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JFK's archives open to the world

Posted by Doug Most  January 13, 2011 12:01 AM

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jfkinauguration001.jpgIt only took four years, $10 million, and the brains of some of the biggest tech and data companies, but today the JFK Library and Museum unveils a new archive that will let the world inside the presidency of John F. Kennedy like never before. And a sneak peek reveals some pretty cool stuff.

Click here and type in "Jackie Kennedy" and hear a video podcast of how she went about entertaining at the White House and hosting dinners. Type in "John F. Kennedy Jr." and see some strikingly candid photographs of the family. Just searching for "video" brings you a collection of videos, including Kennedy's 1963 televised speech to the nation about the Nuclear Ban Test Treaty. In this age of YouTube, and incredibly vivid graphics, the uncluttered black and white images are refreshing in their simplicity. No ticker running along the bottom. No distractions on the screen. The lack of color in fact brings more power to the words.

The occasion, of course, for all this is the 50th anniversary of the 35th president's inauguration. Today in Washington, Caroline Kennedy, president of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, will officially announce the archive's unveiling. As the Globe's Joe Kahn first wrote back in November (that front page story is here), creating a digital archive of JFK's presidency was no small task. And it marks an important step for all presidential libraries.

Here is how Kahn described it:

Access to a Legacy, as the project is called, marks the first time a presidential library established in the paper age has fully committed itself to the digital era. The amount of material to be posted online in January is huge 200,000 pages of text, 1,500 photos, 1,250 files of audio recordings and moving images, and 340 phone conversations totaling 17 1/2 hours but represents just a small portion of the collection.

Among the documents likely to draw intense interest is a draft, in JFKs handwriting, of his inaugural address (Ask not what your country can do for you ... ). There are also notes, tapes, and maps made during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, and Oval Office phone conversations between Kennedy and other important historical figures, from foreign heads of state and former US presidents to key political allies and aides. Users will be able to print and copy material directly off the website, so they could download a personal note to JFK and make a copy for themselves.

The 50th anniversary celebration includes a number of roll-outs and events.

On Friday, Comcast will offer its customers JFK 50 Years, a Video on Demand channel of archival footage of speeches, debates, commercials, and other pieces.

And beginning Saturday, visitors to the museum can step up to a podium set amid the January 20, 1961 inaugural scene and deliver some of Kennedy's most stirring passages from his address. Bonus points if you can nail his accent perfectly.

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