FRASER: Making Primary Sources a Source of Interest

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Primary sources have become essential tools for teaching not only in history and economics but also in a wide variety of subjects, including the sciences. As students are encouraged to take more initiative in and become more accountable for their own learning, particularly as they approach higher education and the job market, original documents, letters and creative writings, and artifacts can not only make the past come alive but also help develop critical thinking and analysis skills. Fortunately for 21st century learners (and educators), technology has rescued us from the long hours of hunting in "the stacks" or through archaic microfiche to find objects of interest that can be used and shared. Technology also now allows institutions, including the Federal Reserve, to bring records, documents, and data online for easier accessibility and preservation.

It is often said of archives that once you start digging, you never know what you will find; the discovery of hidden gems is part of what makes these kind of collections fascinating and appealing. This is certainly true of the Federal Reserve Archival System for Economic Research, or FRASER, an online data preservation and accessibility project began by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis in 2004 to safeguard and provide access to economic history, particularly that of the Federal Reserve System.

Letters from U.S. presidents, agencies are available to view
An obvious starting point for the collection are the records from all 12 Federal Reserve Banks and the Board of Governors, as well as statistical releases, policy documents, records, minutes, and transcripts from Federal Open Market Committee meetings. FRASER is not just a storehouse of Federal Reserve history. Alongside the papers of past Federal Reserve presidents, you will also find documents of U.S. presidents Harry S. Truman, Richard Nixon, and Lyndon B. Johnson. Economic data posted on the Fed's archival system include the budget of the U.S. government, statistics, and a wide variety of economic indicators, as well as publications, annual reports, and information and figures from agencies such as the Census Bureau, the Treasury, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Searchable by topic, author, date, and theme, FRASER includes more than 45,000 releases dating back to 1914 that complement other educational resources such as FRED (Federal Reserve Economic Data) and GeoFRED (Geographical Federal Reserve Economic Data).

Lessons on the history of banking could be enhanced by excerpts from the loquacious 1790 report on the subject of a national bank by then-Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, Andrew Jackson's fiery message vetoing the charter of the Second Bank of the United States four decades later, or Henry Clay's impassioned objection to President Jackson's subsequent removal of federal deposits from the Second Bank. FRASER's education tab features four themes: Central Banks and Credits, Labor, Financial Crisis, and Money and Inflation. It offers lesson plans and resources for elementary school through college levels using FRASER's digital collections. A unique offering is 75 Years of American Finance, a handwritten timeline chronicling not only financial history but innovations, elections, legislation, and international events. This 85-foot-long document is accompanied by a historical inquiry where students can question and analyze events from a chosen year or years between 1861 and 1935. A look into 1896, for instance, reveals that is the year the following events occurred: William McKinley was elected president; the first moving picture was shown; X-rays were discovered; Sears Roebuck was established; and Utah was admitted as a state. A search of the popular theme "Gold, Silver, and Greenbacks" turns up resources not only from the 12 Federal Reserve banks but also cartoons from Judge magazine, congressional records, lesson plans and articles. Similarly, a search of "Women in the Economy" offers government bulletins, studies, and data on the male-female earnings gap and women's impact in the labor force; a classroom lesson using Barbie's various personas to teach the history of women's labor force participation; and links to records from the Department of Labor, the National Archives, and women's collections from Harvard University and Claremont College.

Greenspan's testimony on 2001 attack available
Speeches, testimony, and correspondence from Federal Reserve chairs and annual reports from the Board of Governors and the Reserve Banks provide an interesting look into U. S. economic history. Alan Greenspan's testimony to the Senate Banking Committee after the tragic events of September 11 highlight the Fed's efforts to restore confidence following the 2001 attack in the nation's financial center; Ben Bernanke's remarks on the occasion of Milton Friedman's 90th birthday provide insights into the causes of the Great Depression; and a glimpse into Board archives details the interesting but short-lived (1923-1938) history of the Federal Reserve's branch in Havana, Cuba.

The ultimate Federal Reserve primary source, the Federal Reserve Act of 1913, is also easily accessible on the site. Educators who wish to highlight the influence of the Federal Reserve in their own communities can find many historical documents, including the minutes of the very first Federal Reserve Board meeting, that provide insights into how the districts were chosen. The annual reports of each of the regional banks allow one to gain an understanding of how regional economies have changed since the Federal Reserve's founding.

By providing tools to reinforce literacy and research skills, critical thinking and analysis, primary resources can add both variety and rigor to the social studies classroom. The Federal Reserve Archives allow you to easily access the history not only of our nation's central bank, but of the nation itself. May your search yield many interesting and unexpected treasures!