Some 2,700 miles away from Washington, D.C., political science professor Sean Kelly and his students aim to shine a more penetrating light on how Congress and congressional representatives truly work.
Under Kelly's direction this fall, students at California State University-Channel Islands in Camarillo will dig into rarely touched archives of individual lawmakers -- their personal notes and staff memos, as well as floor statements and votes, that together reveal the cold, hard reality of congressional decision-making.
"Woodrow Wilson, way before he became president, was a political scientist, and he said, essentially, that Congress on the floor is Congress on display, but Congress at work is Congress in committee," said Kelly. "I would go one further and sort of say that Congress at work is not only in committee but what they are doing in their offices."
Kelly, who recently co-authored the book "Doing Archival Research in Political Science," described this kind of research as comparatively rare in political science. "It's a great experiment. It's the kind of thing that does happen sometimes more often in history [studies], but in political science, I haven't heard of anybody doing it," he said.
Political scientists often look to more easily accessible online databases, such as EBSCO and JSTOR, available through college libraries. They provide studies on international relations, economics and domestic policy.
But the papers of individual lawmakers are near impossible to locate online, Kelly said, adding, "The only collection that is wholly online, that I know of, is the papers of the late Sen. John Heinz (R-Pa.)."