The Archives Center supports the mission of the National Museum of American History by preserving and providing access to documentary evidence of the American past. The Archives Center's collections complement the Museum's artifacts and are used for scholarly research, exhibitions, journalism, documentary productions, school programs, and other research and educational activities.
The Archives Center currently has more than 1,500 collections stored in the American History building and at off-site storage locations. In addition to paper-based textual records, many of the collections contain photographs, motion picture films, videotapes, and sound recordings. Increasingly, the collections include born digital documents in a wide variety of formats.
The collections are particularly rich in the areas of technology, consumer culture (including advertising and marketing), invention and innovation, popular music, African American history and culture, and many other topics that document the American experience. With few exceptions, Archives Center collections are acquired by donation, often in conjunction with the acquisition of related artifacts and in collaboration with the Museum's curatorial staff. Documentation projects—including oral and video histories—actively create new research collections. The Museum's ability to acquire and care for artifacts and archival materials in all physical formats and to generate contemporary documentation gives it a unique capacity to record the complexity and richness of the American experience.