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Now Complete! The Readex U.S. Congressional Serial Set, 1817-1994

Posted on 07/22/2013

From its first session, Congress concerned itself with the publication of its own proceedings.  By 1815, a definite set of publication types along with a schema for numbering volumes and publications had been established.  The challenge of finding references in those volumes became the pursuit of several different attempts to index the rapidly expanding body of material.


In 1844, Thomas F. Gordon proposed the creation of a set of indices which was presented to the House of Representatives on January 11, 1845 (28th Congress, 2d Session, H. Doc. 26).  He began his proposal with results from surveying members of Congress on the usefulness of the indices produced for the first 25 Congresses.  He then expanded on the deficiencies of the previous work, before describing his goal:

To remedy the evils I have depicted, and make the records fully useful, a well-digested index to the whole of each series seems indispensable; by which not only each document and report may be readily found, but its full scope discerned, and every important part distinctly relieved. 

Following his proposal for a set of new indices, he described the effort required: 

The work must be one of great labor, requiring exclusive devotion for a long period; much attention, to comprehend correctly the matter, and preserve its connexion; the command of language, and the tact to condense closely; in a word, the skill for correct and lucid abridgment. 

In the decades that followed, Congress periodically reviewed the quality of the access and indexing to the Congressional publications, as seen in this example [46th Congress, 2nd session, H. Rept. 128 (January 19, 1880)]: 

We are gratified, however, to believe that the publication of the reports of this committee on the general index of the Journals of Congress (Report H. R. 52,3d sess., 45th Cong., and Report H. R. 23, 2d sess., 46th Cong.) has had the effect of calling the attention of members to the real nature and importance of index-making, awakened some interest on the subject of indexing the publications of Congress, and developed an appreciation of the fact that the want of a proper system of indexing has detracted very greatly from their value and use. 

The last full document index was published in the Serial Set in 1942, leaving to others the provision of better access to its rich content.


The Readex digital edition of the U.S. Congressional Serial Set, 1817-1994, includes 370,205 publications designated by Congress for printing—all scanned from the original print volumes, more than 15,400 volumes in all.  In addition to indexing every publication, which consist of more than 11 million pages, Readex created citation records for the Serial Set’s 74,495 maps. 


This immense digitization project was completed by Readex in partnership with Dartmouth College’s Baker-Barry Library, the Library of the U.S. Senate, and the University of Vermont. To ensure the most comprehensive digital edition possible, bound volumes for scanning were also borrowed from Middlebury College, Newark Public Library and the Vermont State Library. In all, over 15,000 volumes were scanned. The color maps were scanned in cooperation with the Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress. 

To give an idea of the breadth of the material covered in the Serial Set, here are the numbers of some of the major types of indexing terms found in the Readex edition, along with a few examples: 

12,800 Subjects [e.g., Horse racing; Federal-Indian relations; Government paperwork]1,459 Events [e.g., U.S. Fremont Expeditions (1842-1848)]676 Groups [e.g., Indigenous peoples; Vietnamese (People)]39,063 Geographic Terms [e.g., Yazoo Pass (Mississippi); Moldova (1991-); Gettysburg, Pennsylvania]44,714 Personal Names [e.g., Webster, Daniel (1782-1852)]18,205 Act Names [e.g., Act Establishing Naval Hospitals (1811)]27,856 Corporate Body Names (non-U.S. government) [e.g., Union Pacific Railroad Company; Jeff Davis (Ship); Cherokee Nation]6,276 Corporate Body Names (government): [e.g., U.S. Congress. House. Committee on Claims (1794-1946); U.S. Executive Office of the President]4,379 Treaties [e.g., Louisiana Purchase (1803); Master Lend-Lease Agreement (1942)]1,399 Court Cases [e.g., Brown v. Board of Education (1954)]935 Conferences [e.g., Great Exhibition (1851; London, England)] 

For more information about the U.S. Congressional Serial Set, or to arrange a trial at your institution, please contact

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