What has your Congressperson done for you lately?

Politics. It is a topic that elicits a variety of emotional and intellectual responses in our currently very polarized environment. It makes you wonder what the attitudes and perceptions of politics were 20 or even 30 years ago. To shed some light on this topic, Burns Library has embarked on a two-year project to process a number of congressional collections making them available for research and study here at Boston College. Now you might be asking yourself what exactly is in a congressional collection? Simply put–it is the personal papers retained by a member of Congress while they were in office. It can include correspondence from constituents, legislative files on specific bills and resolutions, topics important to the represented district, campaign materials, travel files, invitations, photographs, committee files, and various objects.  

Photo of archival boxes on shelving

Initial survey of donated boxes. Edward P. Boland congressional papers, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Edward P. Boland donated 200 boxes of his congressional papers to Boston College in 1990. And although I’d like to tell you that everything was clearly labeled and in some sort of recognizable order… I cannot. Typically when a Congressperson leaves office their staff has a very short time to physically clean out their office to make room for the incoming member. When one has served over 30 years in office, the amount of materials produced can be daunting, both for staff and institutions that ultimately take the collection. The organization of congressional collections varies and depends on how good the filing and record keeping of the member’s staff was while they were conducting business on behalf of their district. Complicating matters further are staff changes, changes in the role of the member, and committee assignments.

This is where the archivist comes to save the day! We create a recognizable intellectual and physical organization of the materials so that a researcher can find them and use them. To accomplish this goal, we survey the collection materials, arrange them in a meaningful way, and house them in acid free folders and boxes. At Boston College, this work is being done by two Project Archivists in a modified work space at the Theology and Ministry Library (TML). A short walk down the hill from the John J. Burns Library leads to the Brighton campus, where you can find us working in a large room with lots of tables to spread out the massive amount of papers and objects in these collections and be able to adequately process them. 

The Edward P. Boland congressional papers is one of these collections. Boland was a Congressman in the House of Representatives in the 2nd District of Massachusetts (Western Massachusetts) from 1953-1989. A Democrat, Boland was known for his civility and worked very closely with his colleagues and Republicans on a number of important legislative issues. He was also a contemporary, friend, and, for a time, even a roommate of Tip O’Neill.

While he was in office, he worked on legislation about education, environmental concerns, economic issues, and urban development that shaped the fabric of many policies which still exist today. The materials in the collection often reveal the strong opinions the public and lobbyists had regarding the government and representatives. 

Boland served on the Appropriations Committee for almost his entire career, was a respected member of the Permanent Select Intelligence Committee, and participated in the Iran-Contra investigations in the 1980s. As part of his work on Appropriations, he was heavily involved in NASA’s funding and attended launches, retrievals, and celebrations. 

Working with the collection, it is clear that Boland was very focused and committed to his job as a public servant, and he was always available and willing to help his constituents and, more broadly, Americans. The war in Vietnam was a topic that greatly concerned Boland, and led him and fellow Congressman Silvio Conte on a joint inspection tour in 1966. While there, he met men from Massachusetts in the 196th Light Infantry Brigade.

Photograph of Boland shaking hands with troops in Vietnam, December 15, 1966

Boland shakes hands with Sgt. Robert C. Rose of Holden, Massachusetts in Tay Ninh, Vietnam, December 15, 1966. Edward P. Boland congressional papers, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

He never faced serious election opposition, except for a 1968 challenge from Charles V. Ryan, the mayor of Springfield, during the controversy over the closing of the Springfield Armory. After an intense campaign battle, Boland was victorious in his re-election. While these papers are still currently being processed, we anticipate that they will be available for research and study by January of 2020. 

  • Alison Harris, Project Archivist for the Edward P. Boland Congressional Papers

About John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College

Located in the original Bapst Library building on Boston College's Chestnut Hill campus, the John J. Burns Library offers students, scholars, and the general public opportunities to engage with rare books, special collections, and archives.
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