Resources for Teaching History in California

What is the National Archives and Records Administration?

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is an independent Federal agency that preserves our nation's history and defines us as a people by overseeing the management of all Federal records.

Enshrined for posterity in the original building in Washington, DC, are the cornerstone documents of our government, the Charters of Freedom: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and the Bill of Rights.

But the National Archives and Records Administration is more than famous documents. NARA is a public trust upon which our democracy depends. NARA enables people to inspect for themselves the record of what government has done. NARA enables officials and agencies to review their actions and helps citizens hold them accountable for those actions. And NARA ensures continuing access to essential evidence that documents the rights of American citizens, the actions of Federal officials, and the national experience.

The National Archives of the United States reflect and record more than 200 years of American development; they are great in number, diverse in character, and rich in information.

The National Archives and Records Administration's 33 facilities hold about 21.5 million cubic feet of original textual materials--that's more than 4 billion pieces of paper from the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the Federal government. The National Archives multimedia collections include nearly 300,000 reels of motion picture film, more than 5 million maps, charts, and architectural drawings, more than 200,000 sound and video recordings, more than 9 million aerial photographs, nearly 14 million still pictures and posters, and about 7,600 computer data sets.

Every year the Federal government creates a new avalanche of records.  Determining what evidence is essential documentation is one of NARA's major responsibilities. Less than 3 percent of the government's records have enough enduring historical or legal significance to become part of the National Archives indefinitely.

Records in the National Archives document the government's policies, define how those policies are carried out, and offer insights into the experiences of individual Americans. They show the nation's expansion westward, the settlement of the land, the emergence of industrial America, the challenges of agrarian commerce, the story of American ingenuity, the fight for democracy, and the struggle for equality.  They help to guarantee the accountability of the government to the American people and enable citizens to protect individual rights and liberties. Presidents and politicians, diplomats and soldiers, the famous, the infamous, and the ordinary citizen all have a place here.

In addition to preserving the records, archivists work to make them readily available to a wide spectrum of citizens.  Among the many types of researchers who use the National Archives are historians seeking to understand the past, lawyers preparing briefs, journalists researching today's stories, agency officials exploring the origins of a policy, veterans pursuing their legal rights, people tracing their family roots, and students preparing papers.

Thousands of people call, write, and visit NARA to get information from and about our records. More than 300,000 people annually make research visits to archival facilities, and staff members respond to an additional 800,000 oral and written requests for records and information. Archivists assist researchers with a variety of topics. What did the autopsy report on Abraham Lincoln reveal? Who was on the Hindenberg when it exploded? What has the Air Force discovered about UFOs? What products were rationed during World War II?

NARA also serves as a national cultural institution by involving millions of people in public programs at all of our facilities. Programs include exhibitions, behind-the-scenes tours, commemorative celebrations, educational lectures, film series, genealogical workshops, and volunteer programs.

NARA publishes the government's daily newspaper of rules and regulations, the Federal Register, as well as the Code of Federal Regulations, the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, the Public Papers of the Presidents, The United States Government Manual, and the U.S. Statutes at Large. Federal Register publications form an important link between the Federal government and those affected by its regulations and actions.

NARA: A Nationwide System

NARA establishes standards for the adequate documentation of government agencies and activities. Archivists work with agencies to determine the length of time their records should be retained before being destroyed or transferred to the National Archives of the United States, and archivists maintain schedules of records currently in agencies' custody.

Semi-active records still in agency custody become part of records center holdings stored at regional records services facilities throughout the United States. The facilities provide reduced storage costs for agency records that would otherwise overcrowd government offices. If you have ever filed an income tax form, served in the military, had a social security number or a passport, your records may have been stored in a regional records services facility. These facilities respond to more than 14 million agency requests for records and information each year and an additional 2 million from the public.

NARA also maintains the Presidential records, personal papers, audiovisual collections, and gifts and artifacts of former Presidents from Herbert Hoover to George Bush at 12 Presidential libraries, projects, and museums. As well as being excellent historical research facilities, the libraries and museums are designed to give the general public a better understanding of the life and times of individual Presidents, the institution of the Presidency, and the American political system as a whole.

Through the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, the National Archives and Records Administration awards competitive grants to preserve, publish, and encourage the use of documentary sources that constitute an important part of our national heritage.

What makes NARA a nationwide resource is not only these important roles, but its physical presence at more than 30 sites throughout the country. The National Archives Building in Washington, DC, is located midway between the White House and the Capitol on Pennsylvania Avenue. The National Archives at College Park is a new, state-of-the-art facility in Maryland. In addition, regional records services facilities from Atlanta, GA, to Anchorage, AK -- including two in California -- store, preserve, and make available to the public and Federal agencies, records center and archival holdings, including records of Federal courts and field offices of Federal agencies. By identifying, protecting, and helping people to use the invaluable records of America's past, the National Archives and Records Administration plays a unique and central role in preserving our national heritage and democratic traditions for all Americans now and in the future.

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The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
1-86-NARA-NARA or 1-866-272-6272