LocationNational Archives, Washington, DC
In the Public Vaults, the permanent exhibit in the National Archives Experience, visitors can experience the feeling of going beyond the walls of the rotunda into the stacks and vaults of the National Archives. There are thirteen unique interactive installations throughout each of the five Public Vaults to help visitors connect with the records that define our nation. The first vault, “We the People,” focuses on family and the rights of citizenship. Visitors learn that the National Archives has records not only about important and famous people but also ordinary Americans. The second vault, “To Form a More Perfect Union,” highlights records of liberty and law that illustrate the evolution of our democracy and how records have been used to hold government officials accountable for their actions. “Promote the General Welfare,” the third vault, emphasizes records of firsts and frontiers and shows how the human spirit and ingenuity helped to realize many of the promises of America as envisioned by our founders. The fourth vault, “Provide for the Common Defense,” is about wars and diplomacy, where records from the Revolutionary War through the Persian Gulf War paint a vivid picture of heroism, inspiration, and sacrifice over the decades. The fifth vault, “To Ourselves and Our Posterity,” focuses on the National Archives’ role in keeping our records for future generations.
Press & Awards“American History Through the Eyes and the Letters of the People,” The New York Times, Edward Rothstein, June 24, 2006
In 2004 archival storage space was transformed to help create what is now called the National Archives Experience, which includes a permanent 9,000-square-foot exhibition—‘The Public Vaults’—about the impact of those founding documents. Here, awe is less the point than amazement. Exhibits touch on immigration and space exploration, Oval Office audiotapes and Congressional hearings. The archives provide the substance, but now original documents defer to facsimiles, touch screens, television broadcasts and interactive displays.Omni Intermedia Award, Gold, Government, 2005Communication Arts, Interactive Design Annual, Winner, Information, 2005
This is the best project—ever. Making the National Archives more comprehensible, accessible and interesting delivers on the promise of interactive design. Once again, Second Story rises to the occasion. Kudos.“At the Archives, Real National Treasures,” The Washington Post, Janice L. Kaplan, December 3, 2004
The Archives’ stylish new interactive exhibition ‘Public Vaults’ is designed to give visitors the feeling of going behind the scenes and into the stacks of the working Archives, which are best known for displaying the Constitution, Bill of Rights and Declaration. While ‘Public Vaults’ offers a number of hands-on activities for younger children, students in middle school and older will get the most from it. Bach was particularly impressed that ‘Public Vaults’ offered activities for children with different learning styles. Danny, who is a sensory learner, got absorbed in a station devoted to the Great Seal of the United States. Steven, a visual learner, is interested in espionage; he enjoyed looking up information on Watergate and learning about secret White House recording devices. Using new technology developed for this exhibition, David moved a plasma screen along a wall labeled with different topics relating to federal investigations, such as the Titanic and Challenger disasters, and UFOs. While the creators obviously hoped to reach young visitors, many adults will want to linger long after their children are ready to move on.“At Museums, Computers Get Creative,” New York Times, Katie Hafner, December 2, 2004
Another ambitious computer-based project has been taking place at the National Archives in Washington, where there are three computers hidden behind a cluster of archival boxes in a stack area. Visitors can move a computer screen along a horizontal track in front of the boxes. ‘As we began to develop this exhibit, we started to talk about how we could get people to think beyond the rotunda walls,’ said Bruce Bustard, senior curator at the National Archives.“From Oswald To Elvis To Nixon,” CBS Evening News, Jim Stewart, November 23, 2004
If America has an attic, this is it—the place where we keep all those old records from the mundane to the memorable, reports CBS News Correspondent Jim Stewart. If it was worth saving, this is where it’s at now—in a new National Archives exhibit that just opened called the Public Vaults. You can still see the Constitution of course, but this is where they keep the really good stuff no one knew what to do with until now. But most of all, it’s that sense of shared history—old times and our times—carefully preserved and now laid out to be marveled at all over again.
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