The second archival visit of my March trip was to the Fenwick Library at George Mason University to view the papers of Harold Saunders. George Mason University is based in Fairfax, Virginia and is around thirty miles from Washington D.C. however it is fairly easy to get to via public transport. Simply head on to the last stop on the orange line of the Washington metro line, Vienna/Fairfax-GMU, and at the station is a commuter bus that takes you straight to the University. There was no need to register with the Fenwick Library beforehand however they did ask that you contact them stating the date and time of your arrival so that they could prepare the necessary papers and there is a form to fill out. All the staff I dealt with were very friendly and punctual in reply to correspondence and all the materials I request were available when I got there. After collecting my material I was ushered into a private room to do my research which was perhaps one of the most comfortable research rooms I’ve been placed in. Given that I was the only person there doing research it was nice and peaceful but the room had everything needed. There was plenty of desk space and plug sockets if they were needed. The staff were also keen to point out that desk lamps that had been installed which could be adjusted to suit your own needs. I wasn’t as impressed as they were (a lamp is a lamp) but others may well find them of use. The staff also provided a Wi-Fi login which was useful although not essentially for me personally.
The papers I visited to look at where the personal and political papers of Harold Saunders who served in the Carter Administration as Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Asia . The visit took extra significance given that Saunders sadly passed away in the week preceding my visit (New York Times obituary here). Saunders was an integral member of the team that helped seal the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt in 1978 and was also a key figure in negotiating the release of the American hostages held in Iran during the hostage crisis. He served under several other Presidents as well as Carter including Richard Nixon where he was key participant in the shuttle diplomacy of Henry Kissinger during the 1970s.
The collection at the Fenwick library covers the main periods of Saunders’ career with a huge collection of newspapers clippings, annotated speeches and reports. An entire box is devoted to Saunders’ role during the Camp David peace talks as well as a significant amount of material on the Iranian Hostage crisis. The collection is a real treasure trove for those studying any aspects of either the Camp David Accords or the Iranian Revolution and/or Hostage Crisis due to the sheer wealth of material within the collection that is readily available. If anyone were studying either period I would recommend taking a serious look at the papers as there are bound to be some highly useful materials within and given Saunders’ role in the administration they are bound to be highly credible.
In respect of my own research, it was highly beneficial even though a lot of the materials were perhaps not entirely useful to my own research. Nevertheless there were a few gems there and as I pointed out in the above paragraph, if I were doing research on either the Camp David Accords or Iran, then the Saunders papers would be a must view.
WHAT TO DO IN FAIRFAX?
Unlike other archives I visited I didn’t get to see much of the place I was visiting as it was just a flying visit, so I could not provide a full review of the area although I did take a look around the university campus. The campus in Fairfax (there are also GMU buildings in Arlington) is relatively contemporary and more modern then other universities I have visited in the US (GMU did only become an independent institution in 1972). Many of the buildings on campus look as though they’ve been restored or newly built in recent years and are well worth a look. The campus is clean and vibrant and is well worth a stroll around and with plenty of bars and restaurants close by there’s at least a good variety of places to get a drink or something to eat.