Russell Library receives NHPRC grant for records of Georgia democrats and republicans

Athens, Ga. – The Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies at the University of Georgia has received a grant of up to $58,777 from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission to process the records of the Democratic Party of Georgia and the Georgia Republican Party. This one-year project will make these records available to researchers for the first time.

The Russell Library will hire a professional archivist to perform detailed processing and basic preservation on roughly 200 linear feet of archival records. These collections complement the Russell Library’s holdings, which focus on the dynamic relationship of politics, policy and culture as well as provide a resource for researchers interested in the development of modern Georgia politics and public policy.

As the official repository of the records of the GAGOP Papers (1981-1997) and the Georgia Democrats (1975-2008), the Russell Library’s goal is to provide access to the these papers to fill in research gaps and contextualize collections already available for research; provide an in-depth resource for analyzing the transition of the Georgia from a “one-party” state that favored Democrats to a state that is heavily weighted toward the Republican Party; and highlight the influence of national party platforms and agendas at the local and state levels.

Charles S. Bullock, Richard B. Russell Professor of Political Science, said that the party records collected by the Russell Library have important implications for historians and political scientists. The papers “cover the period in which Georgia has transitioned from one of the nation’s most solidly blue states to a scarlet one,” he said. “Fifty years ago, Republicans held no major offices in Georgia and had no success at any point during most of the 20th century. Now it is the Democrats who hold none of Georgia’s statewide partisan offices.

“Georgia presents a particularly interesting case [in partisan realignment],” Bullock said. “Since, although all Southern states have undergone dramatic partisan change, Democrats held on longer in Georgia and had more comprehensive control in the Peach State than in other parts of the South. However, once Republicans won their first statewide state office in 1992, they quickly became the dominant force within Georgia.”

In writing a letter of recommendation for the grant, Ashton Ellett, doctoral candidate in the UGA department of history, acknowledged his need for access to these collections. “My research project explores the relationship between economic, demographic and social change and the development of the Republican Party in Georgia since the second world war. Suffice it to say that the materials contained in these two political collections would prove indispensable to researching and writing an accurate, insightful and, ultimately, successful dissertation.”

The records also document the increase in African-American voters, the development of urban areas, the influx of new minority groups and participation of women-and how those factors influenced the state’s political landscape. The GAGOP files include a large quantity of demographic statistical data compiled by their ORVIS system, a targeting tool to assist in choosing and supporting the most “winnable” candidates. This statistical data, and conclusions that can be drawn from it can be used by political scientists to document political trends in party platforms.

These files, which include information on a variety of party initiatives, provide an in-depth understanding of how the challenges faced by the GAGOP during the 1970s and 1980s. These are exactly the kinds of files that Ellett said cannot be found in any other archival collections.

“There has been significant research interest in these papers, so we are exceptionally happy to receive this grant from NHRPC,” said Sheryl B. Vogt, director of Russell Library. “The funding support allows us to make these papers available more quickly and to move forward in identifying and locating missing documentation. Given the work to be done with the born-digital records in this project, we hope our staff can provide leadership in solving many of the complex issues in preserving and providing access to electronic resources of this nature.”

For more information on the Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, see http://www.libs.uga.edu/russell/.