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WVU Libraries and partners debut NEH-funded online portal for congressional archives

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
April 19th, 2022
Portal screen shot

West Virginia University Libraries has created the first-ever online portal bringing together congressional archives from repositories throughout the United States.

“The American Congress Digital Archives Portal Project represents the most significant proposal that I have ever seen in terms of its promise to bring historical, political, and policy materials to the fingertips of more scholars on more questions,” Douglas Harris, Professor of Political Science at Loyola University Maryland, said. “It is not a stretch to think that this project could revolutionize the study of Congress across multiple disciplines.”

The prototype portal currently aggregates materials from WVU Libraries, the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at The University of Kansas, and the Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education. It was made possible with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Picture of telegram
Telegram from Senator Harry Truman regarding work of the Special Committee Investigating the National Defense Program, 1943, found in the Harley Kilgore papers at the WVRHC.

The archives of Members of Congress document the democratic process, the evolution of Congress as an institution, and narratives related to the country’s social, cultural, and political development.

However, practical barriers to using congressional archives mean researchers may struggle to find and use them. Unlike presidential papers, which are centralized in one location with dedicated staff and funding, congressional archives are geographically dispersed among institutions large and small. For researchers, collections may be difficult to use because of limited travel funding and uneven description in and across collections. The pandemic has made these problems worse. 

The American Congress Digital Archives Portal project addresses these challenges and provides easier, more equitable access to archives for scholars, educators and the public.

“We aim to have a sizable open access digital portal to reach various audiences for the nation’s 250th anniversary in 2026,” Danielle Emerling, Project Director and Associate Curator of congressional and political collections at WVU Libraries, said. “Ultimately, we believe this project will expand availability of documentation about Congress, public policy, and representation in America. It will lead to new topics and methods of scholarly research and serve as a resource to advance civic education and knowledge of America’s constitutional democracy.”

WVU Libraries’ West Virginia and Regional History Center holds the archives of West Virginia’s congressional delegations from the founding of the state in 1863 to the present. Resources from several collections are included in the portal.

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