Tumblr at the time, and it took us a bit to figure out what was going on as our follower count and the notes took off. The second radar post was of Gemini X. At the time Tumblr had just rolled out new photoset layouts, and the timing couldn’t have been better. It enabled us to feature these photos in much more visually interesting way and got a lot more attention because of it. The photosets have since given us a really creative way of dealing with some of the larger record sets we want to feature, or let us juxtapose different items. The only trick now is trying to avoid featuring too many items in a single post.
Can you give us an idea of how many documents you have to choose from? How you select the ones to be featured?
In total there are just over 600,000 digital items in our catalog, although this is growing all the time. Some days have a bonanza of potential items, and it’s hard to keep from posting them all; other days it can be a real struggle to find anything relevant to post. Personally, I have a weakness for anything fromLewis Hine or Documerica, but we try to maintain some variety. We have a fairly organic process. First, as “Today’s Document” we try very hard to find something that correlates with the day or date. It’s a contrivance but really helps to focus our search and add a bit of relevance, especially for the significant anniversaries. We try to balance that with what items will have the most public engagement, quality of the image, and what we think will make a good post on Tumblr. Various observance days like “National Sandwich Day” can be light but are a fun and easy way to broaden someone’s awareness, and we can often feature items we might not otherwise.
Have you been surprised by the popularity of any posts?
Our first bike-to-work day post was a photo of a couple on this Victorian tandem bike. It was surprisingly popular at the time (for one of our first posts) and made us realize the popularity of the vintage and quirky items (and the bike community). Another post of “Ice Girls“—two women delivering ice during World War—was picked up by several women’s history blogs and did extremely well without getting on the Radar. Both posts were wake-up calls of sorts and helped us to recognize the variety and diversity of communities on Tumblr. Hopefully we have something for everyone (or will).
Have you had any posts that received a particularly good response from your followers? Are there any personal favorites among the documents you’ve showcased?
The top post in terms of likes and reblogs — also a favorite here — was a letter from second-grader Kelli Middlestead to the Fish & Wildlife Service [expressing concern for sea otters in the wake of the Exxon Valdez oil spill]. Of course it has the cute factor, which is always a hit on Tumblr, but hopefully people found it compelling that a kid can write a letter and it will still make its way to a director of a federal agency. And even if users are too young to remember the Valdez spill (we know Tumblr skews young), hopefully that historical glimpse gives them a new perspective when considering current events, such as the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
Have any of your posts initiated interesting historical discussions among your readers?
The best example of a conversation was probably a result of our posts on the Homestead Act’s 150th Anniversary earlier this year. Someone commented, “All the documents of ‘homesteaders’ stealing land from Native Americans is bumming me out.” It gave us a great opportunity to talk a bit about the duality of history and the role of the Archives. The response to this was fairly positive, so it was not only a gratifying experience but helped to justify what we’re doing with the blog. Deciding what to post is hard for us sometimes. It would be great to post wacky patents all the time, but we have a mission to do more.
No, it’s not in the Constitution
As those dishes are cleared and the chairs pushed back from the Thanksgiving table, the conversations can touch on a lot of topics — food, football, politics, constitutional law… Need to quiet that know-it-all uncle? Here are eight common misconceptions where the Constitution doesn’t say what he thinks it does:
- The President can veto a proposed amendment to the Constitution.
No. He has nothing to do with the amendments. Congress can propose an amendment with a two-thirds vote of both houses, or a Constitutional Convention can be called by a vote of two-thirds of the state legislatures. However, once the amendment is proposed either by Congress or a convention, it must be ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures.
Only one amendment, the 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition (the 18th Amendment), was ratified by conventions in the states.
- The “Founding Fathers” who wrote the Declaration of Independence in 1776 are the same men who wrote the Constitution in 1787.
Only five individuals signed both of these two founding documents. They were George Clymer, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Morris, George Read, and Roger Sherman. Some of the famous signers of the Declaration were elsewhere when the Constitution was being written. Thomas Jefferson was in France as our American minister, and John Adams was American minister to Great Britain.
- The Constitution established the system of Federal courts.
