The James M. Buchanan Papers Processing Project: Beginnings

Way back in spring 2020 (as noted by SCRC director Lynn Eaton in an earlier post), SCRC received some welcome good news at a moment when it seemed in short supply. We were informed that our application for a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to finish processing the James McGill Buchanan papers had been successful.  We were going to receive funding which would allow us to hire a project archivist whose sole job would be to finish arranging and describing the 282 linear feet of papers taken from Buchanan House (on Roberts Road at the edge of Mason’s campus) to SCRC.

Many SCRC and Economics Department staff members, myself included, had worked since the early 2000s to begin surveying, arranging and describing the collection with the goal of bringing it to Fenwick Library. We gathered scattered papers from around the house, placed them in boxes and folders, and titled and wrote dates on those folders according to their contents. The task, however, was monumental, and since everyone who worked on the papers had several other projects that they were responsible for, a significant amount of material remained unfoldered, unarranged, or both when we brought the papers to SCRC in 2016 and 2017. We realized that the only way to properly finish arranging and describing the collection and to create a complete finding aid with a folder level inventory was to hire someone to work full-time with the papers, and we submitted the NEH grant application in 2019.

SCRC staff members approaching Buchanan House to pack up and bring artifacts to Fenwick Library

SCRC Staff Members in 2017 heading to Buchanan House to pack up artifacts housed in display cases, one of many trips to bring manuscript materials, books, and ephemera from the house to Fenwick Library.

Fast forward again to spring 2020 – SCRC staff was overjoyed that we received the NEH grant, but (again as noted by Lynn in her earlier post), with the new realities of the COVID-19 pandemic constraining our ability to work in-person, we knew that the hiring process for a project archivist would have to be postponed and would take longer than we initially planned. Fortunately, the NEH was flexible, and on March 15, 2021 we welcomed Rebecca Thayer as our Buchanan Project Archivist. Rebecca’s first tasks, in addition to acclimating to SCRC, Mason, and Northern Virginia in general, have been researching as much contextual information about Buchanan and the project as possible, and surveying the collection, including parts of the papers that have already been worked on, to determine how best to arrange and describe the materials. She will then create a processing plan and will hire and supervise graduate and undergraduate student assistants to assist with the work of arranging, foldering, titleing, and entering information into spreadsheets.

Stay tuned for our next post on the project, in which Rebecca will introduce her work so far and share some of the most interesting things she’s come across during her initial survey of the papers!

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