Sterling Memorial Library

WP_20150525_015At Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut lies the Sterling Memorial Library. Named after Yale benefactor John William Sterling, the library is the largest repository at Yale and stores archival records belonging to Dean Acheson, Henry Kissinger, Charles Lindbergh Henry Stimson and Eli Whitney. Based in the centre of the university’s campus, the Gothic style building is an imposing and beautiful sight from the street. Inside, it is even more impressive.

Getting There

Starting my journey in Washington I elected to travel by train to New Haven which took roughly five hours, a considerable amount of time. However, the journey is fairly relaxed one, although I’m probably in the minority that likes using trains and finds Amtrak very appealing. The Northeast Regional heads North through the cities of Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York so if you wanted to combine your journey with a city break there are a number of options to choose from. Although the views from the train are somewhat gritty at times after New York the journey becomes a lot more idyllic as you pass through Connecticut.

The Library

In 2015, my first research trip was to the Sterling Memorial Library to look at the papers of former Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance.

Prior to visiting you will need to register with AEON and order the materials from there because the documents I wished to view were not held on site. The process is fairly simple and as the finding aids are online you can get a better idea what materials you may wish to order. Whilst viewing the finding aid, you can simply click request box and a request is generated. The staff I contacted were very friendly and responsive to any questions I asked of them.

The materials I intended to look at were viewed in the manuscripts & archives room in the building, which is on the ground floor. Once there, the customary registration process must take place however it was a straightforward process that last only minutes.

When I arrived the materials I had requested were on site, all I had to do was speak to the archivist on the desk and fill in the request form before they brought up the boxes I requested.

The manuscripts and archives room is very grand place to work. Only a handful of researchers were also working during the time I was there, so it was peaceful and quiet throughout.

The Collection

The Vance papers were created in the 1990s but materials have gradually been donated by the family since Vance and his wife Grace passed away. The collection is divided into several series and of particular interest are the two collections relating to the Kennedy/Johnson administrations and the Carter administration which cover a range of topics. Other series contain personal and routine correspondence throughout the years, Vance’s professional activities between 1957 and 1992, the papers of Mrs Vance, photographs, scrapbooks, clippings, objects and memorabilia and audio and video tapes.

Most of the collection is available to researchers while some have remained classified. Due to age, some of the audio and video tape materials may not be able to listen to or viewed.

A number of files within the collection really peaked my interest. Specifically, correspondence in 1976 between Vance and those close to the Carter campaign. Included in the materials are memos Vance sent to Carter before and after his election which detail the future Secretary of States’ outlook for the administration’s foreign policy. Looking at the Kennedy/Johnson files and comparing them with materials within the Carter administration files, you can really get the feel as to just how Vance’s views changed and developed between his administration.

Among the collection are letters of congratulations from friends and associates following Vance’s appointment as Secretary of State as well as correspondence following his resignation. Having studied Vance for some time, it is clear that he was immensely popular and highly respected. The positive correspondence from friends and well-wishers is certainly a testament to that. Also within the files is a collection of reprinted cartoon sketches that appeared in the US press relating to the SALT II. One can only speculate as to why Vance kept these however as I’m rather partial to a political cartoon sketch it did provide a brief moment of comic relief during the days I was in the archives.

Where to stay?

Accommodation in New Haven is somewhat limited if you are on a student’s budget like myself. I stayed in an apartment rented out through Airbnb which was about five to ten minutes’ walk from the archives. There are some hotels in the city of New Haven but at considerable expense. Public transportation around the university seemed to run smoothly, so if you did stay outside of the city, you would be able to get around easily. Uber is a good option for getting around.

What to do?

The area in and around the university is not huge but it does have shops, bars and restaurants to whittle away the hours. I’d highly recommend Anna Liffey’s for a beer and some good food on an evening. The university campus is great one to explore if you are looking to fill in your time with plenty of great architecture to look at.


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