Founded by Professor Ron Peters and established in 1979 by the Oklahoma Regents for Higher Education and the Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma, the Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center is a nonpartisan institution devoted to teaching and research related to the United States Congress and, more broadly, to strengthening representative democracy through engaged and informed citizens. Located at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma the center is a living tribute to the ideals, leadership, and accomplishments of the Honorable Carl Albert-native Oklahoman, University of Oklahoma alumnus, Rhodes Scholar and 46th Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Supported by private, foundation and public funds, the center has grown into one of the largest and most comprehensive congressional studies centers in the country. The center, under the leadership of Director and Curator Michael Crespin, plays an integral role as a hub for academic, scholarly, and public-facing activity on the OU campus. The center’s archives house the most wide-ranging collection of political and congressional papers in the state of Oklahoma. The collections include the papers of 61 former members of Congress from across the country, along with the papers of 25 political leaders, congressional staffers, and journalists. These congressional and political collections encompass over 100 years of American history, with materials from the 1930s through the 1990s comprising the largest part of the collections. As a result, the center’s archives foster research on a broad range of topics.
The center promotes academic inquiry into the history, structure and leadership of the Congress, the relationship between citizens and the Congress, and the processes of policymaking with other institutions in the American political system. Over the years, the center has hosted national conferences for scholars. In addition, the center is a founding member of the Association of Centers for the Study of Congress – the premier national collaboration preserving historical material on the Congress.
Since 1983, the center has hosted the biennial Julian J. Rothbaum Distinguished Lecture in Representative Government, which focuses on the health of representative institutions in the United States and emphasizes the importance of participation by private citizens in public affairs. The Rothbaum lectures have featured the nation’s most distinguished political scientists and statespersons. The lectures, suitably revised and extended, are individually published as a book by the University of Oklahoma Press.
A national leader in promoting civic engagement and women’s leadership programming, the center was a founding partner in the N.E.W. (National Education for Women’s) Leadership Development Network (2002) which seeks to address the historic under-representation of women in politics, public service and other leadership roles. The University of Oklahoma was named as one of the best colleges for student voting as a result of the center’s participation with the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge and the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement.
The center is concerned with the health of our modern representative democracy. Its mission embraces three principal functions – teaching, research and public service.
First, the center offers academic programs in congressional studies at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. The center’s doctoral program has trained more than 37 students who now play leadership roles in academia and politics. The center engages undergraduates in scholarly research, civic engagement activities, and service-learning opportunities at the Oklahoma State Capitol and in the local community. Several of our undergraduates currently hold elected office and others are pursuing careers dedicated to public service across the state and nation.
Second, believing that professional research is the foundation upon which its academic programs rest, the center promotes original research by faculty members and students into various aspects of politics and the Congress. Further, the center’s congressional archive provides a national resource available to historians, political scientists, the media and members of the public interested in the health of our representative institutions.
Third, the center actively strives to promote a wider understanding and appreciation of the Congress through its various public service programs. Twice each year, the center publishes Extensions, an online journal which focuses on issues related to the Congress and public policy. The center also provides programs and lectures which offer the local community the opportunity to engage in discussion of public affairs.
Taken together, these diverse aspects of the Carl Albert Center constitute a unique resource for scholarship and research related to the United States Congress.