November 12, 2008
By David Darlington
The Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia has a useful resource for historians in their Presidential Recordings Program (PRP). The PRP was established in 1998 to make accessible to historians the secret White House recordings of Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt through Richard Nixon. Its work is funded in part by the NHPRC. There are nearly 5,000 hours of secretly-recorded meetings and phone calls from the era, and they require a lot of processing by historians and archivists before they can be used in research. The site has transcripts from the Kennedy and Nixon White Houses (the Kennedy transcripts were published in a three-volume set by W.W. Norton in 2001) and tape recordings of the six presidents from 1940 to 1973. Clicking on the president’s name on the left navigation will provide an overview of the collection and access to the records. Some collections are deeper than others – there are 3,700 hours of Nixon tapes in the collection (just over 2,000 processed), 800 for Johnson and 260 for Kennedy, but only 32.5 hours for Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower combined.
Site visitors will want to see the digital “exhibits” section, where a historian has written a paragraph or two on a historical subject and then linked to some audio clips from the archives. Here for example, President Nixon talks about the nomination of William H. Rehnquist to the Supreme Court. There’s also the Digital Classroom Initiative that is designed to get audio resources into the classroom. They’ve sorted audio clips and transcripts topically for easier browsing, and provided sample syllabi and classroom activities from middle school, high school, and college educators.