Libraries’ Collection Provides Look at Mason’s Past

Posted: September 26, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By David Driver

One of the main functions of the University Libraries Special Collections and Archives department (SC&A) is to collect materials on the history of George Mason University. The materials are either donated or the staff actively searches for sources.

Sometimes a person with ties to Mason will simply show up unannounced at the department with items they wish to donate, say the librarians. A recent donation of papers relating to early Mason history was made by Edith Keene from North Carolina. Her father, Lee Potter, was dean of students at George Mason College in the early 1960s.

Another part of this collection is the George Mason University Oral History program, which began in 1999. The OHP interviews long-time faculty and staff and other people who have made an important impact at Mason.

For example, last May, the department interviewed Edwin Meese III about his experiences as Mason’s rector (from 1998 to 2004) as well as a member of the Board of Visitors (from 1996 to 2004). Meese is a former U.S. attorney general who is now the Ronald Reagan distinguished fellow in public policy and chairman of the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the Heritage Foundation.

Last year, Katja Hering, SC&A’s oral history coordinator, interviewed Maxwell Harway, who was 92 at the time. He is the most senior adjunct professor to ever teach in Mason’s History Department. During the 1930s, Harway was a teacher’s union and Young People’s Socialist League activist in New York, according to Hering. He is also a World War II veteran, economist and community activist in Fauquier County, Va.

“He also set the record with the longest oral history interview in our collection, about 15 hours documenting his long and fascinating life,” says Hering.

Other interviews include one with Robert Krug, namesake of Krug Hall on the Fairfax Campus, conducted at his home in Northern Neck, Va. He was a former faculty member and president of Mason from 1977 to 1978. He came to George Mason College in 1965 and served as its dean, among other positions.

Morris Jones, former assistant locksmith who retired in 2004 after 20 years at Mason, was also interviewed. Jones was a World War II veteran and former topographer with the U.S. Geological Survey.

Of course, the Mason history collection is only a piece of what SC&A owns. In all, says Robert Vay, acting head of Special Collections and Archives, the department has more than 6,000 boxes – about the size of copy paper boxes – of material.

“When I started here, it was a paper-and-pencil operation,” says Vay, who got his bachelor’s degree from Mason in 1992 and his master’s degree in 1998. “(Now) we have a giant web site presence. People all over the world can see what we have in our collections.”

The department has three full-time staff members and nine student employees. Ten out of the 12 workers in SC&A either have or are working on a master’s or doctoral degree in history at Mason.

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