The Society for Military HistoryThe intellectual home for military historians worldwide

The intellectual home for military historians worldwide

National Archives College Park (a.k.a.: NACP or Archives II), College Park, Maryland
by Lon Strauss
University of Kansas

If you are researching a US military or government organization, then you are probably thinking of making a trip to the National Archives and Research Administration in College Park, Maryland. As a graduate student, you most likely need to maximize your time and money.

The main strip of hotels is located on Baltimore Avenue (Rte 1), north of the University of Maryland campus. You have many options, with most of the semi-affordable ones suffering from poor upkeep.  If you are staying at the Howard Johnson, the hotel has the option of providing both a fridge and a microwave.  If you can afford something over $100/night, then the Holiday Inn or Comfort Inn are a couple of the better choices. Both have a shuttle to and from the archive.

There are three choice airports: Reagan, Dulles, and Baltimore. The latter is obviously the furthest away. Dulles is from a 45 to a 75 minute drive, depending on traffic. If you have a place to stay in Virginia (which I would only recommend if you’re staying there for free) and don’t mind dealing with the traffic, then this may be a viable option for you. If you’re flying in and don’t want to rent a car, then Reagan is the airport for you. You can catch the Metro Yellow line, transfer to the Green toward Greenbelt and get off at College Park. Just outside the Metro you can catch a bus to or near your hotel. If you’re staying on Baltimore Avenue, then grab the 86 bus toward Rhode Island Avenue. If you’re staying at the Comfort Inn, you’ll want the 86 to Calverton.

Now to get from your hotel to the archive: The majority of the hotels are approximately three miles from the archive. It’s a very nice walk down Baltimore to Campus Drive at the University of Maryland main gate. You can just walk along the main road, veering right to stay on Campus Drive, then make another right when you reach Adelphi. Keep going until you reach the archive. If you’re carrying too much or are on foot, then the bus is your next best option. Take the 86 toward Calverton and get off just before the University of Maryland. The stop is across from the fire station. Walk up Campus Drive to the first bus stop. From there you will take the C8 which goes directly to NARA II. 

Just outside the University of Maryland campus, on Baltimore, there are several restaurants to choose from. Pot Belly’s, Five Guys, Papa John’s, and other decently-priced options. The closest grocery store to most of the hotels on Baltimore is on Cherry Hill Road, within walking or bus distance in the opposite direction of campus. There is a cafeteria on the main floor at NARA II. A meal could easily average $10. The best financial option is to bring a lunch bag. If you have a refrigerator in your hotel and an appropriate bag/container, then a sandwich will remain edible in your locker at the archive.

NARA’s website is the first stop for most researchers in identifying the records they will need. Unfortunately, the website only offers a very rudimentary finding aid. Realize that once you arrive; have gone through security; filled out your property slip for cameras, laptops, scanners, etc; gotten your ID and watched the ten minute orientation movie, you will probably spend a couple of hours searching through the much more detailed finding aids in the research room. The archivists in the research room are extremely helpful. However, you should keep in mind that your first few hours will be used searching for material. The archive opens at 9 am, though you can arrive as early as 8:30am and gain access to the building. Pull times are 10 am, 11 am, 1:30 pm, 2:30 pm, and an additional 3:30 pm pull on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday when the archive remains open until 9pm. NARA II is open from 9-5 on Saturdays; however, you will not be able to pull any new material. In the microfilm room you can pull your own reels, up to three at a time. If you find yourself switching back and forth between textual records and microfilm, Saturdays are a good day to devote to the latter.

There are computers in the research room with internet access and printing capabilities. The facility was becoming wi-fi capable over the summer, as well. All in all, researching at NARA II is a great experience and can be done on a comparatively low budget. Be sure to look around the research room. You will probably spot some familiar and respected faces from SMH. Don’t be shy, introduce yourself. You might find that you will not only gain valuable advice, but someone to have lunch with as well.

(Fall 2010)