No. The Constitution established “one supreme Court” and left it to Congress to establish lower courts.
- The Constitution gave the Supreme Court the power to declare laws unconstitutional.
No. The Constitution makes no mention of judicial review, which is common in our legal system now. Judicial review goes back to English common law and was affirmed during the 34-year tenure of Chief Justice John Marshall in the landmark case Marbury v. Madison in 1803. Today, Federal courts at all levels can declare laws unconstitutional, although the Supreme Court has the final word.
- The Constitution sets the number of seats in the House of Representatives at 435.
No. The Constitution gives this power to the Congress, which has increased the number of House members as the nation’s population has increased. The limit of 435 members was set in 1911. It temporarily exceeded that number for a few years when new states were admitted to the Union, but reverted back to 435 after the next reapportionment. The original proposed Bill of Rights included an amendment that would have set a maximum of one representative for every 50,000 persons. Had it been approved, we would have a very large number of House members today. The Constitution did say that each state would have two senators in the Senate, regardless of the state’s population.
- The House must choose one of its own members as Speaker, and the Senate must choose one of its own as President pro-tempore.
No. The Constitution says only that the “House shall chuse their speaker.” The Speaker, third in line to the Presidency, has always been a member of the House. The Constitution also says, “The Senate shall chuse… .a President pro tempore… .” The President pro tempore has always been a senior senator.
- The Constitution says “all men are created equal.”
No. The Declaration of Independence says that. The Constitution skirts the issue of slavery, counting each slave as three-fifths of a person in determining representation in Congress. While this definition offends us today, it was an attempt to limit the power of states with large numbers of enslaved people. Otherwise, the enslaved people, who of course could not vote, would have been used to justify larger numbers of representatives for slave states and give them more power in Congress.
- The Constitution created the United States as a democracy.
No. Someone asked Benjamin Franklin whether the delegates to the Constitutional Convention inside Independence Hall in Philadelphia had created a monarchy or a republic. “A republic, if you can keep it,” Franklin replied. The difference: In a democracy, the majority rules, but a republic has a government by the people with checks and balances and a constitution for all to adhere to. Article 4, section 4, states: “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government.”
What’s your favorite Constitutional “Myth”?
Amelia Earhart sent this letter to President Franklin Roosevelt regarding preparations for her planned world flight on November 10, 1936:
“Some time ago, I told you and Mrs. Roosevelt about my confidential plans for a world flight.”
-America Earhart to FDR
Amelia Earhart was born on this day - July 24, 1897
Here’s a letter Earhart wrote to Franklin D. Roosevelt in November of 1936 detailing her upcoming around-the-world flight and asking for assistance from the Navy.
Regarding the Capture of H.B.M. Frigate Macedonian by U.S. Frigate United States, 10/25/1812
…She is a frigate of the largest class, two years old, four months out of dock, and reputed one of the best sailers in the British service…
200 years ago today, the frigate USS United States, commanded by Commodore Stephen Decatur, captured the HMS Macedonian, after an hour and a half engagement.
(Reportedly Decatur and the captain of the Macedonian, John Carden, had met previously and bet a beaver hat to the victor if they ever met in battle. However, there is no mention of the hat in Decatur’s report.)
Constitution 225: Tweet the Preamble Challenge Results!
In honor of the 225th anniversary of the Constitution, we challenged citizens on Twitter to capture the essence of the 52-word Preamble in just 140 characters. Here’s the winner and some of our favorite entries!
The Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero chose the winner of the “Tweet the Preamble” challenge!:@JeanHuets: #preamble We’re getting together to constitute a nation that’s just, peaceful, strong, prosperous and free. Are you in?
The “fifth page” of the Constitution has never been on display before at the National Archives.
This year, for the first time, visitors will be able to see what is sometimes referred to as the “fifth page” of the Constitution—the Resolutions of Transmittal to the Continental Congress. A special display for the 225th anniversary of the Constitution in September, will feature this document. “It’s up there with the Constitution in terms of value,” says curator Alice Kamps.
The Constitution Resolution spells out how the new Constitution would be adopted by the United States and how the new government would be put into effect.