Why Do Presidents Get Libraries?

Opening a presidential library is now a rite of passage for those who held our nation’s highest office. On Wednesday May 3, the Obama Administration released the first concept designs depicting the Obama Presidential Center, which is planned for Chicago’s South Side.

As Condé Nast Traveler reports, the library will hold more than just books. The design, envisioned by husband-and-wife architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, includes classrooms, an auditorium, a restaurant, a museum, and a public garden. Like the presidential libraries that came before it, it will also be used to archive records from Barack Obama’s presidency.

Obama will become one of 14 former presidents with libraries managed by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). In 1955, Congress passed the Presidential Libraries Act that laid the groundwork for former presidents to donate any “papers, documents, or other historical materials” of theirs to be held in a “presidential archival repository.”

The act gained added significance after Nixon’s Watergate scandal highlighted the importance of transparency between the president and the people. That incident led to the Presidential Records Act of 1978, which states that most presidential documents must be made public within five years of the president leaving office. Today those documents are largely held in presidential libraries, where anyone can access them.

Before Herbert Hoover established the first official presidential library in 1962, there were others with the same idea. The presidential library technically originated with Rutherford B. Hayes, when his son opened one to hold his records in 1912. Abraham Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson also have presidential libraries that aren’t recognized by the 1955 law.

Former president Barack Obama’s library will be serve the public in more ways than one: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel believes the project will stimulate the economies of the neighborhoods surrounding its location in Jackson Park. The campus will also be a place for community members to gather and learn. The Obama Center is scheduled to open in 2021.

[h/t Condé Nast Traveler]

What is a Polar Vortex?

Edward Stojakovic, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Edward Stojakovic, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

If you’ve turned on the news or stepped outside lately, you're familiar with the record-breaking cold that is blanketing a lot of North America. According to The Washington Post, a mass of bone-chilling air over Canada—a polar vortex—split into three parts at the beginning of 2019, and one is making its way to the eastern U.S. Polar vortexes can push frigid air straight from the arctic tundra into more temperate regions. But just what is this weather phenomenon?

How does a polar vortex form?

Polar vortexes are basically arctic hurricanes or cyclones. NASA defines them as “a whirling and persistent large area of low pressure, found typically over both North and South poles.” A winter phenomenon, vortexes develop as the sun sets over the pole and temperatures cool, and occur in the middle and upper troposphere and the stratosphere (roughly, between six and 31 miles above the Earth’s surface).

Where will a polar vortex hit?

In the Northern Hemisphere, the vortexes move in a counterclockwise direction. Typically, they dip down over Canada, but according to NBC News, polar vortexes can move into the contiguous U.S. due to warm weather over Greenland or Alaska—which forces denser cold air south—or other weather patterns.

Polar vortexes aren't rare—in fact, arctic winds do sometimes dip down into the eastern U.S.—but sometimes the sheer size of the area affected is much greater than normal.

How cold is a polar vortex?

So cold that frozen sharks have been known to wash up on Cape Cod beaches. So cold that animal keepers at the Calgary Zoo in Alberta, Canada once decided to bring its group of king penguins indoors for warmth (the species lives on islands north of Antarctica and the birds aren't used to extreme cold.) Even parts of Alabama and other regions in the Deep South have seen single-digit temperatures and wind chills below zero.

But thankfully, this type of arctic freeze doesn't stick around forever: Temperatures will gradually warm up.

In What Field Was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. a Doctor?

Express Newspapers/Getty Images
Express Newspapers/Getty Images

Martin Luther King, Jr. earned a doctorate in systematic theology from Boston University in 1955. He’d previously earned a Bachelor of Arts from Morehouse College and a Bachelor of Divinity from Crozer Theological Seminary. His dissertation, “A Comparison of the Conception of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman,” examined the two religious philosophers’ views of God in comparison to each other, and to King’s own concept of a "knowable and personal" God.

Some three decades after he earned his doctorate, in 1989, archivists working with The Martin Luther King Papers Project discovered that King’s dissertation suffered from what they called a “problematic use of sources.” King, they learned, had taken a large amount of material verbatim from other scholars and sources and used it in his work without full or proper attribution, and sometimes no attribution at all.

In 1991, a Boston University investigatory committee concluded that King had indeed plagiarized parts of his dissertation, but found that it was “impractical to reach, on the available evidence, any conclusions about Dr. King's reasons for failing to attribute some, but not all, of his sources.” That is, it could have been anything from malicious intent to simple forgetfulness—no one can determine for sure today. They did not recommend a posthumous revocation of his degree, but instead suggested that a letter be attached to the dissertation in the university library noting the passages lacked quotations and citations.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

This article was originally published in 2013.

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