Digitization Project to Preserve Senate Recordings from the 1950s and ’60s
April 20, 2022

The University of Tennessee Libraries was awarded a $49,200 grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources* to digitize fragile audiovisual recordings related to the US Congress of the 1950s and ’60s, including film and audio from investigations, interviews, and campaigns of US Senator Estes Kefauver, and recordings of the 1953–1954 Army–McCarthy hearings.

The project, titled “A More Comprehensive Picture: Saving the Audiovisual Records of Congressional Anti-Corruption Efforts in the Papers of US Senator Estes Kefauver and Ray Jenkins,” will digitize materials from UT’s Modern Political Archives. Modern Political Archivist and Associate Professor Kris Bronstad is principal investigator for the grant project. Bronstad prepared the grant proposal with help from Mark Baggett, Emily Gore, Jennifer Beals, Holly Mercer, and UT’s Office of Research.

The Modern Political Archives, a branch of the UT Libraries’ Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections and University Archives — housed, appropriately, in the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy — comprises roughly 150 collections of materials chronicling some of the most influential public servants from East Tennessee.

Over the next year, the project will digitize approximately 105 films, 52 reel-to-reel audiotapes, 160 two-sided Audograph discs, and 30 Edison Voicewriter discs from Congressional hearings, interviews, speeches, and appearances documenting important anti-corruption efforts in the US Congress of the 1950s and 1960s.

“One wonderful thing about the postwar era of Congress is that many of its sights, sounds, and characters are captured on film and tape,” said Steve Smith, Dean of Libraries. “But even if the entirety of the hearings were broadcast, not many recordings survive. Luckily, we have some further pieces of the picture in the collections of the Modern Political Archives at the University of Tennessee.”

The material, currently housed on fragile media, contains an audio record of the entirety of the high-profile Army–McCarthy hearings, which pitted the Army against US Senator Joseph McCarthy. Those recordings are part of a collection donated to the UT Libraries in 1977 by Tennessee lawyer Ray Jenkins, who served as counsel for the Senate Subcommittee on Investigations during the hearings.

In addition, materials document the contemporaneous career of Estes Kefauver, the US Senator from Tennessee who spent much of his career actively opposing abusers of postwar power — be they small-town gangsters, crooked city politicians, comic book publishers, or giant steel and drug industries. Kefauver first gained national attention through the televised 1951 Senate investigation into organized crime, popularly known as the Kefauver Committee. The at-risk audio and video recordings are part of the Estes Kefauver Papers donated to the UT Libraries by his widow, Nancy Kefauver.

The UT Libraries is committed to long-term preservation and sharing of the recordings. The libraries will transfer the recordings to sturdier and more accessible media and make them available to students, scholars, and the public.


*The Council on Library and Information Resources is an independent, nonprofit organization that forges strategies to enhance research, teaching, and learning environments in collaboration with libraries, cultural institutions, and communities of higher learning.