The Mason Spirit

Photo shows the four original buildings amidst a densely wooded campus. Thompson Hall is under construction on the lower left.

University Libraries Records George Mason's History

By Kate Passin

The young age of George Mason University provides historians with a unique opportunity the chance to speak with George Mason community members who have been at the university since its early days. Special Collections and Archives (SC&A), a department in University Libraries, has taken advantage of this singular perspective by creating the George Mason Oral History Program.

The program, which formally began in fall 1999, is designed to acquire information about the university's physical, social, and academic development by recording and preserving the oral histories of George Mason community members who have been at the university for a significant amount of time (around 25 years) or who have had an important influence on the university's history. The ongoing project provides evidence and understanding of George Mason's historic role, showing contributions the university makes to students and the surrounding area.

Paul Koda, SC&A librarian and head of the project, stresses oral history's importance. "If we don't capture people's memories, their experiences, their understandings, and their observations of the university, then we will lose that forever," Koda explains. "Because of this project, we are coming to the point where we have a really nice representation of the oral history of the university."

With the assistance of Robert Laws, an SC&A graduate research assistant, close to 50 university personnel have already been captured on tape, and Laws has discovered numerous facts about the university through his interviews. "I get perspectives on what it was like to build the university from the ground up, how the university has changed over the years, and even learned about minor protests that occurred on campus during the Vietnam War," explains Laws.

As the collection grows, the program will be expanded to cover more angles and different points of view. Future recordings may include professors who have had distinguished careers that do not directly relate to George Mason and professors involved in important research activities. "Our primary responsibility right now, however, is recording the university's history because if that disappears, it will be impossible to recover it," says Koda.

The Oral History Program is just a small part of the numerous collected works SC&A provides. To find out more about the department's collections, visit its web site at specialcollections. The web site includes a link to George Mason's Electronic Documentary History, a site that provides a chronological guide to the university's history. SC&A, located in Fenwick Library, can be reached at (703) 993-2220.