Campaign web archives to support multi-institutional research

April 29, 2014
'Material' by Flickr user awiseman under CC BY-NC 2.0

Congressional campaign websites are valuable primary source material for historians, social scientists, and the public to better understand the evolution of political communication in the Web era. Campaign websites also afford unique opportunities for the mass collection of materials that would have been previously difficult to acquire outside of the candidate's district. While it is a truism that the Web is constantly changing and broken links are an inevitable outcome, campaign websites are predictably ephemeral given their time-limited purpose.

Recognizing the at-risk nature of this content and its value to scholarship, the Stanford University Libraries (SUL) and the Institute for Research in the Social Sciences (IRiSS) are collaborating on a project conceived by researchers in the Department of Political Science, enabled by the Archive-It web archiving service, and since joined by political science researchers at two other institutions, to create a comprehensive and longitudinal web archive collection of 2014 congressional primary and general election candidate websites.

The participating researchers are Karen Jusko, Allison Anoll, and Mackenzie Israel-Trummel at Stanford University; Michael Dougal and Ryan Hübert at the University of California, Berkeley; and Mike Parkin at Oberlin College. Examples of questions to be investigated with the dataset include how the location and types of campaign stops relate to the demographics of voter turnout and how incumbent Congress members speak differently with home constituencies.

SUL is contributing web archiving expertise to the project, assisting in particular with technical challenges in collecting and faithfully re-presenting the archived web content. When the 2014 elections have concluded, the completed collection will continue to be a useful resource for future research as well as complement existing elections web archives, notably those created biannually by the Library of Congress since 2000.