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During a 1962 news conference, a reporter asked President John F. Kennedy if he’d consider locating his presidential library in Washington, D.C., after leaving the White House so scholars and historians would have the broadest possible access to it. No, he replied playfully, “I’m going to put it in Cambridge, Massachusetts.”...

A four-year, $10 million effort to digitize the JFK Library and Museum’s archives, making hundreds of thousands of documents, photographs, and recordings available online, is nearing completion of its first phase. A formal announcement will come Jan. 13, one week before the 50th anniversary of JFK’s inauguration, at a press conference in the nation’s capitol.

“Access to a Legacy,” as the project is called, marks the first time a presidential library established in the paper age has fully committed itself to the digital era. The amount of material to be posted online in January is huge — 200,000 pages of text, 1,500 photos, 1,250 files of audio recordings and moving images, and 340 phone conversations totaling 17 1/2 hours — but represents just a small portion of the collection....

Presidential historian Robert Dallek, who has made liberal use of the Kennedy archives, said the primary payoff is reaching the largest possible international audience. “What this means is, people in Japan or Germany can have access to [JFK’s] office files, and that’s a splendid step forward.” Other presidential libraries will probably follow suit, he added, “because they don’t want to expire, so to speak. Plus, there’s still tremendous interest in subjects like World War II, Vietnam, and the New Deal.”...



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