Former Congressman Rick Boucher gives his large collection of papers to University Libraries at Virginia Tech
Close to four decades of records documenting political history and progress in Southwest Virginia now reside in the University Libraries’ Special Collections and University Archives at Virginia Tech. The collection features 76 boxes including 6,111 folders and 72 awards spanning former Congressman Rick Boucher’s political career.
Boucher was a member of the Virginia Senate for seven years before being elected U.S. representative for Virginia’s 9th Congressional District in 1982, a position he held until 2011. With 28 years of service, he is the longest-serving representative in the history of the 9th District.
He gifted his collection to the University Libraries at Virginia Tech to make it available to all who wish to learn from it. Special Collections and University Archives Project Archivist Bess Pittman arranged and described items in the collection to create a detailed finding aid and other access tools for researchers.
“The collection reflects Rick Boucher’s professional work, including correspondence, numerous handwritten presentations he delivered in committees and on the House floor, hundreds of photos, awards, memos from his office, newsletters, brochures, pamphlets, campaign materials – basically everything that came in during his work as a congressman and state legislator,” said Pittman.
Throughout his political career, Boucher worked with many universities and colleges. But when it came time to gift his materials, he chose Virginia Tech.
“I had a long association with Virginia Tech, working actively with four Virginia Tech presidents. It was the largest institution of higher learning in my district and its largest employer, and I wanted my papers to go there given how respected the institution is. The university’s acclaimed technical expertise appealed to me because a lot of this collection now has the capability of being made digitally accessible by anyone who has internet access,” Boucher said.
At this point, a small digital exhibit provides online researchers a sampling of just over 200 items from the collection. Archivists are now working to add more digital content from the collection to the site. Pittman was responsible for organizing all of the materials into one cohesive collection, a process that took nearly a year. She believes the expansive collection contains information that will prove invaluable for historians, students, and researchers.
“It offers some really amazing insights into the work that goes into governing a region. The primary focus is the 9th District, but you can see the ripples into the broader work that Boucher was involved in,” she said.
Specifically, Pittman noted how instrumental Boucher was in the commercialization of the internet. He was the lead author of the 1992 legislation that, when signed by President George H.W. Bush, for the first time allowed commercial content on the internet, enabling money to be made online and ushering in the world of electronic commerce and revolutionizing the global economy. After Boucher’s legislation was signed into law, electronic commerce was born in the United States and then spread to the rest of the world. Given its centrality to today's economy, we can hardly imagine a time when it did not exist.
“The internet really has had such a profound impact on global society,” Pittman said. “It would have been impossible to know at the time exactly how world-changing this technology would be, and yet, he decided the time for a new digital era had arrived. His impact in making electronic commerce a reality cannot be overstated.”
Among the papers are materials reflecting Boucher’s deep involvement in the major legislation shaping telecommunications policy over a quarter of a century, including the Communications Act of 1996 of which he was a sponsor. The collection also reflects Boucher’s work as the lead author of the legislation creating Virginia’s first national forest wilderness areas and his papers and handwritten presentations from President Bill Clinton's impeachment, during which he was selected by House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt to take the lead in the Judiciary Committee and on the House floor as a primary sponsor of the Democratic censure motion as an alternative to impeachment.
Boucher’s work as a subcommittee chair fashioning comprehensive legislation to control greenhouse emissions as a response to the challenge of climate change also is reflected in numerous handwritten presentations he made as the legislation advanced.
In the collection are extensive files from the time that as a state senator he carried to passage comprehensive legislation reforming the state's criminal sexual assault laws and the state’s drug laws.
A lot of hard work goes into archiving a collection of this size, but for Pittman, it’s all worth it.
“An archive exists as a way to transmit the voices of the past through history and into the future. Without repositories like this, we lose so much of our cultural context. We lose so many of those voices. By preserving them, we allow people to gain the wisdom of the past, and we can do research about the people and places that made us who we are.”
Boucher hopes that this collection can influence others to be involved in public service and advance ideas that promote positive change.
“Public service was very important to my family,” Boucher said. “I learned at an early age from my bipartisan parents that it’s one of the best ways for a person to make a meaningful contribution to society. I hope that people accessing this collection get a sense of what active involvement on behalf of a region and a country can be, and what can be achieved if a person applies time and attention in the public sphere for the benefit of others.”
Researchers interested in Boucher’s collection should explore the detailed finding aid to help target material of interest. Because of the large volume of material, the collection is housed at an offsite facility which requires advanced notice for retrieval.