NARA, Dell open up the Public Vaults

Dell Inc. computers, touch-screen monitors and large LCDs have opened up thousands of historic federal records in the Public Vaults, a 9,000-square-foot interactive exhibit that opened recently at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington. President Bush and other inaugural attendees paid a visit to the Archives building this morning.

The Public Vaults can simultaneously exhibit more than 1,100 original or facsimile documents, photographs, maps, drawings, and film and audio clips, curator William J. Sandoval said.

Visitors can play back congressional debates on Prohibition in 1918 and reinstatement of the draft in 1940. They can see letters handwritten by George Washington, Abraham Lincoln’s telegrams to his generals, and evidence from investigations of unidentified flying objects, the Kennedy assassination, the Kent State shootings and Watergate. Also on display are captured German documents from the Nuremberg trials, translated into English with click-down context and interpretation.

Asked how NARA chose the content, Sandoval said, “We tried to represent all the states, races and religions in American history. We wanted to make that connection with visitors.” The theme, he said, is that “records matter. What’s under the routing slip can bring military and diplomatic actions to life.”

Dell, through the Foundation for the National Archives, “generously provided us with most of the audiovisual components,” Sandoval said. Included are a Dell server, 22 PCs, multiple DVD players, and 30- to 60-inch LCD and plasma displays where several people can view an interactive choice made on a touch screen.

A NARA contractor, Design and Production Inc. of Lorton, Va., integrated the Dell hardware for the exhibit, Sandoval said.


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