Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The Philip & Rosamund Davies US Elections Campaigns Archive: Guest post by Jane Rawson

This guest post by Jane Rawson is from the blog: US Studies Resources at Oxford   re-posted with permission

The Philip & Rosamund Davies US Elections Campaigns Archive

The Vere Harmsworth Library is home to the Philip & Rosamund Davies US Elections Campaigns Archive, an extensive collection of campaign ephemera from American elections at all levels. The archive has been donated to the library by Professor Philip Davies, Director of the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library, and is the result of many years of active collecting. The majority of the material dates from the later 20th century, but there are examples of older items dating back as far as 1840. The archive continues to grow as Professor Davies collects and donates material from each new round of elections in the United States.

The archive has now been fully catalogued and can be made available to researchers in Oxford. While items such as those contained in the archive were intended to be ephemeral at the point of production, they can tell researchers a great deal about the campaigns and candidates they were produced to support (or indeed protest). They are physical evidence of the issues on which campaigns were fought, and the perceived strengths and weaknesses of the candidates who fought them. Not just the literature, but the slogans and design of buttons, posters and bumper stickers, as well as the very items branded for campaigns indicate the way candidates chose to present themselves and their opponents. As well as providing insight into the campaigns themselves, the literature and artefacts contained within the collection also demonstrate wider developments in society, politics and technology.

A century of presidential campaign buttons, 1908-2008

What does the archive contain? 
  • Thousands of buttons for hundreds of candidates, the oldest dating from 1840
  • Bumper stickers and posters
  • Ballots for elections from a wide range of locations and dates, the oldest dating from the Civil War
  • Campaign leaflets and other literature for elections at all levels, from local to presidential
  • Protest and negative material
  • Election, convention and inauguration memorabilia, such as commemorative plates, medals, mugs and other souvenir items
  • And all sorts of campaign branded items such as hats, t-shirts, jewellery, dolls, playing cards, rain bonnets... even a bar of soap!
To learn more about the archive and what it can tell students and researchers of American history and politics, watch the below video of Professor Davies discussing the material culture of US elections and political marketing, accompanied by selected items from the collection.

There have also been a couple of short videos on the topic posted recently on the BBC website in the run up to this year's elections: Badge man predicts Ohio winner, talking to a manufacturer of campaign buttons, and Preserving US presidential campaigns on the web, which visits the Smithsonian's extensive collections as well as looking at the archive of campaign TV advertising from the Museum of the Moving Image.

Full details of the materials can be found in the archive catalogue, and images of some of the items (either individually or as part of previous exhibitions) can be seen on our Flickr page. If you are interested in consulting items from the archive, please contact jane.rawson@bodleian.ox.ac.uk.

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