Wednesday, April 4, 2007

The Story Behind the Stallings Collection

As many of you know, I am currently serving as a Student Administrative Intern (what was once called a Presidential Intern) at Idaho State University. My project, as proposed last April, is to create a preliminary inventory of the Stallings Congressional Collection housed in the Department of Special Collections at ISU. My original proposal is by no means a reflection of what I am actually doing. It is a major understatement of the project I have taken on.

Processing, cataloging, and creating an extensive finding aid for the Stallings Collection requires not only many, many hours of work, but a great deal of research. Since I began the project, I have visited three universities and the state historical society in an effort to better grasp the contents and organization of political manuscript collections. I have looked at the papers of numerous Idaho politicians, many of Richard Stallings' contemporaries, and have formed my own conclusions of what works and what doesn't in terms of preparing a collection for researchers.

Long before the prospect of spearheading this project arrived before me, I began a research project under the direction of a professor at ISU using primary resources to form a particular conclusion. I had taken this on as an independent study course due to my disinterest in the traditional courses being offered that semester and as an attempt to challenge myself. What I didn't know is what the research project would become. One November day, just before the Pocatello City Council elections, I was driving around Pocatello campaigning with Richard Stallings. We were discussing my academic pursuits and the courses I was planning on taking in the spring. I mentioned that I wanted to take on an independent project looking at primary sources, but that I was bored with the most used collection at ISU--the papers of Dr. Minnie Howard. It was in that moment, that November day, when I learned that former Congressman Richard Stallings' papers were sitting in boxes in the basement of the ISU library and had been since 1993.

My independent research project began as an attempt to understand the changing political nature of Idaho's Second Congressional District, but due to the lack of polling data within the collection, I shifted to addressing the issue of Stallings' pro-life stance and how that was perceived by Idaho voters. In one semester I had opened nearly every last box of that collection, a total of 266 boxes, completely fascinated by this career that I somehow had known so little about. It was in that one semester that I realized how much I admired Richard Stallings and how important those 266 boxes were and are to Idaho history and to ISU as a whole.

I applied for the presidential internship following a meeting Stallings had with then President Gallagher and thought it was a long shot that a presidential internship would be awarded to a student wanting to process a congressional collection. But I sold the collection in my proposal--I spoke confidently of its importance as a key resource for Idaho historians, journalists, political scientists, and scholars. I stood by my belief that the Stallings Collection would offer a unique glimpse into the everyday working of American government as well as would offer wonderful resources related to environmental policy, federal nuclear energy regulation, and the farm credit crisis of the 1980s.

What was originally going to be a project resulting in a preliminary inventory of the collection as a first step toward a final processing of the collection allowing it to open to the general public in January of 2008 became an enormous undertaking requiring every effort I could muster and every minute I could spare. My responsibility and obligation to this collection has grown in ways I didn't know a person could when it came to an attachment to 266 boxes of paper. It is a responsibility I do not take lightly and I consider myself to be a steward of sorts, hoping to bring these scholarly resources to others who will appreciate them as much as I do.

My presidential internship ends with the semester and I am having to reapply. I feel myself trying to justify my work and how important the collection is to the university. Though it has been a trying day in doing this, I stand by my belief that this collection will provide unique research opportunities to the university, the community, and the state of Idaho.

Looking back at that November day of campaigning when this wonderful opportunity caught my attention, I am so grateful. Grateful to ISU for allowing me to take on this opportunity and am immeasurably grateful to Richard Stallings for having faith and confidence in my abilities as well as trusting me with this very treasured period of his life. The wonderful quote from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, "some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them" comes to mind when I think of my part in the Stallings Collection. I may not be great, but greatness has been thrust upon me. I'm taking part in something great and will one day be able to say that while I was a student at Idaho State University I was a part of creating this great and lasting tribute to a true Idaho statesman and public servant.

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