In 1973 the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) transferred to the National Archives approximately 31,000 negatives and corresponding prints created by the Economic Cooperation Administration (ECA) and its successor, the Mutual Security Agency (MSA), to document economic recovery in Western Europe after World War II under the Marshall Plan. After processing, this accession became series 286-MP “Marshall Plan Programs, Exhibits, and Personnel, 1948-1967” (National Archives Identifier 541771). During processing it was discovered that the French portion of the file was missing, which staff presumed would be an extensive and important part of the series. After consulting with the USAID, the exact location of the file was not determined and remained a mystery for over 10 years.
This started a 40 year search to locate and eventually recover the alienated French file. In 1984, the lost file was discovered by researcher Linda Christenson in the hands of a commercial photography company in Paris. Christenson was researching for a traveling photo exhibit in France on behalf of the United States Information Agency (USIA). The company had started maintaining and managing the collection at an offsite U.S. Embassy facility in 1971 after the photographic section at the U.S. Embassy closed and over the next 32 years moved the collection several times. Part of the agreement between the ECA and the French company included providing free reproductions to the ECA, the US Embassy in Paris, and later the USIA. From 1984 until 2013, the National Archives was unsuccessful in retrieving the files, but through the hard work of NARA’s Archival Recovery Team, Ed McCarter (formerly of the Still Picture Branch), Jeff Landou (Office of General Counsel), and Frank Cordes (National Archives Foundation) who acted as the French interpreter, and the support of the Marshall Foundation in Lexington, Virginia and the U.S. State Department and U.S. Embassy in Paris, the owner of the commercial company agreed to transfer the collection to the National Archives. In June 2013, the NARA team traveled to Paris to survey and box up the collection for transport back to the United States. During pack up it was discovered that not only did the collection contain the French Marshall Plan photographs marked FRA, but a set of Marshall Plan photographs marked PAR for Paris, which also contains some images created and/or acquired by the United States Information Service (USIS) in Paris.
The boxes arrived at Archives II in College Park, MD in July 2013 and almost immediately three projects were started to digitize the negatives and corresponding indexes and caption lists, but only after the negatives were properly arranged and re-housed by Still Picture staff member Chanel Sutton. In the fall of 2013 the first batches of negatives were sent to the National Archives Photographic Lab for scanning using the appropriate tonal corrections. The scanning (22,913 negatives) and subsequent quality control work took 15-months to complete. The photographic lab had a rotating team of photographic technicians working on the project. The initial pilot workflow for the project was devised by Sheri Hill with Cecilia Epstein coordinating the workflow and PT Corrigan performing quality control on all batches. Most of the scanning and photographic adjustments were done by Amy Young, Cecilia Epstein, Jerry Thompson, Mimi Shade, Roscoe George, and Sheri Hill with assistance from student employee Chantise Hawkins and volunteer Jordan Murek. Also pitching in when workloads permitted were Carolyn Anderson, Carlita Earl, Lywanne Young, and Rebecca Sullivan.
Scanning of the caption lists (2,000 pages of image-level captions), referred to by the French company as the “bibles”, also began in the fall of 2013. The work was performed by NARA’s Volunteer Office with volunteer Harry Kidd organizing the project. Scanning was performed by Harry and Denise Lynch. At the same time, former Still Picture staff member, Pat Woolaver, created a spreadsheet derived from information in the subject index that precedes the image level captions. This spreadsheet provides alphabetical access to the images at a group level rather than at the item level. All of this data is currently being used to create file unit level descriptions for online access to the scanned images.
After completion of the scanning and index work, the Still Picture Branch finished processing of the original negatives along with the original caption lists, indexes and newly created digital images. This work not only included incorporating the negatives into the existing series and updating the series description, but performing the initial prep work needed on the index metadata and scans for transfer to the Digital Public Access Branch (VEO) for upload into the catalog. This work was mostly performed by former Still Picture staff member Julie Stoner. Final prep work and upload into the catalog is currently being performed by Gary H. Stern in VEO.