The following is a guest post by Laura Turner O’Hara, Historical Publications Specialist in the Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives.
What powers does the Constitution grant the House of Representatives? How many women Members of Congress are from Nebraska? What was the mood on Capitol Hill during the Bonus March? Why are there individual desks in old pictures of the House Chamber? Where can I find House committee records from the Civil War?
The answers to these questions and more are on History, Art & Archives, U.S. House of Representatives (http://history.house.gov), a website launched in December 2012. From the broad questions of constitutional power to the specific inquiries about life on Capitol Hill, this collaborative project between the Office of the House Historian and the Office of the Clerk’s Office of Art and Archives provides a single resource for understanding more than 200 years of institutional history in the “People’s House.”
Seven distinct informational categories—Institution, People, Exhibitions & Publications, Collections, Oral History, Education, and Records & Research—facilitate access to materials targeted at the needs of specific users.
The “Institution” section highlights fact sheets, data, and congressional profiles, which provide basic facts on the House’s role in the federal government. Ranging from short essays on famous events to whimsical stories, historical highlights housed in this section take users day-by-day through the history of the House.
The “People” section contains information on House Leadership as well as a “People search” database. The database incorporates material previously only available on the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress website. For the first time, users can search the text of the nearly 11,000 individual Biographical Directory entries, along with research collections, and bibliographic materials pertaining to House Members. An interactive map provides a geographic overview of House membership over time, including a filter for demographic breakdowns and leadership positions.
The “Exhibition & Publications” material contains congressionally mandated publications including the reference volumes Women in Congress and Black Americans in Congress. This section also contains exhibits on the House Chamber and Statuary Hall—ideal material for previewing a visit to the U.S. Capitol—and a behind-the-scenes peek at areas not often seen by visitors, including the Members’ Dining Room and Speaker’s Rooms in the Capitol.
On the “Collections” page users may access the art and artifacts in the Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives, many of which are not available on public display. The Collections interactive searches allow users to browse artwork, statues, photographs, campaign buttons, and furniture by classification or subject.
The “Oral History” section provides extensive video and audio interviews with Members and staff, painting a vivid picture of key events, people, and traditions that have shaped the House. This includes materials mandated by H. Res. 562, directing the Office of the House Historian to begin studying the Selma-to-Montgomery marches, the subsequent yearly congressional delegations to Alabama, and the civil rights movement in general.
The “Education” portion of the site combines lesson plans, fact sheets, and a glossary of terms geared toward teachers and students and created to complement the offices’ publications, exhibitions, and oral histories.
To further assist researchers, there is a comprehensive “Records & Research” section containing how to guides, finding aids for House Records archival material, and select primary source documents. For the first time, researchers will have access to digital House Committee finding aids that previously were available only in person at the Center for Legislative Archives.
A blog reveals unique stories from the House’s past, answering some of the most common questions received by both offices, revealing quirky or ground-breaking research discoveries, and providing historical context to current events.
Materials within each category connect to other related content across the website. (For example: users can view the State of the Union fact sheet and instantly access related content from historical highlights, a blog post, or historical photographs from the House Collection.) These connections also create paths down which users—the expert and new learner alike—can meander through interconnected stories, objects, biographies, and images. History, Art & Archives, United States House of Representatives is not only a source for answers to specific questions, but a guide to the colorful culture and insider’s history of the House of Representatives that goes beyond the institution’s legislative contributions.