Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library

Named after the philanthropist, Seeley G. Mudd, the library lies in the heart of the university town of Princeton, New Jersey. The library holds 45,000 feet of archived materials including files from the Council on Foreign Relations and the American Civil Liberties Union as well as distinguished individuals such as former US President Woodrow Wilson, former Presidential candidates Adlai Stevenson and George McGovern, former Ambassador George Kennan and former Secretaries of State James Baker and John Foster Dulles as well as his brother Allen who was Director of the C.I.A.

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Getting There

Princeton is midway between New York City and Philadelphia. So, you can either fly into Newark Liberty International or Philadelphia International and catch a train to Princeton from there. As I was doing research in Washington, I got the train direct from there and the journey was smooth, totalling about two and a half hours.

The library is in the centre of the town and is easily accessible by bus, car or taxi which ever you choose to use.

The Library

I made my journey to Princeton to examine the papers of former Deputy National Security Advisor David Aaron.

As with Yale University, 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.

Registration at the university was slightly complicated, only by the fact that the building you need to register in is about a ten to fifteen-minute walk from the Seeley G. Mudd library, in the Firestone library. Once there however, the registration process is speedy enough and you get a researcher’s card to boot.

The room in which I viewed my files was immediately to my left as I entered the library. It was a reasonable size but nice and quiet. There were only a few students working there at the time and the room is marshalled by an undergraduate student.

It should be noted that the library requests that if you are going to photograph material, then you record what you are capturing and put a Princeton border, around the document. Although necessary, this may discourage you from taking multiple photographs.

The Collection

The purpose of my visit was to look at the papers of David Aaron who was Deputy National Security Advisor to Zbigniew Brzezinski during the Carter administration. Prior to serving in the administration, Aaron had worked for Vice President Walter Mondale in Congress and would go on to be a key advisor during his unsuccessful presidential campaign in 1984 and would act in a similar capacity during Bill Clinton’s successful election in 1992.

Like with the Sterling Memorial Library at Yale University, you need to register with AEON to order materials prior to visiting as they are held offsite but the process is pretty straightforward. In the two days I spent at the Mudd library looking at Aaron’s papers I felt the inevitable highs and lows of doing archival research. Frustration at not finding anything remotely useful before jubilation at finding some real gems. Aaron’s papers are surprisingly detailed and contain vast amounts of materials however a significant proportion of them are not particularly useful. In one box there are seemingly reams of paper containing personal invitations and notes of thanks and congratulations as well as several letters asking for Mr. Aaron’s autograph. So day one was spent sifting through all that material with limited success.

Day two however was much more productive as I looked at files devoted to SALT II. Aaron was closely involved with those negotiations as chair of the SALT II working group on the NSC and the materials he collected do provide significant information about the administration’s position on SALT as well as negotiations with the Soviet Union. Also within the collection where materials relating to the 1980 election. Within these files contain documents analysing the policy positions of Ronald Reagan and George Bush and how the administration should counteract their positions as well as an analysis of the key demographics in the United States and their attitudes towards the administration and these files do shed significant light on the administration’s preparations for the 1980 election.

Where to stay?

Hotels are in short supply in Princeton, especially affordable ones! Airbnb was a must for this visit and I rented a room from a lovely couple around 1.5miles from the university. Princeton is a lovely little quaint town. My hosts commented that there is virtually no crime and it felt very comfortable walking around at night.

I visited in March 2016 and experienced every season of weather in the time I was there: starting with snow, progressing to rain, and then finally sunshine. A real barmy experience!

What to do?

Princeton itself is fairly small and everything appears to revolve around the University. The university campus is fairly wide and is a fairly pleasant one to walk around with plenty of beautiful buildings to look at with a nice mixture of traditional and contemporary architecture. The main street in the centre, Nassau, has a long line of restaurants, cafes, bars and shops however given that Princeton is a relatively small place there is not a great deal to do.

However, given its close proximity to Philadelphia and New York, I decided to make day trips to both. Starting with Philadelphia which is about ninety minutes away via rail (New Jersey Transit to Trenton, change to SEPTA at Trenton). Given that I had never visited Philly before this was a new city to tick off and as a result means that I have visited seven of the ten biggest cities in the USA (I have not visited Chicago, Phoenix or San Jose). During my flying visit I went first to Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776 and where the Liberty Bell was rung. From there I had a stroll at the banks of the Delaware River at Penn’s Landing before heading back to one of Philadelphia’s most iconic sites where Rocky Balboa strode up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The following day I headed into New York which I have visited on two previous occasions but have not really had fond memories of. This time was a much more relaxed experience taking in all the relevant sites where I was able to take in all the sights, sounds and smells of this great city. I also went up the newly constructed Freedom Tower, on the site of the old World Trade Center. At $30 it was a bit steep but it was a breath taking view, even if I was a bit apprehensive about stepping too close to the glass.

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