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Congressional Archives

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(405) 325-5835

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Monnet Hall, Room 202
Open M-F, 8am-5pm

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630 Parrington Oval
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Research Basics in the Congressional Archives

The following answers to frequently-asked-questions should help you get started in your research at the Congressional Archives.

First of all, you don't need to have a Ph.D. in history to do research in an archive. Anyone can do it. Most people have never been to an archive, and many don't even know what an archive is.

A manuscript archive is like a library in many ways. Everything is organized and easy to use once you get the hang of it. Here are some characteristics of most archives:

  • Instead of books archives usually contain papers, maps, photographs, audiovisual material, memorabilia, and other diverse formats.
  • The material in archives are generally primary sources.
  • An archive is made up of collections. A collection is a group of material that was produced and/or donated all by the same person or organization.
  • Instead of using call numbers, documents in an archive are found using an inventory which contains all of the important topics and names in each collection and where to find them.
  • Often the documents in an archive are so unique that they are the only copies that exist.
  • Archival collections are stored in closed stacks and the archivist brings boxes of materials to you in a quiet work area called the reading room.

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Question: How is all this stuff organized?

There are several levels of organization in an archive. Here is the basic arrangement:

  • First the material is divided into collections. A collection is a group of material that was produced and/or donated all by the same person or organization.
  • Second, the material in each collection is separated into groups that have something in common. These are called series. In congressional collections series usually correspond to the main functions of a representative or senator, such as legislation, correspondence, office files, speeches, and press files.
  • Third, the material in each series is arranged into a logical order and put into file folders. The order might be chronological or alphabetical. Each of the folders is labeled with a title and date.
  • Fourth, these folders are put into boxes in order. The boxes are labeled with the collection name and series name.
  • For each collection we have an inventory that tells you what is in each folder in every box. All of our collection inventories are posted online at this Web site and are fully searchable.
  • Each collection has a general description that will tell you important facts like the dates of the collection, biographical information about the creator, how many boxes there are, names of the series, and the method used to put all of the files in order.

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Question: How do I use an inventory to find information?

There are two ways to find information in the Congressional Archives: searching by topic or browsing a specific collection inventory. Each of these methods is explained in an online tutorial. Click the links above to view the tutorials.

You will have much better luck finding information in an archives if you do some secondary research first. Having a good grasp on your topic before using the archives is helpful in several ways:

  • It is easier to judge from the inventories whether a particular box or folder is likely to contain information that will be of actual use
  • It allows you to adjust your project's focus or scope if you find too much or not enough material
  • You'll understand the significance of more of the subjects and names you see associated with your topic
  • It increases the number of search terms you can plug into our search engine and increases the amount of hits you receive
  • It saves you money by reducing the number of worthless photocopies
  • The archivists are better able to help you

Question: What do I need to know to see the documents listed in an inventory?

To see any item in our collection you need to know where to find it. You'll need to give us this information:

  • Collection Name (example: Carl Albert)
  • Series Name (example: Legislative Series)
  • Box Number
  • Folder Number

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Question: What kinds of topics can you research in an archives?

Topics available for archival research usually depend on the kinds of materials an archives collects. Here at the Congressional Archives we collect the papers of former members of Congress, most of whom came from Oklahoma. We have one collection from the 1800s, but the majority of our material is less than 100 years old. Of course, you can find tons of information about the federal government and Oklahoma history in our collections, but the scope of these collections can be much broader. One reason for this is that Congress is a federal body that enacts legislation affecting all parts of the country and all aspects of daily life. Another reason is that in addition to their official papers, many of these former members of Congress left us their personal papers as well. You will be surprised what you can find.

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Question: Do I need to make an appointment?

The archives is open to researchers Monday through Friday, 8am-5pm. You do NOT need to make an appointment, but sometimes it is a good idea to call ahead for these reasons:

  • You 're not sure if the Congressional Archives has what you're looking for.
  • You can't determine the box and folder locations of the documents you want.
  • Accessing audiovisual material sometimes requires equipment that we do not have on-site.
  • The archivists are sometimes out of the office for a conference, special event, or vacation.
  • You are traveling a significant distance to get here.
  • The archives is closed on University of Oklahoma holidays.

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Question: What if I live too far away to visit or I can't make it during the hours you're open?

Since all of our inventories have become accessible online we have helped researchers around the world. The archivists are happy to work with you throughout the research process via phone or email. Once we help you determine what documents you need, we'll send you photocopies.

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Question: Can I get copies of materials I find at the archives?

Researchers are welcome to take home copies of the materials helpful to their research. Photocopies are made by the archives staff for a fee of 20 cents per page. Photos can be replicated electronically or as prints and the cost depends on format and size. Fees for shipping may be necessary for those not visiting the archives in person. For all copy services, please consult our fees and use policy.

Scanners, digital cameras, or any other electronic imaging devices are not permitted in the reading room.

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