Dole Institute continues work on new NEH grant to expand online portal for congressional archives

Screenshot of American Congress Digital Archives Portal.

LAWRENCE – In July, the Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas began work to expand the American Congress Digital Archives Portal, along with partner institutions, as part of a nearly $350,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The American Congress Digital Archives Portal provides open access to congressional archives by bringing together these civically important sources from multiple, geographically dispersed institutions using open-source software into a single online portal. The portal will illuminate connections across collections; provide opportunities for new scholarship, as well as civics and history education; and make the archives of the “People’s Branch” more equitably available to the people.

Other partner institutions on the project include West Virginia University Libraries, the Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center at the University of Oklahoma, the Dirksen Congressional Center, the Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies at University of Georgia, and the University of Hawai`i Congressional Papers Collection. WVU Libraries is leading the project, which also includes an advisory board composed of leading individuals in the areas of congressional archives and scholarship.

“We are so excited to continue and fine-tune the work we started with NEH and our partners two years ago,” said Sarah Gard, Dole Institute senior archivist and head of collections. “The more accessible we can make these collections, the more people will be able to learn from them. Citizens being able to see and understand how our government functions is critical to our democracy.”

This new phase of the project is slated to run until June 2025. Over the next two years, the Dole Archives will contribute over 12,000 pages of previously digitized materials related to disability policy – primarily about the Americans with Disabilities Act – from former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole’s collections and the Alec Vachon Papers, who was a legislative assistant and disability adviser for Dole. The archives also will digitize and contribute approximately 10,000 pages of Dole’s weekly schedules from 1972-1995. They will also begin cataloging papers from former lawmaker Elizabeth Dole’s term in the U.S. Senate for North Carolina and hope to contribute selections pertinent to her congressional service.

“While some of these items are already digitized, this project enables the Dole Archives to enhance our metadata – information about materials – using schema developed with partner institutions. We also aim to create and include accurate, full-text versions of archival documents, which will aid patrons and researchers who may need to use screen readers to peruse the material due to visual impairments,” said Marla Weaver, assistant archivist for digital initiatives at the Dole Institute. “I see congressional archives as the stories that had to be told to pass and refine legislation which has shaped and continues to shape our lives – like the Americans with Disabilities Act. It’s especially gratifying to be able to make these stories more available and accessible to the communities they have served for generations now.”

The project addresses many practical access barriers to using congressional archives. Unlike presidential papers, which are centralized in one location, congressional collections are located throughout the United States. For researchers, collections may be difficult to use, both because of a lack of travel funding and varying levels of description in the archives.

“The personal papers of members of Congress are vitally important for understanding Congress as an institution, public policy development and the many diverse stories that comprise the American experience,” said Danielle Emerling, project director and congressional and political papers archivist at West Virginia University Libraries. “We are honored to have support from the NEH to make more congressional archives available to everyone.”

This project expands on a 2021 NEH foundations grant of nearly $60,000 that resulted in a prototype portal and included archives from WVU Libraries, the Dole Institute of Politics and the Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education. The project has also received a $39,000 LYRASIS Catalyst Fund grant and a $10,000 grant from Association of Centers for the Study of Congress in 2022, which supported the development and fine-tuning of the portal’s functionality.

The NEH’s Humanities Collections and Reference Resources program supports projects that provide an essential underpinning for scholarship, education and public programming in the humanities. The project was selected for funding, in part, by a new agencywide special initiative, “American Tapestry: Weaving Together Past, Present, and Future,” which invests in humanities projects and new programs that support civics education, foster civic engagement, increase media and information literacy, and examine threats to America’s democracy.

Wed, 12/13/2023


Maria Fisher

Media Contacts

Maria Fisher

Dole Institute of Politics