Spotlight: Finding Footage for National History Day Projects

In recent months, the National Archives’ Education Updates blog has posted a series of pieces focusing on award-winning National History Day documentaries. National History Day is an annual contest for students in grades 6-12 to produce a variety of project types, including exhibits, websites, papers, performances, and documentaries. NARA’s Education Specialists have covered three fantastic documentary projects, from the stories of a trailblazing opthamologist and a Japanese American lawyer that challenged discrimination during World War II, to a landmark court case ruling against California schools that segregated Mexican students. I absolutely loved these posts, which showed how students have used NARA holdings in their projects and thought maybe we could help point students participating in National History Day toward footage they could use in their projects. I contacted Stephanie Greenhut, who let me know that most students were probably far into their projects, but that some fledgling documentarians may be looking for additional footage to fine tune their work. 

With that in mind, Heidi Holmstrom and I brainstormed a list of films that relate to this year’s theme, Communication in History: The Key to Understanding. All of these titles can be downloaded from the National Archives Catalog. This is by no means an exhaustive list. In addition, students may be able to find more general footage in our online holdings by searching within our moving image collections. Search for keywords in our online catalog, then filter to “moving images” at the left, and then “available online” above the search results.

These films are organized loosely, but are generally chronological and arranged by the type of communication they represent. Click on the titles to bring you to the catalog record where you can download a video file.

A Film about Messenger Pigeons:

Homing Pigeons (111-H-1220) A film showing the messenger pigeons that were used during World War I.

A still from Homing Pigeons (111-H-1220), showing an award given to messenger pigeon Cher Ami, for “meritorious service.”

Films about the Mail: The founders of the United States thought that the ability to send written information from place to place was so important that the power to establish post offices is given to Congress in our Constitution. These films show how the mail works.

Mail and Courier Service Activities in the A.E.F. 1917-1919 (111-H-1401): Another film from the US Army Signal Corps showing the mail service at work. Includes this shot of a service member uncovering invisible ink.

An animated GIF showing a man brushing a substance over a blank piece of paper. A handwritten message is revealed. The message is not clear enough to read.
A short scene from 111-H-1401, showing how messages written in invisible ink are decoded.

Some of Uncle Sam’s Workshops [Post Office] (FC-FC-3146) A film from the Ford Motor Company Collection, circa 1922.

ZIP Code with the Swingin’ Six (28.104) This film introduces the concept of the ZIP code with songs from folk group The Swingin’ Six.

Films about Newspapers: Many newspapers include the word “post” in their names because newspapers were originally delivered via the postal service. Distributing news was one of the original purposes of our postal service.

World War I Newspaper Headlines (428-NPC-43945) More World War I era footage.

When Black is Read (FC-FC-2451) A 1919 film from the Ford Motor Company Collection showing how newspapers were produced.

Newspaper Headlines on Firing of Satellites (111-LC-41317): Shows space race headlines from the late 1950s

A Film about Telephones:

Treat ‘Em Right (111-M-223): An animated film about telephone etiquette made in the 1910s for the American Telegraph and Telephone Company (AT&T) and used by the United States Army for training. This film reminds us that every technology was once new and people had to learn how to use it to communicate effectively.

A cartoonish sketch of a man who looks alarmed. The man is sitting at a desk in front of an old fashioned telephone.
A still from Treat ‘Em Right (111-M-223), a film made in the 1910s that showed people how to use the telephone.

A Film about Films: The United States military used film in many ways throughout the Twentieth Century, from documentation of important events to training and education

Movies at War (111-FB-107): A film that shows how 16mm prints were shipped around the world during World War II to entertain and educate service members.

Films about Radio and Television:

Mobile Television Unit (111-ADC-9168): A 1951 film showing a military mobile television unit.

AFVN Radio and Television Station (111-LC-55583): A 1970 film that shows various activities at a television station, including editing motion picture film. 

Films about the Signal Corps: The US Army Signal Corps is tasked with managing communication of all kinds.

Training of Signal Corps Troops (111-H-1200): A 1918 film showing how trainees learned various tasks from running wire for communications, to setting up radio sets, to photographic work.

Selected Scenes from “Your Job in the Signal Corps”, Ft. Monmouth, NJ (111-ADC-7746): A 1949 film that includes shots of radio and television towers.

Films that Show Protests and Demonstrations:

The March in Washington (306.3394): Footage of the 1963 March on Washington

Lincoln Park Demonstrations During Democratic National Convention (111-LC-53312) and (111-LC-53313): Footage from protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention

Open House & Protest March at Pearl Harbor (428-NPC-39021): Footage of a 1967 anti-war protest

Wealth of a Nation (306.3957):  A film about free speech, made by African American filmmaker William Greaves. Reel 2 includes scenes from the 1963 March on Washington.

Good luck to everyone who is currently working on a National History Day Project! In case you missed it, be sure to check out Education Updates’ kickoff post that covers resources held across the National Archives:

Communication in History: Resources for NHD 2021

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