Hi everyone, my name is Jessie Kratz, and I'm the first Historian of the National Archives. I can tell you what is really on the back of the Declaration of Independence! I'm here to answer questions with help from Atlas Obscura. I run the National Archives History Office: https://www.archives.gov/about/history, and manage the agency’s Oral History Program. I am editor of the popular National Archives blog, Pieces of History: https://prologue.blogs.archives.gov/ where you can read about our fascinating history and more. You can listen to me on a recent Civics 101 podcast: https://www.civics101podcast.org/civics-101-episodes/ep80 or watch me on C-SPAN: https://www.c-span.org/video/?440456-1/clifford-k-berryman-political-cartoons. I look forward to answering your questions about the National Archives.

Proof: https://twitter.com/atlasobscura/status/971050413683363840

EDIT: Thanks for joining me today! I’m signing off now--follow our Pieces of History blog (https://prologue.blogs.archives.gov/) to learn more about the National Archives.

Comments: 436 • Responses: 16  • Date: 

Icommentoncrap634 karma

What is on the back of the Declaration of Independence and what would happen if I stole it?

atlasobscura913 karma

There is writing on the back of the original, signed Declaration of Independence. But it is not invisible, nor does it include a map like in Disney’s “National Treasure” movie. The writing on the back reads: “Original Declaration of Independence dated 4th July 1776.”

Stealing it would be a lot harder than Nicolas Cage made it look--you would need some superhuman powers that could penetrate bullet-proof glass! And our conservators and our security officers would be pretty mad.

jevans5489292 karma

Seeking advice that suits your expertise:

I have my grandfathers journal from WW2, he was a medic in the pacific theater. My family would like to get the document preserved and digitally archived, but have no idea where to even start to get that done. What would you recommend?

atlasobscura385 karma

Our Preservation staff have put together some helpful tips for preserving family heirlooms: https://www.archives.gov/preservation/family-archives

Larsendun257 karma

When did you first want to become a historian and why?

atlasobscura392 karma

I’ve loved history ever since I can remember. I wanted to know more about how we got to where we are. And I had a fascination with Alexander Hamilton way before it was cool to like him--he was my first “history crush”: https://prologue.blogs.archives.gov/2012/02/22/history-crush-alexander-hamilton/

diarrhealadensocks227 karma

If you were to sit down and have dinner with any one historical figure, who would it be and why is it Tupac?

atlasobscura396 karma

Tupac because I assume he would also be a fan of the Hamilton musical.

Zeewulfeh205 karma

Do you really have a warehouse with the Ark of the Covenant?

And is that where y'all have squirreled away my military medical records?

atlasobscura201 karma

We do! And we could quite possibly have your military records at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, Missouri: https://prologue.blogs.archives.gov/2015/11/11/veterans-military-records/

zacweso203 karma

Is it true all tweets are held in the national archive? Or was that just a rumor that people put out there when I was in high school.

atlasobscura274 karma

That was a rumor ;) It was the Library of Congress and they aren’t saving all of them anymore: https://www.google.com/search?q=library+of+congress+tweets

ki10_butt170 karma

What are some items that most people would be amazed that are in the National Archives?

atlasobscura395 karma

That depends on what you think is amazing.

We have two severed fingers! One is in a Libby’s pickle jar and the other an olive jar. They are part of a kidnapping claim from over 100 years ago.

We also have a mole skin that a Civil War’s widow submitted to receive her husband’s pension: https://prologue.blogs.archives.gov/2010/12/21/mole-in-place-at-the-archives/

We also have the WWI draft card for Chef Boyardee: https://www.archives.gov/atlanta/wwi-draft/boyardee.html

And my office is right around the corner from a working miniature model of the original vault that the founding documents were stored in: https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/national-archives-vault-model-mosler

forsakethelake153 karma

Is there actually a section that us normies can't access? Why would that be, just for preservation reasons?

