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Southward, Ho! Political Culture and Present History Herbert J. Hartsook Sir John Seeley, in his book The Growth ofBritish Policy (1895), wrote, "History is past politics , and politics present history." In their work to document recent history, archival, and special collections, repositories strive to document government at the local, state, and national levels. Historians, journalists, social scientists, and other researchers are discovering these modem poUtical collections to be vast and rich sources of information on contemporary society. The National Archives is the repository for official records of the federal government . Papers of the president are, by law, official records, and the presidential libraries are perhaps the most visible units of the Archives, due to the publicity each receives and the resources each offers those studying American government and history. The papers of most other political leaders, including members of Congress and cabinet officers, are the personal property of the individual. Papers of influential legislators are a particularly rich source for the documentation of modern society. Papers of members of Congress share basic similarities. Such coUections usually include the following records: extensive files relating to bills before Congress, speeches and press releases, case files (chiefly relating to requests from constituents for assistance with government agencies), and campaign data. Legislative files contain detailed analyses of bills and issues being considered. Related constituent mail provides a unique glimpse into the thoughts of common men and women on these matters and reveals how they view the benefits and costs of government . Constituent case files provide important information on the effects of government on the populace and the manner in which government interacts with them. Due to their private nature, these are usually available only for quantitative analysis. Campaign records allow the study of poUtical campaigns from the inside, with access to the innermost thoughts and strategies of the campaigners. Many institutions are recognizing the potential value of these resources, and more and more legislators, including almost all U.S. senators and many members of the House, are placing their papers in repositories. The years 1992 to 1993 witnessed unusually high turnover in Congress, and the 1994 to 1995 election cycle saw even greater change. Many members gave up their seats voluntarily through retirement: Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell of Maine, House Republican Leader Robert Michel of Illinois, House Deputy Whip Butler Derrick of South Carolina, powerful senior members such as Representatives Jamie Whitten of Mississippi and Hamilton Fish of New York, and Senators Donald Riegle of Michigan and Dennis DeConcini of Arizona. Others were defeated at the 400Southern Cultures polls. A number of these former members have already placed their records in repositories in their home district or state. Archival repositories are not static organizations. Neither are they focused on the distant past. Rather, as custodians of the country's documentary heritage, most are active collectors, constantly seeking to develop their holdings. Archival administrators pride themselves on the quality of their acquisitions and are as eager to negotiate the donation of papers of a prominent contemporary public official as to learn of a cache of letters written by a CivU War soldier. As a result of the turnover in Congress and the eager solicitation of collections, more institutions received congressional collections for the first time between 1992 and 1993 than during any period in memory. The value of these collections is emphasized in The Documentation of Congress, a report issued in 1992 by a task force of archivists, which states, "Because the documentation of Congress . . . most directly reveals the wiU of the people as expressed through their elected representatives, it is especially crucial to preserve evidence and information about the legislative process and make it accessible to the public." The South Caroliniana Library at the University of South Carolina presents a good model in its documenting of the modern era and particularly in documenting government . The library is dedicated to preserving printed, manuscript, and audiovisual records of all aspects of the state's history. This broad mandate is not uncommon. The South Carolina Historical Society in Charleston has a simUar approach. A broader, regional focus is reflected in the impressive collections developed by the Perkins Library at Duke University and the Southern Historical Collection...


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pp. 399-409
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