NARA's Alteration of Women's March Images is Unethical

David S. Ferriero, National Archivist


The National Archives and Records Administration has altered images of the 2017 Women's March used as part of an exhibition to obscure protest signs critical of Donald Trump. This action runs contrary to the Society of American Archivists code of ethics and we are calling on NARA to replace the altered images with unaltered versions.

Petition by

To: David S. Ferriero, National Archivist
From: [Your Name]

David S. Ferriero
National Archivist
The National Archives and Records Administration
8601 Adelphi Road
College Park, MD 20740-6001

18 January 2020

Mr. Ferriero:

We, the undersigned library and archives workers, protest the actions taken by the National Archives and Records Administration in altering photographs of the 2017 Women’s March where marchers displayed signs critical of President Donald J. Trump and his government’s policies, as described in the Washington Post story “National Archives exhibit blurs images critical of President Trump” (17 January 2020).

Your explanation for this action, given by Archives’ spokeswoman Miriam Kleiman, is that “as a non-partisan, non-political federal agency, we blurred references to the President’s name on some posters, so as not to engage in current political controversy ... Modifying the image was an attempt on our part to keep the focus on the records." This reasoning is offensive to the intellectual honesty and professional acumen of librarians and archivists across the country who collect, preserve, and make accessible to the public similarly sensitive material on a daily basis and without alteration or censorship.

Our job as archivists is to preserve and present the documents that make up the historical record, not to alter them in order to appease a particular administration or authority. The actions of the National Archives in this instance are in direct contravention of the code of ethics codified by the Society of American Archivists which states:

"Archivists may not willfully alter, manipulate, or destroy data or records to
conceal facts or distort evidence."

In altering the Women’s March image used as part of the exhibit Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote, in such a way as to obscure the meaning of the protest action the images documented, NARA staff are in direct violation of their professional duties. As your colleagues, we reject the explanation offered by Miriam Kleiman as insufficient and call on the National Archives to replace the images in question with versions that have not had their content censored in order to make political protest appear apolitical.