United States Senate Historical Office
Created and maintained by the Office of the Secretary of the United States Senate.
Reviewed January 2004.
The United States Senate Historical Office World Wide Web site provides scholars, students, and lifetime learners with a wealth of useful historical information about the upper house of the United States Congress. Available data include a broad range of historical statistics and facts pertaining to the Senate, primary texts (specifically oral history interviews of former senators), and a timeline of the legislative body’s history. The site also boasts valuable interpretive materials, including a collection of “historical minutes,” brief discussions of significant episodes in Senate history prepared by the Senate historian. Finally, the site provides researchers with information about further historical materials pertaining to the Senate that reside in the U.S. National Archives and a list of historical publications available through the Senate Historical Office.
The factual information presented on this site makes it a welcome addition to the American historical resources available online. Many of the data are vital to students of history and political science and to journalists and others seeking detailed political information: to wit, there is a biographical directory of all individuals who have served in the Senate, a table displaying the numerical representation of political parties in the body since its inception, and a list of majority and minority leaders and whips. But this body of information also provides users with far more esoteric morsels as well; for example, one can find a chart of senators' salaries from the beginning and lists of Senate chaplains, cabinet nominations rejected or withdrawn, and rejected treaties.
These historical materials reside within a much larger Web site that is a significant new addition to the Senate’s public face. Senators and their staffers should be thrilled about the attractive appearance and ready usability of much of this online resource, and the Senate should be commended for making materials from its history available through one of the six primary links available on the site’s front page. But the Senate Historical Office should feel less satisfied with its place in the United States Senate Web site. Web users arriving at http://www.senate.gov and clicking on a link marked “Art and History” find themselves delivered to a page devoted, unsurprisingly, to both the Senate’s art collection and its history. Here users confront a confused organizational scheme that only serves to make the valuable historical information available on the Senate Web site somewhat difficult to use. Nowhere do Web users find a brief introduction to the nature and scope of historical materials available on the site. Rather, they must uncover the site’s riches through the practice of trial and error. Users may find the Senate Historical Office’s official page, which might well serve to provide Web users with this badly needed overview, only through a series of links beginning on the right of the page.
I suspect that this unproductive organizational scheme is the result of a Web site designed, first and foremost, for the use of sitting senators, their staffs, and their constituents. This reviewer urges Senate Web masters to reconsider their organization and presentation of historical materials and provide the public with an online resource befitting the Senate Historical Office’s rich collection of historical resources.
Drew E. VandeCreek
Northern Illinois University