LIU Post Alums Preserve and Make Accessible Titanic Records at National Archives at New York City
Rita Langdon,Associate Provost and Director of Public Relations & Marketing
Long Island University, LIU Post
New York, N.Y. -- The RMS Titanic may have never arrived in New York one hundred years ago, but that doesn't mean a century's worth of paperwork, documents and court filings haven't. Housed at the National Archives at New York City are records in the admiralty case files related to the sunken passenger liner, most specifically, a petition filed by the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company for limitation of liability.
Two LIU Post alumni -- Dorothy Dougherty '98 and Bonnie Marie Sauer '06 -- work regularly with these files, letting the public know about their existence, making them available to researchers and keeping them safe and preserved.
Filled with depositions of surviving passengers, blueprints of the ship, claims of loss and photographs, they include many first-person accounts which tell the story of the sinking in dramatic detail.
"We want to make them available to the public and safe for the future," said Dougherty, who graduated with a master's in history and an advanced certificate in archives and record management and now works as the public programs director. Her favorite piece from the Titanic records are the blueprints of the ship.
"Since they are oversized they are easy to look at," she said, "so we bring them out for the public and they are instantly recognizable and therefore become a teachable document. You can see how the ship was designed. There is so much detail in the plans that the more you look, the more you uncover."
In addition, Dougherty says she likes an "ice report" that reports an area of icebergs in the vicinity of where the ship was struck. This is the first document that begins to tell the story of the disaster as it starts to unfold.
The records, which are open to viewing by the public, became part of the holdings of the National Archives sometimes in the 1950s. The 100th anniversary of the sinking has sparked a renewed interest in the documents by the public, although they are often requested by authors, filmmakers and researchers.
Sauer's favorite document from the collection is the passenger manifest -- a list of anyone who had bought a ticket. "It's interesting to see the reaction of people who are doing research and are familiar with the names. You get to thinking about each person who was on the ship and you really get a sense of how many were affected by it."
Many of the documents have been scanned and can be viewed online at both the National Archives at New York Facebook page and in a video, "Titanic at the National Archives -- 100 Years." Featuring Dougherty, Sauer and other members of the National Archives staff, the short movie goes inside the National Archives for an insider's perspective. The video, which can be viewed on the National Archives YouTube channel, is part of an ongoing "Inside the Vaults" series. But the Titanic documents aren't the only pieces of history in the pair's charge. Other documents at the National Archives at New York City include Albert Einstein's Declaration of Intention record as well as his petition for naturalization, court records submitted and signed by Martin Luther King Jr. regarding copyright infringement of his "I Have a Dream" speech, Civil War draft records, an attorney roll signed by both Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr and more. The archives also hold declassified government documents as well as other records dating back to 1685, including photographs, maps and census data.
"In our records we uncover great stories, as do our patrons, along with many surprises," Dougherty said, adding that it's likely that everyone has a tie to records in the National Archives in some way. "I haven't met anyone who isn't passionate about these records. There is something recognizable by everyone."
"We come to work every day and spend our time with all these records," said Sauer, an archivist who graduated with a master's degree in library and information science from LIU Post's Palmer School of Library and Information Science. "The more they are shared, the more we are reminded of the magnitude of what we are handling. It's pretty humbling."
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