National Archives Public Vaults
Family History Search
LocationNational Archives, Washington, DC
Exhibition DesignGallagher & Associates
Visitors discover how Americans use the National Archives to seek the truth about their families in this interactive installation.
There are two paths to exploring this interactive: in one scenario visitors help find the records that prove citizenship for Social Security benefits, and in another track they find the documents that prove a great grandfather’s honorable service for a military headstone. Once visitors are introduced to the stories told through narration and video, individual documents can be studied in the Enhanced Record Viewer, which allows them to zoom into every detail, turn pages, transcribe handwriting, and reveal interpretive hot spots that explain important features. Interactive touch screens are integrated directly into the exhibitry and overhead repeater screens help groups and bystanders share the experience. These installations are part of the Public Vault, “We the People,” focusing on family and the rights of citizenship. Visitors learn that the National Archives has records not only about important and famous people but also about ordinary Americans.
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.
© 2013 Second Story, Inc.
- Martin Linde
- Thomas Wester
- Motion Designer
- Martin Linde
- A/V Editing & Production
- David Waingarten
- Quality Assurance
- Jeremy Clark, David Brewer
- A/V Filming
- Northern Light Production
- A/V Integration
- Design & Production
- Exhibit Design
- Gallagher & Associates