The 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,” said Douglas Harris, Professor of Political Science at Loyola University Maryland. “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. The one-year foundations project was made possible with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Photograph of wives of Vietnam Prisoners of War discuss the situation with Dole staffers, 1970, Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics
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. At a time in which America is experiencing deep political divisions, challenges to democratic norms and values, and when many Americans believe democracy is in crisis, the project takes on a new urgency. It has perhaps never been more important for scholars, educators, and the public to have access to the historical records of the people’s branch.
However, practical barriers to using congressional archives mean researchers, students, and the public 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 congressional archives. Work remains in the project phases ahead to make the Portal an essential resource for scholarship and education.
“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 – Prof of Political Science at Loyola University
“We aim to have a sizable, open-access digital portal to reach various audiences for the nation’s 250th anniversary in 2026,” said Danielle Emerling, Project Director and Associate Curator of congressional and political collections at WVU Libraries. “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.”
Over time, the Portal will make the history of Congress—and its importance in our daily lives today—more discoverable and accessible for everyone.
The WVU Libraries’ West Virginia & Regional History Center holds the archives of many 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.
Cover Photo: Charles Erkman, political cartoon referring to the Panama Canal Treaties, 1977, Robert C. Byrd congressional papers, Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education