American Treasures

Usually when someone goes into a bookstore, it is difficult to find volumes about archival matters. Stephen Puleo’s delightful American Treasures: The Secret Efforts to save the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Gettysburg Address (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2016) changes this. Providing detailed accounts of the creation and subsequent efforts to protect these important documents from war and other calamities, Puleo offers insights into how our nation perceives and values these fundamental texts. Written in an engaging fashion intended to reach a popular audience, American Treasures argues for the symbolic significance of the documents in supporting a common foundation for the nation. These are good stories, not well known outside of the professional ranks of archivists, stressing the efforts to preserve such documents and the challenges in doing so. Even so, at times Puleo seems to overstate how Americans value these documents, confusing fascination with seeing the originals with the general support of archival institutions and archivists. In fairness to this author, it is not his intention to provide a framework for understanding archives. He is interested in these stories, and he is a good storyteller, because the “documents are the mirror to our national heritage and the blueprint of our national identity” (p. 355); it is up to archivists and their allies to make a stronger case for why the archival enterprise should be better explained and supported. Puleo’s book provides a useful tool for such work.


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