Since the Caltech Library digitized J. Morgan Kousser's 1974 book The Shaping of Southern Politics: Suffrage Restriction and the Establishment of the One-Party South, 1880-1910 and made it available via open access repository CaltechAUTHORS in late July, it has already been downloaded over thirty times.
What makes this newly digitized book, which had yet to be publicly announced and was originally published almost 50 years ago, so popular? The title alone points to its relevance and timeliness and its author—Caltech Professor of History and Social Science, Emeritus J. Morgan Kousser—is well known for serving as an expert witness in over fifty federal and state voting rights cases. In 1981, he testified before a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee about the renewal of the Voting Rights Act. In 2008, he published the first comprehensive history of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. After the U.S. Supreme Court effectively overturned Section 5 in 2013, Kousser published an analysis of over 4000 voting rights cases and other voting rights actions, which undermined the factual basis of the Supreme Court's decision. In 2019, he used that extensive database in testimony before a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee on a bill that seeks to restore Section 5.
The Shaping of Southern Politics: Suffrage Restriction and the Establishment of the One-party South, 1880-1910 was the first study of its kind that took partisanship into account when studying disfranchisement. Using a recently developed statistical method, Kousser was able to obtain estimates of the percentages of Black and white voters for each candidate, as well as the proportion who did not vote, in every presidential and gubernatorial election and in many primaries and referenda in the South from 1880 to 1910. As his Caltech profile reads, "Morgan Kousser is charting the history of the Voting Rights Act in an effort to influence the future of democracy in the United States."
Kousser emphasizes that while everyone now assumes that race and partisanship are inextricably intertwined in voter ID policies, vote-by-mail battles, and closing precincts, they may not realize that race and partisanship have always been intertwined—in the disfranchisement of the late nineteenth century as well as today. Enfranchisement and disfranchisement have succeeded each other more than once in American history, always brought about primarily by laws, not by violence or cultural changes. That is one major implication of The Shaping of Southern Politics.
Now that Yale University Press has released the copyright, Kousser was able to work with the Caltech Library to make this important text more available. The production of the ebook required a library-wide effort: from disbanding and digitization (Access & Collection Services) and deposit and ISBN registration (Research Services) to DOI registration and distribution and long-term preservation of the digital asset (Digital Library Development) within its CaltechAUTHORS repository. Comprising over 90,000 research papers authored by Caltech faculty and other researchers at Caltech, the repository is updated continuously as departments and library staff add available and recently published documents.
Since its inception in 2002, CaltechAUTHORS has digitized 116 books, with The Shaping of Southern Politics now taking its place at 117. CaltechAUTHORS is part of CODA, the Caltech Collection of Open Digital Archives, managed by the Caltech Library. The mission of CODA is to collect, manage, preserve and provide global access over time to the scholarly output of the Institute. As of now, but maybe not for long, Kousser's most downloaded text—coming in at 19,700 downloads—is a two-page dictionary article on Jim Crow Laws in the Dictionary of American History.