At the time this article was
written Robert X. Browning was Associate Professor of Political Science and
Director of the Purdue university Public Affairs Video Archives
C-SPAN (the Cable-Satellite Public
Affairs Network) is a non-profit cooperative created by the cable television industry
to provide an outlet for the televised proceedings of the United States
Congress. In 1979, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to permit televised
coverage of the proceedings. Through C-SPAN, the cable industry created a
channel to allow viewers throughout the country to see the entire congressional
proceedings, live, without editing, and without commentary. The signal is
unscrambled and is provided free to subscribers through cable systems. It can
also be received directly via a home satellite dish.
In addition to the House
proceedings, C-SPAN provides 24-hour coverage of congressional hearings,
extensive campaign coverage, many speeches, news conferences, and public policy
conferences in Washington and from around the country. In 1986, when the Senate
voted to permit cameras, C-SPAN began a second network which also telecasts
24-hours per day.
Through a unique cooperative
arrangement, U.S. public affairs programming is being preserved and made widely
available for teaching and research. C-SPAN provides complete, unedited, public
affairs programming from Washington and around the country on cable television
systems across the country. The Purdue University Public Affairs Video Archives
was created to record, catalog, and distribute all programming on both C-SPAN
channels exclusively for educational use.
The Archives was created in 1987 to
address an important research and educational problem. While C-SPAN was
bringing over 6,000 hours of first-run programming to the nation's homes,
offices, and schools, none of this programming was being preserved in any
C-SPAN kept tapes of some of their
programming but erased many others. The copies of the tapes of the House and
the Senate are kept by both the Library of Congress and the National Archives,
but are not easily accessible. Whilemany support the principle of television
preservation, few are prepared for the major issues which confront both the
archivist and the researcher.
The Video Archives is a nonprofit
research center operated under the auspices of the Purdue University School of
Humanities, Social Science, and Education.
The Archives record all programming
24-hours per day, seven days per week, on two channels. This amounts to 17,520
hours per year. Cataloging the programming is as major and important an
undertaking as the recording. Every day, using information sent from Washington
and gleaned from other sources, the Archives enter the entire programming
schedule. This includes all the subjects, places, dates, names, titles, and affiliations
of persons and programs.
The mission of the Archives is to
preserve this programming, to catalog it for scholars, and to provide duplicate
copies to educators for classroom use.
In order to manage this large
amount of information, the entire process is computerized. Using the computers,
the Archives staff can search on any of the cataloged criteria to locate the
programs and help interested patrons find and use the tapes. This
computerization has permitted the Archives to manage over 12,000 1/2 inch VHS
tapes, catalog 6,000 programs to date, and enter the names of 5, 000 persons
appearing on C-SPAN programs. Two catalogs of over 5,000 C-SPAN programs
recorded in 1987 and 1988 have been published.
The Video Archives, as a growing
research archives is striving to make its collection as widely known and as
easily accessed as possible.
Cataloging the programming in a
specially designed database is one way in which the Archives is managing to
make this programming accessible to scholars. A second way is the openness of
the Archives to the public. A third way is through the low cost charge for
obtaining duplicate recordings.
Because these programs are public
proceedings many presume that they are being cataloged. The transcripts of
sessions of the U.S. Hose and Senate, for example, are available in printed and
electronic form. The printed transcripts run over 34,000 pages per year. Like
video records, the key access point to the Congressional Record is the date.
The indexes to the Congressional Record help researchers locate the printed
page on which the debate can be found. The key access point to the video record
is the hour at the debate occurred.
The printed Congressional Record
for the House also contains time codes which tell the reader at what hour the
debate occurred. These time codes permit the easy cross-referencing of the
printed record and the Purdue video record. The Senate, which has not been
televised as long as the House, does not print time codes in the Congressional
Other finding aids to the
collection are also being developed. The Archives is beginning to put subject
references in its daily catalog listings for the House and the Senate, as well
as page references to the Congressional Record. At first the cataloging only
showed the beginning and ending time of the debate. A scholar would thus first
have to use another printed source to find when the debate occurred and then
use the Congressional Record to pinpoint the hour. With our subject headings,
the Archives will add the reference that debate on the trade legislation, for
example, occurred on April 26, 1988.
