The National Archives and America's Founding Documents

Have you heard of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon? It's also known as the frequency or recency illusion. It's the phenomenon when you hear or see something unusual and then hear and notice that something repeatedly.

Last week, I noticed that the earliest histories of the American Revolution virtually omitted the Articles of Confederation. Now, I see the omission of the Articles from nearly every place where I would expect to read and find more information about them, like the National Archives' website.[1]

The National Archives holds, conserves, and preserves the founding documents of the United States. When you visit its website, a menu bar at the top of the homepage prominently displays a link to "America's Founding Documents."

Screen shot of National Archives' Homepage

Click the link and you will find pictures for and links to the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.

National Archives, "America's Founding Documents" webpage

The Articles of Confederation is conspicuously absent from the page.[2] In fact, it isn't even a sidebar or bottom-page link away. In this digital representation of "America's Founding Documents," the Articles of Confederation doesn't exist.

The National Archives houses the original, signed copy of the Articles of Confederation. But to find its digital copy, you have to search for it. And the first link you will find, "Welcome to," takes you to a completely different website, which has a far inferior display and web view for documents compared to the Archives' "America's Founding Documents" page.[3]

Articles of Confederation as displayed on ""


Archives and History

Archives shape the way we view and interpret history. It's something Jennifer Morgan and Peter Drummey reminded me of during our conversations for the "Doing History: How Historians Work" podcast series and something Karin Wulf talks about in her tweets and blog posts.

The National Archives plays a large role in how we view our nation's written record and what we view as historically important in that record. According to its interpretation, the Articles of Confederation is not a significant document. Therefore the document is hard to find on the National Archives' website--a casual browser would not find it--and the Archives has omitted it from the digital pantheon it created to highlight "America's Founding Documents."[4]

Of course, I disagree with the National Archives.

The Articles of Confederation is one of "America's Founding Documents." In fact, it shares the same lineage as the three documents the National Archives includes within its "Charters of Freedom."


The "America's Founding Documents" Family Tree

The Second Continental Congress agreed to draft articles of confederation on the same day it moved to draft a declaration to declare the colonies' independence from Great Britain.[5]

The fact that the Articles of Confederation placed too much sovereignty in the states caused the Constitutional Convention to convene and draft a new constitution in 1787. The Articles of Confederation directly informed the Constitution of 1787.

The Articles of Confederation also informed Madison's Bill of Rights. For example, Article 2 of the Articles of Confederation states that "Each State retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled."[6]

Amendment X of the Bill of Rights: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."[7]


Project Direction

The ultimate goal of my research into the drafting and ratification of the Articles of Confederation is to produce a multimedia/multi-platform book. In the poetic words of Robert Frost, I have "miles to go before I sleep/And miles to go before I sleep"; I am years away from realizing this goal.[8]

One of the mistakes I made with my dissertation was I waited too long to start writing. Therefore, I'm thinking about writing an article. I have so much research to conduct for this project. Pursuing an article would both direct the directions I go in my research and ensure that I start writing sooner rather than later.

I have two article projects in mind. One article would explore the omission of the Articles of Confederation from histories of the American Revolution. I imagine the article would investigate the early histories of the American Revolution, why the Articles do not fit neatly within those nationalist interpretations of American history, and how the historiography of the Revolution has rarely looked back at the Articles since those early histories.

The second article would be to explore the settlement of the boundary between New York and Massachusetts. The article would explore issues over western land, cultural differences, and how Article 9 of the Articles of Confederation operated. I've wanted to write this article since grad school and I already have a fair amount of the research for it in my files. But I'm not sure I should write it. The article would deal with issues that affected the drafting and ratification of the Articles of Confederation, but it's not a piece I see fitting within a multimedia/multi-platform book focused on how the Second Continental Congress drafted and ratified the Articles.




[1] Alan Taylor's American Revolutions: A Continental History, 1750-1804, is one place I expected to find the Articles of Confederation mentioned and it appeared. Taylor devoted three pages (pages 337-339) to summarizing the Articles  and the challenges the Second Congress experienced in drafting and ratifying them.

[2] The Articles of Confederation are also absent from the National Archives online gift shop. For the record, I would purchase a facsimile of the Articles to hang on my wall if one existed.

[3] A bit more searching and you will find the National Archives' wonderful high-resolution images of the signed copy of the Articles of Confederation.

[4] The National Archives also omits the Articles of Confederation from its physical pantheon to the United States' founding documents: the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom.

[5] Richard Henry Lee's Resolution, June 7, 1776.

[6] It's important to note the importance of Article 2. It appears after Article 1, which states "The Stile of this confederacy shall be, "The United States of America." Transcript of the Articles of Confederation, OurDocuments.Gov.

[7] U.S. National Archives, "The Bill of Rights: A Transcription."

[8] Robert Frost, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"

Getting Access: Internet Archive

library-cloudWelcome to Getting Access, a series devoted to helping you obtain the digital records you need. Have you ever searched for a book online only to find that Google Books does not have the antiquarian tome you were looking for?

If so, you should give the Internet Archive a try.

In fact, the Internet Archive contains digital records that will help all historians, no matter what period you study.

In this post you will learn what the Internet Archive is and why it is an excellent digital resource for historians.


