A Critical Collection

Death Penalty Archives offers trove of information on difficulty history

George Stinney was exonerated 70 years after being put to death at age 14. (Photo: The  Watt Espy Jr. Collection)

ALBANY, N.Y. (Feb. 21, 2019) — Some 16,000 people have been executed in the United States over the past 400 years, and more than 2,700 people are under sentence of death in the country right now.

For death penalty scholars and researchers, UAlbany’s National Death Penalty Archive is an invaluable resource. The archives, a growing repository of materials documenting the history of capital punishment in the United States, is a partnership between the University Libraries and the Capital Punishment Research Initiative at the University’s School of Criminal Justice. It is housed in the M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives in the Science Library.

The archives are the subject of an article published Feb. 19 in The Conversation, an online journal of news and opinion by academics, by James Acker, distinguished teaching professor in the School of Criminal Justice, and Brian Keough, the head of special collections and archives at the University Libraries.

“We established the National Death Penalty Archive to help preserve a record of the country’s past and current capital punishment policies and practices, and to ensure that scholars and the general public can gain access to this critical information,” Acker and Keough write.

The collection contains writings from academics, activists, litigators and researchers, and includes the extensive collection of Watt Espy Jr., who compiled documentation on more than 15,000 U.S. executions from the 1600s on. Those documents are being digitized, and are expected to be available online in July.

“The recent history of capital punishment in the U.S. has been marked by declining popularity and usage,” Acker and Keough write. “When later generations reflect on the nation’s long and complicated history with the death penalty, we hope that the National Death Penalty Archive will offer important insights into the currents that have helped shape it.” 

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