A second finding aid is electronic
transcripts of the congressional proceedings. Using these transcripts, the user
can search for the exchange or debate they are interested in. Then using the
time codes printed in the House Congressional Record, including the electronic
versions, the researcher will know what Archives tape contains the exchange
which they wish to view. Since members of Congress are permitted to revise and
extend their remarks, the video record and the printed record will not always
coincide. The existence of the video and the steps the Video Archives are
taking to preserve it, may serve to remind members that what thy say is what
they actually said, not what they would have liked to have said.
Providing research access for
scholars to this collection is only part of the mission of the Public Affairs
Video Archives. The other important component of the Archives work is to bring
these materials, and an increased understanding of the workings of the U.S.
government, into the classroom. This is being achieved through C-SPAN's liberal
copyright policy, through the Archives low prices for duplicate tapes, and
through the educational materials which the Archives are now developing to
accompany the tapes.
The C-SPAN copyright policy permits
teachers to retain copies of C-SPAN's programming indefinitely. This applies to
programs which instructors tape themselves or those which they obtain from the
Archives. C-SPAN programming can only be used for education and research, not
for any political or commercial uses, or re-airing. The Archives sells
duplicate tapes for only $30 per two-hour tape. Over 1,000 duplicate tapes have
already been shipped to teachers across the United States. These materials are
being used in classes from grade school to graduate schools.
Many teachers are surprised to
learn that C-SPAN programming is not limited to House and Senate proceedings.
Indeed, of the 4,709 hours of first run programming aired on C-SPAN I in 1988,
only 689 hours or 14.6% were House proceedings. The others included campaign
coverage, conferences, speeches, congressional proceedings, and international
One professor at Purdue University
has used the question period of the Canadian House to illustrate differences
between the American and Canadian legislative processes. He has also obtained
an American presidential news conference to show students the way in which U.S.
Presidents answer questions. The Archives will soon publish a videoguide on the
Canadian question period.
To encourage classroom use of
C-SPAN programming, the Archives has begun a new educational program. Under
this proram, the Archives is distributing videoguides for selected tapes. These
videoguides contain additional information to assist the instructor in using
the tape in class. The guides contain detail on the programs including date,
place, names, and length; in addition to an abstract, the context of the
program, references for further reading; as well as suggestions for classroom
use. Also contained is a micro-abstract which points the teacher to particular
times on the tape at which interesting comments or exchanges are made which can
be used to stimulate discussion or raise points of emphasis.
Others who have used C-SPAN
materials in the classroom have emphasized that there is a continuum of
possible uses. The easiest would be to simply have the students watch an hour
of C-SPAN programming and write about what they have observed. Just as many
teachers have learned that requiring students to follow current events leads to
a higher level of understanding and participation in class, the same benefits
can accrue from C-SPAN watching. A variant on this is to record an hour of
C-SPAN programing and play portions of this tape in class. The advantage of
this is that the instructor can stop the tape and comment on what the students
If one is teaching about American
government or the legislative process, any hour of congressional coverage
usually provides ample material to illustrate many points about the American
political process. A quick reading of the publication Gavel-to-Gavel provides
the instructor with background information to answer questions students might
have about the process. This 64 page publication is a guide to televised
coverage and can be obtained for a modest price directly from C-SPAN or the
Benton Foundation in Washington, DC.
Beyond this "pick-up
viewing", instructors can invest more time and develop course materials
around particular tapes found in the Archives catalogs. The videoguides
published by the Archives are designed to provide specific tapes whic can be
used as well as provide illustrative examples for teachers to use as
prototypes. In addition to the videoguides which are developed by the Archives,
they will also be distributing videoguides developed by others and contributed
to the Archives for distribution.
The international coverage in the
collection are important new resources for teaching in the United States.
C-SPAN has telecast over 124 hours of the proceedings of the Canadian
Parliament in 1988. This included the entire free trade debate following the
November elections. In addition to this, the Archives has the leader's debate
on October 25, 1988, and the election returns as aired by the CBC.
C-SPAN brings public affairs
programming to all parts of the country, and now the world, without editing,
and without commentary. It is left to the public to interpret and use the
information. C-SPAN and its affiliated cable systems have simply lowered the
cost of being informed citizens.
The Public Affairs Video Archives
are extending the C-SPAN mission and commitment. We are bringing their public
affairs programming to campuses and classrooms where it did not exist before.
It is still without editing and without commentary.
We have simply lowered even further
the cost of educating the informed citizens of today and tomorrow.