Keeping the Kennedys Alive

Written by Justine Rothbart

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I was not alive in 1963. I don’t remember JFK’s inauguration day. I don’t remember his years in the White House. And I don’t remember that tragic day in November of 1963. And why do I feel as if I do? Why am I so fascinated with the Kennedys fifty years later?  Why do I feel as if I know them?

One word: Archives.

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Photography by Jaques Lowe from the exhibit “Creating Camelot” at the Newseum.

John F. Kennedy was the first president to essentially use the television as a way to talk to the United States (JFK Presidential Library). He was the first president to have an official White House photographer on staff. The TV and photographs captured those White House years in an unprecedented way. They captured Caroline and Jack Jr. playing in the Oval Office. They captured those tense days during the Cuban Missile Crisis. And they captured JFK’s forever-lasting funeral procession through the streets of DC.

Those photographs and the films are now archival materials. They are stored in archival institutions, such as the JFK Presidential Library and the National Archives. These materials are what keep the Kennedys alive today. As I watch JFK’s inauguration speech I feel a sense of hope and optimism. As I watch Jackie Kennedy’s White House tour, I feel her sense of pride. As I see photographs of Jackie on the day of her husband’s funeral, I feel her sense of utter grief and pain.

Those feelings rushed back for many people yesterday on November 22, 2013 – fifty years after JFK’s assassination. I spent the entire day at the Newseum for “JFK Remembrance Day.” I looked at never-before-seen images of the Kennedy family during happier times. I listened to stories from people who personally knew the president. I watched Walter Cronkite deliver the news during the real time viewing of the 1963 CBS news footage.

 CBS News live coverage of November 22, 1963 in the Great Hall of the  Newseum on "JFK Rememberance Day": November 22, 2013

CBS News live coverage of November 22, 1963 in the Great Hall of the Newseum on “JFK Rememberance Day”: November 22, 2013

This day was all possible because of the archival materials and museum objects that still exist. As archivists, we are the memory keepers. We re-tell the story. We make it seem as if you were there. We keep the Kennedys alive.

Don’t miss the JFK exhibits at the Newseum on display through January 5, 2014.

Also, check out Jackie Kennedy’s recently released oral histories from 1964.

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Food brings people together

Written by Justine Rothbart

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“Thanksgiving cheer distributed for men in service…ca. 1918.”

Food, archives, and social media. What better way to start my internship at the National Archives? I started as the Social Media Intern at the National Archives in September of 2011. This was when the exhibit, “What’s Cooking Uncle Sam?”, was located in the O’Brien Gallery at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. It featured documents from the National Archives related to the government’s effect on food in the United States. Items included WWI and WWII posters, such as “Scuttlebutt Sam says, ‘Nobody likes to see good food go to waste’ do your share to save it!” The exhibit also featured nutrition charts in which one included “butter and fortified margarine” as an entire category. As you walked around the exhibit you could see the progression of food fads and nutritional “facts” of the time. You could see how national events shaped food and vice versa.

My job was to promote this exhibit on the National Archives exhibit’s Tumblr page. This was my first exposure to the new social media tool. I quickly began to realize how beneficial and influential social media is to cultural heritage institutions. It is not only a way to promote an exhibit, but it is also a great tool to connect with people who could otherwise not physically visit this exhibit. Anyway, what’s a better way to connect with people than with food? At first, I was intimidated by the number of viewers that could possibly see these posts and I began with simple captions. As I became more comfortable, I understood the tone of voice widely used on Tumblr. I also began to know my audience. I catered to their interests. As I saw the number of “liked” and “rebloged” posts rise, I began to find my voice. We had repeated themes such as “Frugal Friday” and “Wednesday Lunch Breaks.” I saw the number of “likes” and “rebloged” start with under five and it rose to over 300!

The post on Thanksgiving Day was one of the most popular. This featured WWI servicemen in 1918 eating turkey on Thanksgiving Day. This might have been popular because of the great photograph, or because Barack Obama’s Tumblr reblogged it! That was a very exciting day. Writing posts for this exhibit was one of my first experiences in using social media in a cultural heritage setting. And it was certainly not my last!

If you haven’t already, I highly recommend jumping on the social media bandwagon with your cultural heritage institution. And hey, you never know who will reblog your post!

Check out a few of my favorite posts I wrote for the “What’s Cooking Uncle Sam?” Tumblr page:

You better watch out. I am the meanest, toughest wheat harvester this side of the Mississippi. 

The cows go marching one by one, Hurrah, Hurrah,

Wednesday Lunch Break

Frugal Friday

Click here to see all the posts.