Brooklyn in Love and at War

History of World War Two Told Through Letters

The National Archives

While this is a Brooklyn-centric blog. I hope to consider the nation’s history beyond that of my family and New York. That said, I now confess that the last two posts have been written from Washington D.C. where I’ve relocated for the summer … or something.

Gasp. Pause. Sigh.

Now that we’ve processed this move I’m turning my attention towards my experiment with separation from New York. Amidst my aimless dawdling and staving off what I now call, “Sudden Onset Future Anxiety” (SOFA) I have done a little exploring. I want to review one place that I have loved so far – the National Archives.

I had a delightful time at the National Archives. I loved the clever security guards, the great access to archival materials, the masses of people who wanted to explore the building and the documents. Once there the day slipped right through my fingers and all other plans fell to the wayside.

Right now there is an exhibit up called “What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam? The Government’s Effect on the American Diet.” On display are Upton Sinclair’s letter to Teddy Roosevelt asking for regulation of factories and food, and many tidbits about rationing during WWII. Turns out that Americans ate more fruits and veggies during  WWII because sugar was tightly rationed (after all, it was needed for explosives) and people were working hard in their Victory Gardens (see previous post: Borscht Belt).

My main problem with the exhibit was that it gave the viewer a sense that today all of our food is well-regulated and safe. The exhibit was characterized by the  “look how far we’ve come” syndrome that is consistently touted in history books, museums, and the media. However, after being overwhelmed by other museums in this city I was relieved by the lower key, more manageable Archives. If you are looking for a fun way to spend some time, explore the National Archives’ site.

If you visit the Archives I recommend stopping by the Learning Center, a place where friendly people greet you, offer to xerox anything you find. They introduce the public to the basics of an archive. Without being overwhelming, this little space makes it possible for anyone to feel like they can explore documents.  Even though all the documents are photo copies, there are gloves and plastic covers to give you the full experience of an investigative historian. I pulled out the “New York” file and there were about ten documents, a pretty standard set of documents – like a photograph of people arriving at Ellis Island. So it isn’t a place I would go to write a dissertation but I applaud this sincere effort to engage people with the archival materials!

While waiting to see the Constitution, the security guard warned us all not to form any lines to view the artifacts. She explained that there are “viewers” and there are “readers” and “Heaven knows, if you are a viewer you don’t want to get stuck behind a reader!” I wonder who conducted that museum research project.

So here goes a new chapter. But for nostalgia’s sake, here are some cool photos of New York in the 1940s!

One comment on “The National Archives

  1. Sheryl
    August 1, 2011

    I just discovered this blog. It is awesome. I look forward to coming back frequently and browsing through the postings. Thanks for sharing the information about the National Archives’ cooking exhibit. I went to the exhibit website and really enjoyed the photos presented in the overview. I hope that I have the opportunity to visit the exhibit before it ends in Jan. 2012.

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This entry was posted on July 18, 2011 by in Uncategorized.
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