STORY BY ADAM ROGAN
Tom Harkin has retired after serving Iowa as a Congressman and Senator for 40 years. Now, 40 years of documents from his office have been donated to Drake University. 800 boxes were delivered to Cowles Library on Jan. 6 consisting of documents, artwork and other such artifacts from the Senator’s storied career.
Claudia Frazer is the Digital Initiatives Coordinator at Cowles Library and helped bring the papers to Drake, as well as prepared for their arrival.
“The Harkin papers fell in our lap,” Frazer said. “Before, we haven’t had an archives here… but when we had this opportunity, and it was an opportunity to host this archive, or to build an archive for the Harkin papers then things sort of started changing.”
The Harkin papers are to be housed in Cowles Library, but will be handled and cared for in conjunction with the Harkin Institute, which was founded as a result of Harkin’s donation to Drake. Professor Rachel Caufield works as the Associate Director for Citizen Engagement at the Harkin Institute and weighed in on the significance of having the papers here at Drake.
“Once we learned that the papers would be coming to Drake we worked with the Senator and with people at Drake… to figure out what the Institute would be doing,” Caufield said. “Clearly this is one of the largest and most expansive sets of senatorial papers (and it) provides an opportunity for… research into political processes.”
The Harkin papers are the first ever entry into Drake’s archives at Cowles Library, but the story of how these documents came to find their home at Drake is not a simple one.
Tom Harkin originally wanted to donate his papers to Iowa State University, his alma mater. However, a member of the governing body of Iowa’s three state-run universities, the Board of Regents, wished for at least some of the papers to remain classified on account of them containing information concerning governmental research, but Harkin felt the opposite.
“Harkin felt very strongly about… opening up research,” Frazer said.
Hope Grebner was recently hired at Drake to be the Political Archivist and is tasked with the job of processing all 800 boxes of the Harkin papers.
“A collection like this is priceless,” Grebner said. “It covers so many years and so much legislature that was groundbreaking and important. It’s really just a treasure trove of primary source documents for researchers that are interested in exploring all kinds of different policy areas, so it’ll bring in researchers from all across the country.”
“I think Drake has an incredible resource in Hope with handling congressional papers and she will be absolutely invaluable in… cataloging and in understanding how they can be used,” Caufield added.
As the Harkin papers are documented and catalogued by Grebner, they will be opened to the public, although the full process will take several years. There are also plans to digitally scan the papers and upload them to a database for researchers to access online.
The Harkin Institute, in addition to the handling of the Harkin papers themselves, will be hosting several events a year. These include luncheons in February, March and April, and a biannual Lecture in Sussman Theater. They will also offer a scholarship to Drake students who have earned a political internship in Washington D.C.