Also, have you set up a tent and spent a night in there yet?

atlasobscura258 karma

We have vaults where we keep especially valuable documents and artifacts. This can include documents like the Emancipation Proclamation or objects like tintypes (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6yXCF6wIKyw). We are working on digitizing more of our records kept in the vault so that they will be more accessible to the public: https://aotus.blogs.archives.gov/2018/03/02/make-access-happen/

We do host sleepovers in the Rotunda where kids (and their adults) can spend the night with the Charters of Freedom: https://www.archives.gov/news/articles/ohio-girl-attends-archives-sleepover

d_heizkierper98 karma

Hi Ms. Kratz, I’m a student interested in archiving and stewardship. I’m graduating now but my experience is limited to being a library page, albeit in a fairly large library system. What advice would you give to someone wanting to not only break into the field but succeed at the level you did?

atlasobscura130 karma

I would suggest you do an internship at the place where you ultimately want to work (or if no longer a student you should volunteer). We have internship and volunteer opportunities nationwide: https://www.archives.gov/careers I did an internship at the Hoover Library as an undergrad which started me on the path where I am today. Or get involved with the community--check out the history hub: https://historyhub.history.gov/welcome or be a “citizen archivist” and participate in one of our transcription missions: https://www.archives.gov/citizen-archivist/missions

EastCoast124ever71 karma

Hi. My son has a B.A. in history and is working on his Master's in Public History. He has volunteered at NARA, interned overseas and in the U.S. in archives. Can you suggest a next step? Is it best to specialize in a particular area of history if you want to be a archivist?

atlasobscura97 karma

At this point I would suggest he start applying for federal jobs on USAjobs: https://www.usajobs.gov/ A lot of us at the National Archives have jobs not completely related to what we studied in college.

breakerfall70 karma

Isn't it all history? How is it that you're the first historian?

atlasobscura129 karma

I am the first historian of the National Archives. We were established in 1934 but it wasn’t until David Ferriero became Archivist that we had an advocate for our own history: https://aotus.blogs.archives.gov/2013/12/06/what-is-past-is-prologue-appointing-the-first-historian-of-the-national-archives/

Greatjonunchained4557 karma

Good morning Jessie!

1). What advice would you have someone doing Oral Histories?

2) What subject got you interested in History?

atlasobscura71 karma

1) Just come up with something you want answered and a list of folks who can give you those answers. Then contact them! The first time I did an oral history I was so nervous then I realized it’s not about me--it’s about what your interviewee has to say. Here is some more information on our program: https://www.archives.gov/about/history/oral-history-at-the-national-archives

2) I’ve always loved the American founding. I like to find ways to include that in my work--and it helps that we have the Declaration, Constitution, and Bill of Rights!

nazzarenalab50 karma

A few black history months ago I bumped into a showcase of documents Tuskegee airmen, including flight/ bombing plans on northern Italy. My late father had a close encounter with an aviator in one such eposode, of which he shared vivid remembrance. In which facility can I find those documents to learn more? I tried looking in your online DB but records are scattered and not identified other than by military designators. Thanks!

atlasobscura59 karma

Do you have a copy of your dad’s DD-214? That might be a good place to get started. https://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records

For the documents, our experts over at the History Hub should be able to help you locate them: https://historyhub.history.gov/welcome

lk0532146 karma

I live in DC! What are some things I should go back to see at the National Archives that I might’ve missed? Or maybe thoroughly explore?

atlasobscura82 karma

Did you see our current exhibit “Remembering Vietnam” yet? This exhibit is definitely worth returning to see: https://www.archives.gov/exhibits/currently-on-exhibit-remembering-vietnam?p=/museum/visit/gallery.html

We also have a Featured Document display that changes every few weeks. We also change out original records in the Public Vaults section of our museum. https://www.archives.gov/museum/visit/featured-documents.html

Please be sure to come back next year when our exhibit Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote opens on March 8, 2019. Rightfully Hers commemorates the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment by looking beyond suffrage parades and protests to the often overlooked story behind this landmark moment in American history.

beefycheesy37 karma

Do you have a favorite episode of Drunk History?

atlasobscura86 karma

I love that show! It’s hilarious. I would love to be on it. And my favorites are all the ones that deal with Hamilton.

KamehameBoom17 karma

Do you think there are really hidden treasures out there as grand as in the "National Treasure" movies?

atlasobscura52 karma

I hope so--I love that scene at the end of National Treasure where they go under Trinity Church!