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Inside the National Geographic Archives for World Day for Audiovisual Heritage

To celebrate UNESCO’s World Day for Audiovisual Heritage — and National Geographic’s vast film archives — we invited Karen Buckley Cerka, National Geographic Society’s Director of Acquisitions and Archive Management, to unearth a historic clip from our collection.

By: Karen Buckley Cerka, National Geographic Society’s Director of Acquisitions and Archive Management

World Day for Audiovisual Heritage, which is celebrated on October 27th, commemorates UNESCO’s adoption of the “Recommendation for the Safeguarding and Preservation of Moving Images” in 1980. This World Day raises awareness for the importance of preserving our cultural heritage with a 2019 theme of “Engage the Past Through Sound and Images.”  

October also happens to be American Archives Month, which is a collaborative effort by professional organizations and repositories around the nation to highlight the importance of records of enduring value. 

To celebrate both events, I want to highlight a film from our collection which I believe embodies a moment in not just the National Geographic Society’s history and heritage, but America’s history and cultural heritage. The film, The White House Book, documents our presentation of the first White House Book, which was a collaborative effort between Jacqueline Kennedy and National Geographic Society, to her and President Kennedy.   

In January of 1962, Jacqueline Kennedy had organized the White House Historical Association “to enhance understanding, appreciation, and enjoyment of the Executive Mansion” (according to National Geographic magazine’s December, 1962 issue). This would be the first time a guidebook was ever published about the White House, and the National Geographic Society was approached by the Historical Association to produce it as a public service.  

“We want the best guide possible,” Jacqueline Kennedy told us, “accurate, colorful, and informative.” When shown one of the tentative layouts, she paused at one photograph. “Perhaps we could flop it,” she said, using a newspaper term for reversing a picture. Her training as a reporter-photographer, combined with her intimate knowledge of the White House, made Jacqueline Kennedy a highly qualified editor-in-chief.

The presentation ceremony was filmed by NGS staff photographers R.G Fleegal and D.S. Boyer.

This unique and special moment in our history is why it is so important to preserve our audiovisual materials for future generations. These vital materials tell the story of our past, who we were and who we’ve become. As an archivist, it’s an essential reminder that we must do all that we can to ensure that they are not lost to deterioration or neglect.

Karen Buckley Cerka is the Director of Acquisitions and Archive Management at National Geographic Society. 

About National Geographic Society

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