Opening the House Foreign Affairs Committee web archive

October 23rd, 2019

by Mark G. Bilby, Senior Assistant Librarian, California State University, Fullerton

Videos of 2013-2019 House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) hearings unavailable from C-SPAN are now available for public viewing from a new web archive curated by California State University, Fullerton. The videos, preserved with the planning and generosity of former GOP Congressperson and HFAC Chair Ed Royce, appear to show consistent bipartisan support for Ukraine. More tagging, annotating, and investigation into the archive, most of all by citizen archivists, are necessary to surface and share all that it preserves for research into the foreign policy of the United States during this important period.

Prior to his early 2019 retirement from the US House of Representatives, Congressperson Royce approached his alma mater and its Center for Oral and Public History to steward some of his congressional office and HFAC papers, and also to create a digital archive of the HFAC website. While the papers are being processed and will not be publicly available until late 2020 or early 2021, the web archive is available now:*/https:/

Royce’s decision to preserve the digital past provides an important baseline from which to measure our collective political present and future. When congressional transitions of power happen, born-digital political history is especially at risk. Any website can change overnight, but the content of government websites is particularly vulnerable. In the mere span of a day, when the levers of power change hands, the entire content of a government website often disappears and something entirely new takes its place. So it was with the HFAC website.

On January 2, 2019–one day before the new session of Congress started–the front page of the HFAC site looked like this:

Screenshot of HFAC home page archived on January 2, 2019

Just two days later, on January 4, it looked like this:

Screenshot of HFAC home page archived on January 4, 2019

One can review the complete archive of home page versions collected in the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine here:*/

Such Wayback Machine collections are helpful, but they only offer a glimpse of the extent of these digital rebirths taking place around us all the time.Congressman Royce’s bequest to CSUF, to preserve the entire website of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, required a more thorough and sophisticated approach.

Archive-It’s technology crawls and preserves entire websites, including underlying documents, audio, and video files. In total, CSUF’s web archive of the HFAC website at the end of the Royce chairmanship preserves 180 GB of data and over 69,000 individual documents. In terms of the unique value of such web archival data, press releases are text-based and thus small, as well as broadly disseminated. Images are a little bigger, but often used and reused across many sites. What makes the Royce HFAC web archive especially important and potentially valuable are the videos, especially as embedded in their original web contexts.

For instance, searching the C-SPAN website for HFAC videos with the term “Ukraine” yields only seven results — all in 2014-2015 in the aftermath of the Russian invasion of Crimea, and all prior to the Trump presidency. By contrast, CSUF’s December 2018 and January 2019 web crawls archived 882 videos, comprising some 179 GB of video data. 

What can these videos teach us about the GOP-led HFAC’s approach to Ukraine? Potentially volumes. Among hundreds of others, they include this September 27, 2018 HFAC committee meeting video, including Chairperson Royce speaking forcefully about H. Res. 931 in favor of US support for Ukraine and against Russia’s historic aggression, while C-SPAN cameras focused on the controversial nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court:

Screenshot of archived HFAC video

Given the vast scope, we must enlist the collective power of the public as citizen archivists in order to crowdsource the review and annotation of more HFAC videos, especially in regards to Ukraine. To organize such an effort, we offer a Google spreadsheet with a running list of HFAC videos, both those provided by C-SPAN and those collected by CSUF with Archive-It technology:

Anyone can add to the “Suggested New Rows” tab. These additions will be evaluated and added periodically to the main tab, the “Version of Record.” A good place to start looking for new videos to add is the “Hearings and Markups” page:

Watch, annotate, and let’s see what we can find!


Disclaimer: the views expressed herein are those of the author alone, and not those of California State University, Fullerton. Be that as it may, the author recommends donating to any and all institutions conducting web archiving for the sake of nonpartisan government accountability and transparency.