This blog was written by Mary Goolsby, Director of Poage Library.
The Association of Centers for the Study of Congress (ACSC) was founded in 2003 as an independent alliance of organizations and institutions that promote the study of the U.S. Congress. Like the Baylor Collections of Political Materials at Poage Library, many of the member institutions house archival collections, often the legislative papers of current and former members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.
The ACSC meets annually in late April or early May to provide meaningful sessions from member institutions, researchers, current and former members of Congress, and task forces established to find innovative ways to provide access to congressional collections. The 2019 annual meeting was held in Washington, D.C., as it is every other year, with the theme, Representative Government and Political Polarization. The National Archives and Record Administration and the Center for Legislative Archives, where all the congressional committee records are housed, hosted this year’s meeting. Amanda Fisher and I were in awe of the building’s architecture, its history, and its occupants (the Archivists of the United States!).
Our keynote speaker was Joanne B. Freeman who spoke about her book, The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War (Her speech starts at 9:30). Freeman, a leading authority on early American political culture, extolled the importance of archives in her research where she uncovered approximately 70 incidents of physical violence in Congress prior to the Civil War. She demonstrated how violence was used as a tool of debate in the polarized, antebellum Congress.
One means by which to combat such polarization is through civics education, which is a mission espoused by most Congressional Centers. Not all can participate on a state level, but the Robert C. Byrd Center, Florida Joint Center for Citizenship, and Humanities Texas are three great examples of statewide efforts to provide training and civics materials to school teachers. The Arlen Specter Center for Public Service at Jefferson University is leading the way to civil discourse and knowledge-sharing around controversial issues with their Roxboro House Roundtables. These events are attended by students, faculty, staff, and community members. You can listen to some of these discussions HERE.
Sessions also addressed strategies for evaluating programming, and we heard from several historians who will soon release books about Congress. Just as Joanne Freeman noted from her experiences, archives are essential to their research and scholarship.
I was excited to represent Poage as one of eight centers sharing their projects and programs with the other attendees in what has come to be known as speed-geeking. I talked about the progress that has been made on our foyer exhibit and how it relates to Poage Library’s contribution to the iEngage Summer Civics Institute hosted by the Baylor School of Education.
Several ACSC members have been working on a vital project called, America Contacts Congress: Preserving the Data of Representative Government. To quote our schedule of events: “Constituent correspondence with members of Congress captures the interactions between Americans and their elected officials. Congress manages correspondence with proprietary systems, and data exported for these systems poses major challenges. No repository has processed these large data sets in a replicable way, and data is at risk of disappearing.” This project is looking at ways to preserve this data for researchers. It is a problem Poage Library will face as it receives more recent congressional collections.
The Association of Centers for the Study of Congress incorporates over 60 institutions in 32 states.