Aftermath of the Battle of Aachen

This reel is taken from a work print, a film element intended for editing purposes, and shows evidence of its age and a hard life. The film is one of hundreds of thousands at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) that remain unavailable digitally. For this particular roll, all that exists in the National Archives Catalog is a scan of an Army Signal Corps shot card. I shot this film from a flatbed film viewer in the public research room using a mirror-less digital camera.

The footage, dating from October 1944, shows the destruction wrought on the city of Aachen after many days of air and artillery bombardment followed by house-to-house street fighting. Civilian refugees struggle with their handful of possessions in suitcases through devastated streets. Sadly, such scenes of urban devastation seem very relevant today.

Only a professional researcher can provide timely access to such unseen archival footage and stills, adding impact to your production or publication.

“Gods of War”

One of the “fringe benefits” being a professional researcher is the possibility of stumbling over fascinating images or footage while looking for something quite different. While looking for photos of a different war correspondent, I came across this image of ur-combat photojournalist Robert Capa and novelist and journalist Ernest Hemingway, following an armored advance in France in the summer of 1944. This image, shot by an Army Signal Corps photographer, is described in the National Archives Catalog, but no digital image was included with this record.

This is far from a rare pattern. The still photo collections at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) consists of millions of images shot by military or other government photographers, as well as a healthy complement of donated images. Right now, less than 10% of the special media content available at NARA are available on-line at all. Given the Agency’s budget constraints, it may be many years before more of this content is made available in a digital format. That means that professional archival media researchers are an important resource for clients looking to leverage rarely seen images and footage from these world class collections. Under Federal law, “Federal Works, or the work product of government employees or “work-for-hire” contractors, is not eligible for copyright protection. Professional researchers can help your production or publication shine, with PUBLIC DOMAIN special media material that won’t break your budget!

“Rubble Women”

German women clean up the rubble from devastated streets at the end of World War II in Europe

Today’s film from the National Archives and Records Administration (“NARA”) was shot shortly after the end of World War II hostilities by the U.S. Army Air Corps, the ancestor of today’s U.S. Air Force. Beautifully shot on 16mm Kodachrome film, the camera roams the streets of a devastated German city: block after block of devastated houses, offices and factories, punctuated by signs in Russian. Especially prominent are the “Trümmerfrauen” (literally, “rubble women”), German women enlisted to clean up the rubble by hand for a tiny hourly wage and an extra ration coupon stipend. These women later became a living symbol of post-war Germany’s determination to rebuild. 

This footage is described in the National Archives Catalog, but no digital item accompanies the description. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NARA Research Rooms have been closed for almost seven months, with no way to request this footage from them. Researchers and clients are waiting for the National Archives to announce a plan to safely reopen the ordering system and the research rooms, in the meantime production deadlines are being missed and budgets are stretching. A handful of professional researchers have collected copies of screener videos such as this that were formerly made available by NARA on-site. On-line access is wonderful, but it is no substitute for hands-on, on-site research.

Don’t depend on a production assistant or intern to locate the exact footage or stills needed to add impact and polish to your production. “Searching” is not the same as “researching”. Professional researchers add value!

Madmen for Ike!

Eisenhower Answers America! The first Presidential campaign TV ads.

Ike seems like an unlikely TV pioneer, but this former soldier had a hunch that TV would be an important feature of modern political campaigns. Dwight David Eisenhower’s 1952 Presidential election campaign hired Rosser Reeves, a Madison Avenue advertising maven, to produce these groundbreaking television spots. The pitch’s specific approach: a candidate addressing voter concerns directly in a (studio simulated) one-on-one setting. The voter “interviewing” the candidate approach lives on in today’s TV town halls, where candidates come face to face with live voters’ everyday concerns.

This particular TV commercial is well-known and has been written about extensively, but the vast majority of historical moving image content at the National Archives and its’ Presidential Libraries remains under-described and inaccessible to all save those willing and able to conduct research in person. Please remember: “searching” does not equal “researching”. Don’t depend on an production assistant or intern to find the images that add polish and impact to your production! Hire an archival media professional!

An “outtake” for a reason

Universal Newsreel outtake footage of a Harry S Truman re-election campaign speech at Charleston, West Virginia from October 1, 1948

Today’s feature is especially topical while those of us in the United States are in the heat of the Campaign 2020. This film, an outtake, is part of the Universal Newsreel film collection, which was donated in its entirety to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in 1977. The deed-of-gift included Universal’s copyrights to this unique (and voluminous!) collection.

This film illustrates perfectly why some outtake content remains just that: outtakes. The image bounces slowly, probably due to a poor transfer, a camera malfunction, or film misthread. The speech itself is classic Truman populism, an excellent illustration of how he came from behind to win re-election in 1948. In normal times, a film copy would likely be available in the research room, but thanks to the COVID19 pandemic, those research rooms have been closed for six months. In the meanwhile, this copy represents this particular newsreel assignment.

This content is not described or identified in the National Archives On-line Catalog. It was not identifiable to anyone not able to physically access a card catalog in the National Archives Research Room in College Park, MD. “Searching” is not researching; don’t depend on a Google search conducted by an intern or production assistant to find you the exact images and sounds you need to add impact and polish to your production. Hire a professional archival media researcher!