Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library – Princeton University

PrincetonMy final archival visit of this trip was to the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library at Princeton University in New Jersey to view the papers of former Deputy National Security Advisor, David Aaron. Princeton is fairly easy to get to by rail, although as I was travelling on a Sunday I did have to get off at Trenton and get on to the New Jersey transit system to take me to Princeton. I travelled to Princeton after doing my research in Washington D.C. however if you wanted to start off at the University you could fly into Newark and get the New Jersey Transit to Princeton from there fairly easily. The Mudd library is located on Campus but like with other archives you need to register and pre-order your materials online before you visit. Once at Princeton you need to register with the Privileges Office in the Firestone Library where they will issue you with a researchers card which is a nice memento of your visit. The Mudd library is about a five minute walk from there and all the materials I had requested were waiting for me when I arrived. The Mudd library is host to a number of noteworthy collections including the papers of 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 CIA. In addition to those personal collections there are also files from the Council on Foreign Relations and the American Civil Liberties Union.

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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 there attitudes towards the administration and these files do shed significant light on the administration’s preparations for the 1980 election.

WHAT TO DO IN PRINCETON?

Princeton is a leafy borough mid way between Philadelphia and New York and is similar in style to New Haven where Yale University is located. IMAG1303Princeton 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 breathtaking view, even if I was a bit apprehensive about stepping too close to the glass.

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