Support the news

Digitizing JFK’s Analog Presidency04:11
Download

Play

With the inauguration of Barack Obama, America welcomed a digital presidency. The president blogs. He tweets. He has a BlackBerry. The weekly "radio" address has evolved from fireside to YouTube.

It's almost hard to imagine a presidency that wasn't "born digital."

But it wasn't always this way. When John F. Kennedy ushered in the 1960s, statesmen communicated with typewriters and telegrams. The public has had access to most of the Kennedy files for years, but you had to actually go to Dorchester and look them up.

No longer. The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library has undertaken the arduous task of digitizing its massive collection of Kennedy archives, and now you can browse the era of Camelot from the comfort of your computer.

It's by far the most expansive digital library of presidential artifacts.

"A number of our libraries similar to ours have put up iconic photos or the most important documents," said Tom Putnam, the library director. "What is different about this is, first, the vastness and then the size and the number of items that we have digitized."

The collection includes 200,000 pages of documents, 1,500 photos and more than 1,200 audio recordings, including phone conversations between Kennedy and former President Dwight Eisenhower during the Cuban missile crisis and a recording of Kennedy's address to the nation after the Supreme Court ordered the University of Mississippi to admit a black student.

The effort took almost four years and represents just a fraction of the library's vast archives, said JFK Library Deputy Director and archivist James Roth.

"This is one half of 1 percent of our collections,” Roth said. "We're expecting to continue on through the next few decades, and hopefully, as technology increases, we'll be able to put more and more material up faster."

Guest:

  • Andrew Phelps, reporter, wbur.org

Related Stories:

This segment aired on January 14, 2011.

+Join the discussion
TwitterfacebookEmail

Support the news