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The Rotunda of the National Archives Building has on permanent display originals of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.

An archivist works in one of the long stacks in the Archives


or years, most people have come to the National Archives Building along the National Mall to visit its Rotunda and see America’s “crown jewels,” the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, known collectively as the Charters of Freedom. You can still do that today, but you can do much, much more. You can have a “National Archives Experience.” The heart of the “experience” is the Rotunda, but you can also explore America’s story in the Public Vaults, a permanent exhibition that gives you the feeling of going beyond the walls of the Rotunda into the stacks and vaults of the Archives. Surrounding the Rotunda, the Public Vaults contain 1,100 documents, facsimiles and artifacts that relate the nation’s history. For example, you can see and hear President Theodore Roosevelt speaking 100 years ago, read Irving Berlin’s original manuscript for “God Bless America,” study the camera that captured John F. Kennedy’s assassination, try to solve mysteries in coded war messages, and step into the private lives of our modern Presidents. Individual “vaults” draw their themes from the Preamble to the Constitution. In “We the People,” a visitor might help an elderly widow establish her identity as an American citizen, and in “To Form a More Perfect Union,” the visitor might explore evidence and judgments from civil rights cases. The National Archives Experience also features the William G. McGowan Theater, where lectures and public programs are held; the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery, for temporary exhibits; the Boeing Learning Center, the hub of the Archives’ nationwide civic education efforts; the Archives Shop, operated

Albert Einstein’s declaration of intention to become a U.S. citizen

An exhibit about citizenship in the Public Vaults as part of the National Archives Experience.

by the Foundation for the National Archives; and the new “Digital Vaults,” an interactive web site. The overall mission of the National Archives and Records Administration is to preserve and protect federal records so citizens can learn from them. Access to the records allows Americans to document their rights and hold their government accountable. NARA also supports democracy, promotes civic education, and fosters understanding of our nation’s history. Most important, it makes records available for today’s needs—from agency records needed for the daily tasks of Government to family records for genealogy researchers and service records for military veterans. Among the current holdings of the National Archives nationwide are more than 8.5 billion pages of textual records; 360,000 reels of film and 110,000 videotapes, 275,000 sound recordings, nearly 9.5 still photographs and many other kinds of records, including many terabytes of electronic records that range from simple text documents to web pages and e-mails. A large portion of the agency’s holdings are at the National Archives Building in Washington or the National Archives at College Park, Maryland. However, much of the Archives’ work is outside of Washington area - at 12 Presidential libraries, 14 regional archives, and 15 Federal Records Centers, including the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, which houses the records of millions of military veterans of the 20th Century as well as former civilian Federal employees.

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Best of DC


BEST OF DC: Defining Change in American Leadership  
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