American University

To create a research database by sampling and digitally preserving personal bankruptcy records going back over a century

  • Amount $207,665
  • City Washington, DC
  • Investigator Mary Hansen
  • Year 2011
  • Program Research
  • Sub-program Economics

Federal court records document over 30 million personal bankruptcy cases during the century since the U.S. passed its first permanent bankruptcy law in 1898. Storing and maintaining these records is expensive, however-the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has been spending $2 million per year to keep about a million cubic feet of these paper records stored in boxes at Federal Records Centers in a dozen different regions-and efforts were recently announced to cut costs, possibly by disposing of all these records. Plans to discard this rich historical record naturally set off alarms among scholars of all sorts, from those studying gender and racial disparities, to those interested in business cycles. Researchers began to write about compelling projects that could only be completed using these bankruptcy records. Funds from this grant will support efforts by American University Professor Mary Hansen to work with the National Archive and Records Administration to create a research database from a statistically representative sample of these bankruptcy records, digitally preserving the data they contain for future use by scholars.

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