Feature Archive: National Archives (II), College Park, Maryland, USA

Each month, a researcher shares their experiences of using a particular archive. The overall aim of this section is to create a database of the different archives available to those working on French and Francophone studies that will be of help particularly to students just starting out in research.

David Foulk is a PhD Student at Oriel College, Oxford, where he is researching economic and financial considerations relating to the French Resistance. He previously worked, between 2016 and 2018, as a lecteur at the Université de Bordeaux. His university profile can be found at: https://www.oriel.ox.ac.uk/people/mr-david-foulk

Archives II is the largest facility belonging to the United States National Archives (NARA) and is located in College Park, Maryland. Access from the centre of Washington D.C. is easy; researchers can make use of the complementary bus service, taking around fifty minutes, caught from outside the main archives on Pennsylvania Avenue

My research calls for documents relating to the Office of Strategic Services, and their operations in Switzerland, during World War II, as well as those relating to American intelligence on French resistance activities. This will provide insight into the American role in financing clandestine operations. After collecting a reader’s card, access is provided to four levels of reading rooms. There are two research centres housed on the documentation level; one for non-military matters and the other for those relating to the armed services. Under the guidance of the archivist, David, record identification numbers were found, thanks to the electronic catalogue. These were cross-checked with those in the paper binders, indicating the box’s location in the stacks. There was an element of time-pressure as document-pulls are only performed once per hour.

Various services are available to researchers within the reading room, including the use of portable scanners and smartphone camera stands. When one’s records arrive, a copyright permit is required if photos are to be taken; much like the process of autorisation de prises de photos in the French National Archives. Archivists regularly pass, providing assistance and verifying that documents are being correctly handled; their knowledge of the records is comprehensive, and they helped to navigate the archives with relative ease. Moreover, an on-site cafeteria offers a range of reasonably-priced food.

While many records were available to be consulted from the stacks, and were identified in the catalogue, it was only once opened that the cream-coloured notices came to light. These indicate that the record has been withdrawn. Submitting a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request was relatively straightforward. However, when asked how long it could take to process, the archivist’s reply of “Anything from a year to a decade” was rather startling. As it happened, a response arrived little more than a day after my return to France.

The personnel and services were excellent, the archives are rich in history for modernists, and the College Park archives are highly recommended for those whose subjects require an American dimension. The reading rooms have been reopened, following the governmental budgetary shut-down. It is highly recommended to check on the operating status of the archives, prior to visiting.

Thank you very much for this, David!


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