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How Presidential Libraries Provide Historical Perspective

Locations in this article:  Berlin, Germany

presidential-librariesThere are only 13 of them in the United States, and one is being planned. They are the U.S. presidential libraries, built for and named after 13 U.S. presidents, ranging from Herbert Hoover to George W. Bush. And it might surprise you to know that these libraries don’t just house the archives and papers of the former presidents, but play host to some of the more fascinating exhibits and retrospective work reflecting the time and history of their presidency.

Some are immensely popular, like the Reagan Library in California. Others may not be on your radar, such as the libraries of Hoover and FDR. But they offer fascinating experiences and more than just passing glimpses into American history and the power and challenges of the presidency.

What’s most interesting about these presidential libraries is the eclectic nature of their exhibits. Some are expected: a look at the history of the Berlin wall and the fall of communism at the Reagan Library; Watergate at the Nixon Library, the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis at the JFK Library.

But many of the exhibits and installations will surprise you. The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, New York is the first presidential library in the country. It has an upcoming retrospective on the story behind the story of the internment of thousands of Japanese Americans during world War II, and of the private struggles between FDR and Eleanor about the policy (he was in favor; she was against).

As America prepares to inaugurate its 45th president and begins design work on the 14th presidential library for Barack Obama, here is a look at these often overlooked treasures.

To see more of Peter Greenberg’s reports for CBS This Morning, check out:

By Peter Greenberg for Peter