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Digital Humanities Projects

Historical Bills Project

The Historical Bills Project is the definitive source for researchers, students, journalists, and citizens interested in the legislative history of the United States Congress.

The database, developed from the journals and public records of the House and Senate, comprises a wealth of information on the more than 700,000 bills and resolutions introduced from the antebellum era to the dawn of the modern era. The Project spans 1847 to 1946 (the 30th through the 79th Congresses) and is bookended by the commencement of sequential bill numbering in the Senate during the 30th Congress and the availability of data on the modern Congress beginning with 1947. Future plans include the potential digitization of bill text and expansion of the dataset to encompass more of the nineteenth century, at least for the House of Representatives, which began sequential bill numbering in 1817 (15th Congress).

The database is structured to facilitate use by a wide array of individuals. Citizens and students researching a specific topic or individual (many private persons entered the legislative record in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries via claims and pension bills) can search by topic or enter specific text that might appear in a bill's title. Moreover, the search interface will eventually provide basic analytical tools that students and researchers may use to generate charts and graphs of a wide array of trends – from bill introduction and passage rates to committee activity and issue prominence over time. Researchers interested in working with large blocs of data from the Project may download the full database or select particular chambers or Congresses for use in their own analysis.

The CDH began collaborating with Prof. Charles Finocchiaro (Political Science) on his Historical Bills Project in the spring, and is in the early stages of developing a demonstration web platform and database infrastructure which will comprise a portion of his external grant proposals in the upcoming academic year. He plans to submit proposals to the NHPRC, NIH, and NSF. The project also received seed funds from the Provost's Internal Grant program in the recently announced awards.