Internet Archive

Internet-ArchiveFounded in 1996, the Internet Archive is an internet library that offers historians, researchers, and members of the general public “permanent access” to historical collections.

The goal of the Internet Archive is to create a comprehensive archive of our 21st-century digital world. It has partnered with several institutions, including the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian to ensure the preservation of the Internet's digital record.

Its digital archive includes historical texts, audio, videos, software, and archived webpages.

The Internet Archive strives to provide free, open access to literature and other writings that society has deemed essential to its education and maintenance.


Records: Antiquarian Books

The Internet Archive provides digital access to many antiquarian books.

In addition to conducting it own scanning projects at libraries such as the Boston Public Library, the Internet Archive has indexed many books from the Google Books Project.

Internet-Archive-1This indexing can be helpful when you search for a book as the Internet Archive's search engine will turn up results in both the Internet Archive database and the Google Books library.

With that said, the Internet Archive has not indexed every book in the Google Books library.

I have also found variations in the holdings of Google Books and the Internet Archive.

The Internet Archive sometimes has books that Google Books does not and vice versa.

Therefore, I usually search the Internet Archive first, but if my search does not turn up the book I am looking for, I will try a search in Google Books directly.

When you find a book you want to read, the Internet Archive will provide you with links to all available file formats. These formats include: PDF, Black-and-White PDF, ePub, Kindle, Daisy, Full Text, Metadata, DjVu. Not every book is available in every file format.

Records: Other Files

A click of the Internet Archive drop-down menu shows that the archive contains a huge array of different file types.

Beyond texts you can use the Internet Archive to search for video of news, movies, cartoons, vlogs, and sports broadcasts; audio files of podcasts, radio programs, and music; educational lectures and internet forum discussions.



The Internet Archive stands as an invaluable resource for any historian, especially those with limited library access. It has an extensive array of holdings that all historian will find useful.


ThinkWhat Do You Think?

Have you used the Internet Archive’s non-text files? What is your impression of their holdings?

What is your favorite web-based archive?


3 Ways Evernote Makes Research Easier: A Historian's Notes

evernoteOver the last year, I have come across a few technologies that have made historical research easier. The tool that has made the most positive difference is Evernote.

Evernote works like a digital filing cabinet. What attracted me to the software was the idea that I could upload articles and research notes and then access them remotely from my laptop, smartphone, tablet, or any computer with an internet connection.

Within two months of downloading the app I began relieving my physical filing cabinets of their contents; I used a scanner to send all of my photocopied documents, articles, handwritten notes, finding aids, and other research materials into Evernote.

3 Ways Evernote Makes Research Easier


1. Digital Filing Cabinet

Evernote allowed me to organize my files better than I could in my filing cabinets.

Within Evernote I created notebooks, or as I like to think of them, tiny filing cabinets. I assigned each of my notebooks a topic and then I grouped like topics together in a larger Notebook Stack. For example, I have a large Notebook Stack entitled "Archived Articles." Within that stack, I have notebooks for articles about Economic history, the Erie Canal, Albany, Ethnicity, Identity, New York Politics, Migration, Architecture, Education, Federalists, the French and Indian War, the Revolution, Loyalism, Industrialization, Land Disputes, Street Paving, and many other topics. Before I file each article into its large-topic folder, I tag it with a list of the smaller topics it covers.

Although any given article will reside in a large topic folder, I can perform a tag search that will locate it by the secondary content I listed. So any time I want to look up what I have on "English Rough Music Practices," I click the appropriate tag and Evernote finds all the articles, notes, books, and files that I tagged as touching upon it. Evernote also allows me to search my notes by keyword--although the search is limited to the text of the note--it will not include the text of a PDF or JPEG I attached to a note.


2. Research Notebook

Evernote has proven to be more than a place to store academic articles and research notes. I use Evernote to help me write. Each writing project has a notebook in which I place notes about ideas for wording, notes and resources to check, and any feedback I receive.

I used to carry pen and paper everywhere because I always think about my writing, even when I am not thinking about my writing. Now when I get a spur-of-the-moment idea, I pull out my smartphone and file that idea away into the appropriate notebook.


3. Research Trip Planning

Most recently, I used Evernote for archive research. Evernote has a web clipper feature that allows me to take a snapshot of the web content I am looking at and file it away in any of my notebooks.

Over the last month I have used the web clipper to perform archive reconnaissance. Next week I am going to use manuscript collections at the New York Public Library and New-York Historical Society. I created a folder for each of these archives and used the Evernote web clipper to create a list of all the collections I want to use by taking a snapshot of the collection pages my catalog searches turned up. By clipping this information and storing it electronically, I will be able to have all the information I need to pull the collections without a stack of paper that will violate the security concerns of the archives. Next week, I intend to create notebooks for all of the collections I find useful and use them to organize and store any digital photos or photocopies I make.


The above are just some of the ways that I use Evernote. I have found some limitations within the program. I would like to be able to create sub-notebook stacks; a notebook stack within a notebook stack. I would also like to be able to upload PDFs and files larger than 50 MB. Regardless of these limitations, I have found that Evernote has changed the way I work, research, and organize for the better and I wanted to share my story.