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As 2021 draws to a close, we're taking a look back at some of the more engaging and intriguing questions that the History Hub community has fielded this year.  Several have been featured as our "Questions of the Week" and highlighted on the National Archives' social media accounts including Twitter and Facebook.


Do you have a favorite?  Vote in the latest poll: Select your Favorite History Hub Question of 2021 or suggest your own!


#5: Seeking Clayton's Guide or other guides to 1850s Oregon Trail

For anyone who remembers the old Oregon Trail video game, see this thread to locate sources and records from the actual Oregon Trail.

Oregon Trail

#4: What is the latest information on Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan?

The disappearance of the pioneering aviator Amelia Earhart remains as compelling a mystery as ever.  History Hub has received several questions regarding her disappearance.

Amelia Earhart

#3: How to search U.S. Census records?

With the impending release of the 1950 U.S. Decennial Census, interest in Census Records is at an all time high.  Be sure to check out the series of blog posts in the Census Records community.

Census researcher

#2: When has the government used "Cannot Confirm or Deny"?

Also known as a "Glomar Response," this question explores the government's use of the enigmatic phrase "…we can neither confirm nor deny…"

Glomar Response

#1: Top Secret WW2 documents- still secret?

This user would like to know if donated collection of documents stamped 'Top Secret' were still considered classified.

Top secret


Thanks to the entire History Hub community for helping to provide answers, suggestions, and encouragement to all the users who have come to History Hub for help with their questions.  Your help is invaluable!

History Hub has received the Archival Innovator Award from the Society of American Archivists (SAA) for 2021. This award celebrates creative and impactful approaches to archives programs and outreach.

The National Archives History Hub provides “one-stop shopping” for crowdsourcing historical research, connecting National Archives staff with history experts and enthusiasts alike. The Hub uses an online, community-based customer service model to make historical research accessible, engaging and user-friendly. The platform has served a vital role throughout the pandemic, staying open and responsive to thousands of remote research inquiries and requests.

“Our Innovation Hub embodies the National Archives ideals of Open Government, access, and transparency,” said Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero. “Together, we are a powerful voice for American history. This SAA award underscores that with new technology and such collaborative efforts, we are simply more than the sum of our parts.”

“In my 2009 Senate nomination hearing, I noted the defining moment for our agency with regard to electronic records, social media communications, and emerging technologies. As Archivist, I proposed a dramatic shift. Given the ever-growing volume of records, and increased demand on trained archival staff, I advised harnessing the collaborative power of the Internet in intriguing, easy, and fun ways, and encouraged passionate and enthusiastic individuals to find their niche and contribute their expertise. I’m elated that this has happened, grown, and been recognized.”

“The goal of History Hub is to provide user-centered reference in a collaborative, open environment,” said Pamela Wright, National Archives Chief Innovation Officer. “We are honored by this SAA award that shows we are making a difference. By drawing on the expertise within the National Archives, as well as the public and other institutions, History Hub continues to provide opportunities for richer, fuller responses than any single expert can provide.”

Kelly Osborn and Darren Cole manage and promote the platform, and archivist Rebecca Collier coordinates with reference staff. Numerous other National Archives staffers share their expertise on the Hub.

Learn more online:


The National Archives History Hub is the National Archives’ crowdsourced history research platform. People can get answers from multiple sources including National Archives staff, other agencies, and a community of citizen experts. Launched as a pilot program in 2016, it evolved into a platform that fielded 400 questions in FY 2017, nearly 2,000 in FY 2019, and over 3,000 questions in FY 2020.

The Society of American Archivists (SAA), founded in 1936, is North America’s oldest and largest national archival  professional association. SAA’s mission is to serve the educational and informational needs of more than 6,200  individual and institutional members and to provide leadership to ensure the identification, preservation, and use  of records of historical value. The SAA’s Archival Innovator Award was established in 2012.


A version of this post was originally published as a press release on the National Archives website.

Last month, we were thrilled to host a few dozen colleagues from the Smithsonian Institution, the Library of Congress, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and other cultural institutions to discuss their potential participation in History Hub. Below we’ve provided a recap of the event, which includes information relevant to museums, archives, and other cultural institutions interested in supporting research and connections with their collections and expertise. Please reach out if you’d like more information, a demo, or to discuss your organization’s potential participation. The platform is free and open to all!


History Hub introduction by Archivist of the United States David Ferriero

(photo by Miran Grujic)


A Warm Welcome to Interested Cultural Organizations


David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, shared his hope that the technology behind History Hub will foster a new model for collaboration to benefit the American public:


“Together, we are a powerful voice for American history. With new technology and collaborative efforts, we are simply more than the sum of our parts.”


He encouraged institutions interested in using the platform to share their views, questions, and suggestions early and often so that we can work together to make History Hub a success.


Ann Cummings, Executive for Research Services at the National Archives, shared her vision for History Hub as a place to solve the challenges faced by cultural institutions in the 21st century, with the potential to help us all to meet the evolving needs of today’s researchers.


What is History Hub?


