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National Archive GIFs Tell US History in Motion

The National Archives launches an online resource of GIFs from its collections of historic film, photography, art, and animation.

Architect William Van Alen dressed as the Chrysler Building, which he was in charge of designing, at the 1931 Beaux-Arts Ball (via National Archives/GIPHY)
Architect William Van Alen dressed as the Chrysler Building, which he was in charge of designing, at the 1931 Beaux-Arts Ball (via National Archives/GIPHY)

Ernest Hemingway having a drink,  astronaut John Glenn in his Mercury spacesuit, even the  US Constitution are among the GIF glimpses of American history released by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) on GIPHY. The collection launched last month as a shareable portal into the National Archives Catalog.

A performing squirrel owned by Florence Hinton in a 1953 newsreel (via National Archives/GIPHY)
A performing squirrel owned by Florence Hinton in a 1953 newsreel (via National Archives/GIPHY)

Darren A. Cole, with the web and social media branch of the National Archives Office of Innovation, told Hyperallergic that NARA initially saw the impact of GIF content through their Today’s Document blog on Tumblr, where a curious patent for a one-wheeled vehicle or stereographic portrait of Walt Whitman got a new spark through animation.

“We can feature content that many users might not be aware of, and boost the profile of the agency with people who either might not be aware of the us, or may have forgotten about us since that high school field trip to see the Constitution,” Cole said. “GIFs help keep us relevant, but also further the agency’s mission of providing access to our holdings to the public.”

The GIPHY resource currently has over 150 NARA GIFs, with more continuing to be added. Like the New York Public Library’s Stereogranimator, where users can animate stereoscopic images from the collections, the GIFs offer a new interaction with these archives. Each of the GIFs on GIPHY have a link to the National Archives Catalog for their history.

For example, you can be intrigued by a GIF of the flying saucer-shaped 1950s Avrocar, then read about its failure as a fighter-bomber when it became unstable even a few feet off the ground. History image accounts are wildly popular on social media, yet often use archives without attribution or any deeper connection with the original source. The NARA GIFs are a savvy initiative to connect a wider audience with the richness of the National Archives.

Avrocar
Footage of the 1950s Avrocar (via National Archives/GIPHY)
Nazi swastika destroyed from 'The War Ends in Europe' (1945) newsreel (via National Archives/GIPHY)
Nazi swastika destroyed from ‘The War Ends in Europe’ (1945) newsreel (via National Archives/GIPHY)
Bear captured in early footage of National Parks (via National Archives/GIPHY)
Bear captured in early footage of National Parks (via National Archives/GIPHY)
Animation from the 1974 Cocktail Construction Chart (via National Archives/GIPHY)
Animation from the 1974 Cocktail Construction Chart (via National Archives/GIPHY)
Sailor dancing on a 1945 newsreel (via National Archives/GIPHY)
Sailor dancing on a 1945 newsreel (via National Archives/GIPHY)
National Archives GIF
Woodsy Owl, a United States Forest Service mascot, throwing away trash (via National Archives/GIPHY)
National Archives GIF
A tip of the hat from the past (via National Archives/GIPHY)
National Archives GIF
Newsreel footage of performing dogs (via National Archives/GIPHY)
National Archives GIF
Animated photograph of the 1915 Panama–Pacific International Exposition (via National Archives/GIPHY)

View all the National Archives GIFs on Giphy

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