The Dick Thornburgh Papers

collection history

Gift of Collection

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Grant

Research Tips and "Glossary"


On February 27, 1998, University of Pittsburgh Chancellor, Mark A. Nordenberg, stated: “We have gathered here this morning because Dick Thornburgh has donated the magnificent archival collection of his personal papers to the University of Pittsburgh. It is a collection that provides a comprehensive record of Dick Thornburgh’s life, from his community participation in the early 1960s, to his significant government positions at state, national and international levels. It includes his personal scorecard from the 1960 World Series. He even donated his textbooks from his days at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law…The collection of papers, photographs, videos and memorabilia will…provide opportunities for scholars to research issues of leadership and public policy development. Clearly, these materials will provide new and important insights into Pennsylvania and American history, as reflected through the papers of one of our nation’s outstanding public leaders.”

The collection is held in the Archives & Special Collections, within the University Library System. The collection is unrestricted and available for research in the Archive Service Center Reading Room. This Web site provides a guide to content, search capability, and significant online text, photographs, and A-V items. Researchers are encouraged to contact A&SC staff with topics of interest and potential research needs prior to coming to the archives. We are happy to provide research guidance and collection information.


The University of Pittsburgh was the recipient of a major Commonwealth of Pennsylvania grant dedicated to work associated with the Dick Thornburgh Papers. The grant funded archival and digital work that has made it possible for this significant collection now to be readily available to researchers. In addition to complete processing and the full description of the collection by a team of archivists, the Digital Research Library at the University enabled the encoding of the extensive and detailed finding aid, as well as the scanning and online presentation of 37,000 pages of text, hundreds of photographs, and hours of video and audio. This Web site has been made possible by that exemplary work enabled by the grant.


Research tips

Accomplishments of the first gubernatorial term: useful summary in Re-election campaign 1982.


Attorney General AM/PM Clippings Summaries (included with reports) provide valuable access to the dates and topics in the extensive news clippings. Search “clippings summaries’ as keyword title.

Governor issue research: The Campaign 1978 series will be a valuable. Preceding Governor, as it does, researchers can identify issues determined to be important and see in what ways they are followed up on during the two gubernatorial terms.

Gubernatorial issues and accomplishments:  U.S.  Senate Campaign 1991 serves as a “review.”

Handwriting on documents:  The curator maintains a file of handwriting samples for reference, from the Governor years. These are relevant in identifying the source of the many annotations on documents.

News Releases are available for most notable events and issues throughout the collection and can be searched fruitfully. The releases commonly include references to dates or events and other such details. This information, in turn, can assist with further access to the extensive and useful event files and news clippings, for example.

Political campaigns: There are five colorful and detailed campaigns included in the Thornburgh Papers:
Campaign for U.S. Congress (1966); Delegate to Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention (1967); Campaigns for Governor (1978, 1982); and Campaign for U.S. Senate (1991).

Three Mile Island: The nuclear accident at Three Mile Island is a particularly well documented and often used topic in the collection.

United Nations files include, inevitably, many abbreviations. See United Nations abbreviation list included in United Nations “Reports.”


Binders: Binders were the usual venue for material prepared by staff for Thornburgh and have been replaced by acid-free archival folders. However, the term “binder” does appear in folder titles.

Chron files: This term obviously refers to files in chronological order, but more importantly “chron files” track a situation, an event, or a date in detail – especially during campaigns. As a campaign progressed, related material (e.g., Event Files) was frequently kept on day by day basis. The files were not kept at the time for historical purpose, but rather for ready reference. Other than their use in campaigns, chron files were created to document Three Mile Island (TMI). This was assembled after the fact to document the historic event, particularly the early weeks following the accident.


Clippings, news clippings, clips: Files of clippings were routinely kept during campaigns and many of Thornburgh’s public service offices. The clippings track issues, concerns and perceptions of the “outside world” and provide interesting insights.

Nuggets: This term refers to a succinct description of policy successes or achievements for “ready reference” and use. “Zingers” is used similarly.


Red Pen: Early in his career Thornburgh began editing, annotating, correcting, and calling attention to written items with a red pen. This was familiar to staff and is common throughout the files. Folder titles noted as “annotated” include red pen comments. These files are tangible evidence of Thornburgh’s “hands on” leadership style and illustrate his meticulous attention to all material presented to him, his sense of humor, and his insights.

Reports: Although there are many “typical” reports online (e.g., annual reports, budget briefs, etc.), note that this category of online documents includes brochures, campaign publications, clipping summaries, campaign position papers, and other such atypical items.

Zingers: see “nuggets.”




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