Monday, February 21, 2011

Book Review: Records of Our National Life

Records of Our National Life: American History from the National Archives
Edited by Anne-Catherine Fallen and Kevin Osborn Research & Design, Ltd.
Washington, DC: The Foundation for the National Archives, 2009

In the wrong hands, history can be a very boring subject. The names, dates, and lists of facts can seem very disconnected from real life. Published in honor of the National Archives' 75th anniversary, the coffee-table book "Records of Our National Life" presents history in living color.

Each striking full-color glossy page offers a new treasure to discover. From a map of Boston in 1775 and the agreement of secrecy taken by all members of the Continental Congress to the handwritten copy of Washington's first inaugural address, the beginnings of the United States are well-represented. Move forward in time and view documents from the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the abolitionist movement, and a map of Sutter's Mill where gold was discovered in 1848. See a collection of Civil War era photographs by Matthew Brady and items related to the Confederate government. Read the testimony of Dr. Robert Stone regarding the death of President Abraham Lincoln.

Are you more interested in the modern era? See part of President Franklin Roosevelt's Inaugural Address and photos of the Civilian Conservation Corps at work. There is a page of World War II posters and photos of the women who worked hard in the factories while the men were off fighting. There is the Supreme Court Judgment from Brown v. Board of Education and documents related to the Cuban Missile Crisis. There are photographs from the Vietnam War and President Nixon in China as well as items related to Watergate. Mount St. Helens is shown erupting. One can also read one of the sheet cards from President Reagan's famous speech at Brandenburg Gate asking Mr. Gorbachev to "Tear Down This Wall!" The most recent items are related to 9/11, the Patriot Act and the election of President Obama.

Social historians will love this book the most. From the birth certificates (literally, pages out of family Bibles) of Revolutionary War Veterans, to the Homestead Application of Almonzo Wilder, and citizen applications of such notables as Greta Garbo, Albert Einstein, and Maria von Trapp, there is much to explore and pore over.

While not a history text, "Records of Our National Life" is a wonderful addition to any study of American history and could be the starting point for many interesting projects and further study. It is a tremendous resource and one well-worth spending time with.

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