A plethora of public places for Peace Corps papers, publications, people and stuff: Sorting it all out.



The Smithsonian, the Library of Congress, The National Archives and the JFK Presidential Library, as well as the Peace Corps Agency are all involved in preserving and presenting elements of the Peace Corps Experience. For anyone coming to DC for any of the celebrations or just curious, here is how it all sorts out. The Smithsonian and the Library of Congress are located in downtown Washington DC.  The National Archives stores Peace Corps records at its facility in College Park, Md.  The JFK Library is in Boston, MA.    All others institutions have information available online; but few actual pictures and papers have been digitalized. This means that to access the actual material one has to physically visit the facility or pay for copies.

First, the Smithsonian has three different divisions involved with Peace Corps. The first and perhaps the most currently relevant is the Smithsonian Folklife Festival that will be held on the National Mall in Washington DC from Jun 30th to July 4rd and July 7th to July 11th.  The festivities will include country-by-country presentations; RPCVs reunions, and oral histories of RPCVs conducted by Smithsonian staff.  For a full schedule of events, go to the Peace Corps website: http://www.peacecorps.gov. After the festival, the Smithsonian Folklife Center will keep the oral histories. They will not be on display, but the Ralph Rinzler Archives and Collections are open to the public, albeit by appointment only. See http://www.folklife.si.edu/archives_resources/using.aspx for more details.

The second Smithsonian Division collecting Peace Corps memorabilia is the National American History Museum in conjunction with the Peace Corps.  Last year, Peace Corps solicited on its website the following:

  • Original* recruitment and training material, including posters, training manuals, welcome books, and language and cultural training materials (Copies will not be accepted)
  • Items related to the experiences and day‐to‐day life of Volunteers such as equipment, clothing, personal belongings that are representative of your time in Peace Corps
  • Objects that reflect the work and projects undertaken in the host country, whether it be building or educational projects
  • Objects that represent the Peace Corps administration in the country posts or headquarters

The deadline for submitting items for consideration was last January 2011. The donated items were transferred to the Archivist at the Smithsonian’s National American History Museum. The Archivist chose those items that will be included in the Political History permanent collection at the American History Museum. These items will NOT be on display during the Folklife Festival.  For more details, see the website for the American History Museum: http://americanhistory.si.edu/

Finally, the Smithsonian’s National Anthropological Archives has an extraordinary and little known collection of items from Peace Corps Volunteers created during the 1970s and the early 80s. The items include materials from the earliest days of the Peace Corps. This entire collection is held at the Federal Center in Suitland, MD. It can be seen by appointment. For more information, contact Leanda Gahegan at 301-238-1310.  The website for the National Anthropological Archives is: http://www.nmnh.si.edu/naa/

The Library of Congress has a unique responsibility. From its website at http://www.loc.gov/index.html

The Library’s mission is to support the Congress in fulfilling its constitutional duties and to further the progress of knowledge and creativity for the benefit of the American people.

The Library of Congress does have Peace Corps holdings. The Library of Congress is creating a special collection of the Peace Corps Experience. This collection will include self-published books by RPCVs. The website of the Library of Congress has information detailing its extensive databases and collections.

The National Archives and Record Administration is the official keeper of federal records, classified as permanent. See the entries for this blog labeled NARA for more information on finding those Peace Corps Records. Its website is:http://www.archives.gov/index.html

The National Archives and Record Administration also administers Presidential Libraries. The JFK Library in Boston has an extensive collection of  agency  papers from the early days of Peace Corps, some are available online. At one time, the JFK Library collected items from RPCVs in cooperation with the National Peace Corps Association. It is also is the repository for some 400 RPCV taped Oral Histories. These were conducted through RPCV Robert Klein’s Returned Peace Corps Archival Network. The JFK Library’s website is: http://www.jfklibrary.org/

So, pieces of Peace Corps are out there. But, there is redundancy in the collections and still huge gaps in the information.  For legitimate accountability, valid research and authentic history, the public record has to have continuity, be complete and accessible. The search goes on.

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  • The computer has really changed everything. Just before revising and republishing my Peace Corps memoir (South of the Frontera; A Peace Corps Memoir), I checked the Oral History collection website. It gave instructions about how to interview and what questions to ask. This helped me to add material to my own book. If you are considering writing your own book, I highly recommend this site.

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