An interesting class assignment?

The week before last I spent three days in Detroit working in the special collections reading room of the Walter Reuther Library at Wayne State University. What a great facility staffed by superb people!

The personal congressional papers of former House Democratic Whip David Bonior are at that library. Bonior’s personal papers provide a really fascinating glimpse at the colaition building process on a number of major bills considered by the U.S. House during the 1990s and this decade — records that I think I want to integrate into my freshman seminar about American political institutions for the fall 2008 semester.

For example, one box had around 30 folders with materials from strategy meetings about a major trade bill that hit the House floor late in 2001. Bonior and other Democratic members met with staff and outside lobbyihng groups as part of their efforts to defeat the GOP-backed trade measure (having to do with so-called “Fast Track” procedures for trade bills) and the files from these meetings include a lot of interesting stuff — summaries of the lobbying tactics, descriptions of how member positions were evolving, and so on. I think that it might be a great research and paper-writing experience for a freshman in my seminar if I gave that student access to my photocopies of the files and asked her/him to use the materials to analyze this important legislative fight. And I have related archival materials from my broader esearch travels for other bills and time periods that other students could work with.

There are all kinds of ways that William and Mary professors can — and do — integrate their own research activities with course assignments for students. Makes my three days plowing through dozens of boxes from the Bonior collection — and the annoying sneezing and coughing that resulted due to my dust allergies — especially worth it!

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