Kelly Osborn, who leads the History Hub platform at the National Archives, summarized the background behind the development of History Hub. It started with research into how organizations can best communicate with and serve their audiences. She looked at trends in consumer expectations around immediate feedback, self-service capabilities, personalization, and a desire for human interaction. We were inspired by the success technology companies have had with online support communities that invite connections between staff, customers, and enthusiasts who bring their own expertise to the forum. Informed by these insights and models, the National Archives launched History Hub, a community of practice and crowdsourcing platform for people interested in researching history, both broadly and personally. It’s a place where people can get answers from multiple institutions as well as a community of citizen experts and historians. It’s a knowledge base that scales and improves in quality over time. And it’s a way for us to make information more “organization agnostic,” where the researcher does not have to know who has the answer before asking a question.


By creating a vibrant community on History Hub, we aim to:

  • Facilitate research and connect with new audiences
  • Enable contributions from the public and from subject matter experts of all stripes
  • Create a knowledge base that continually improves
  • Improve customer service for an audience accustomed to immediacy
  • Decrease our workload over time by increasing transparency

Who is using History Hub?

Dana Allen-Greil shares History Hub statistics

(photo by Pamela Wright)


Dana Allen-Greil, Chief of Web and Social Media at the National Archives, shared data on History Hub’s current user base and web visitation patterns. History Hub has seen a steady increase in traffic and activity since launch, enabling continued growth of the knowledge base that powers the platform. With additional organizations coming on board to participate, and with search engines driving new visits as questions are answered (and then indexed by search engines), History Hub has the potential to reach and serve millions. She also described plans for user research and testing in the coming months as we continue to improve the platform and reach new audiences.


Lessons Learned to Date at the National Archives

Becky Collier, Research Services’ History Hub Coordinator at the National Archives, shared the experiences of the Research Services Focus Group using History Hub to respond to researcher inquiries. She stressed the need for establishing internal policies and processes, as well as social media training for staff. Looking towards the future, she noted that the reference staffs were excited by the potential of the platform, as well as the opportunity to collaborate more closely with other institutions.


What We’ve Heard from Organizations Interested in Participating


Darren Cole, History Hub community manager, shared common questions and concerns that have been expressed by organizations during discussions about their potential participation, as well as how we plan to address them. Questions about moderation and notification systems for participants are the most common. Attendees had the opportunity to dig into these further during the brainstorming session in the second half of the meeting.


The Library of Congress and Smithsonian Institution:


Representatives of other institutions also briefly shared their plans and perspectives on participating in History Hub:

Jeffrey Flannery, Head, Reference & Reader Services, Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress, conveyed the Librarian of Congress’ support for History Hub and the Library’s initial outline for participation. New Library of Congress experts will be joining History Hub in the new year!

Michelle Delaney, Senior Program Officer for History and Culture, Office of the Provost / Under Secretary for Museums and Research at the Smithsonian Institution, sent a note of support (she was unable to attend), stressing how History Hub represented a new and much needed collaborative approach to digital access and outreach, and further noted how it aligns closely with the Smithsonian's strategic plan to broaden digital access and education outreach.


Brainstorming: How Can History Hub Address Your Audience Needs?


Participants were encouraged to brainstorm in small groups, sharing their ideas about how History Hub could address user needs, as well voicing their questions and concerns about implementing participation within their organizations.


Group discussions focused on 4 key questions:

  1. What are some common frustrations your audiences express in trying to conduct research or find information? What types of resources are your users seeking most often?
  2. How might a community forum experience help your audiences?
  3. What is the biggest benefit of collaborating with other cultural institutions on this platform?
  4. What would success look like for your institution? What concerns do you have about being successful?


History Hub group discussions

(Photo by Miran Grujic)


A few common themes emerged during the discussion:


Researcher Frustrations: Knowing where to start, even down to which institution to begin at, was cited as a frequent frustration for researchers. Not knowing how or where to ask their questions is a formidable challenge and researchers find the institutional structures daunting.


Researcher Needs - Getting Started, Tailored Guidance: Researchers are looking for better guidance, in essence “connecting the dots” to getting started in hands-on research. Requests for personalized help, such as information on specific items and artifacts is common. More digitized primary source documents and online finding aids are also popular requests.


Benefits to Users: Community building was recognized as a clear advantage of the platform. The ability for researchers and other users to come together through History Hub to share ideas, resources, and answers came up several times. 


Benefits to Institutions: The ability to link related collections and topics across institutions was seen as a clear benefit of the platform. Participants also saw the potential to break down barriers not only between institutions, but within organizations as well.


Institutional Success: Participants looked forward to an improved ability to disseminate information, and getting away from email and other similar 1-to-1 interactions. They were especially hopeful of being better equipped to more fully answer the “hard” research questions. 


Institutional Concerns: Adapting the new platform to existing internal cultures and processes was a common concern among participants. The potential of the platform to “open the floodgates” of questions was mentioned frequently, especially when staff are already juggling other priorities and workloads. Addressing the varying needs of different audiences was seen as challenge, and participants were also concerned about how to measure performance, success, and other reporting requirements.


We’d like to thank all our colleagues for taking the time to come out and share their viewpoints and work with us on making History Hub a platform for everyone. We look forward to collaborating with you!


What’s Next?