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1999-2000 Visiting Fellows

James Axtell
Kenan Professor of Humanities
College of William and Mary

I couldn't be more grateful for the Friends' fellowship. It got my book on 20th-century Princeton off to a great start and, in the process, got me involved--in a good way--with yet another Princeton history project. I spent almost four weeks in the Mudd Archives and Firestone researching four chapters.

I finished all of my work on Wilson himself by working through Henry Bragdon's large collection of memoirs and reminiscences of those who knew Wilson and worked with him at Princeton. (I had already worked through the many reels of microfilm of the Library of Congress collection of similar recollections.) Then I completed my research into the histories of the PU libraries, the graduate school, and the university press by dredging the Mudd and Firestone archives and plunging into the stacks. Charles Greene gave me a wonderful backstairs tour of Firestone and all of its various departments to anchor my paper researches in physicality, and Karin Trainer gave me unlimited access to the Librarian's Reports to the President and other library materials in her office. I had a long talk with Walter Lippincott at the Press about my work and left with him a list of material needs, which I have yet to receive but have hopes of doing so. In the meantime, the PUP archives in Firestone served me well and gave me more than enough for my chapter on the Press.

Mudd served me equally well for the history of the Graduate School, but I was also helped immensely by MaryMargaret Halsey and the staff of John Wilson's graduate office in Nassau Hall. I have now read every graduate Dean's Report to the President in the last 30-plus years and several selected ones before that, plus innumerable pamphlets and articles about the GS in Mudd. One result of this preparation was that the GS asked me to write the continuation of the Thorp, Myers history of the GS in time for the centennial in 2000-2001. This I am doing when I'm not emailing or teaching my classes. As art of my research, I've devised a 13-item questionnaire for all GS alumni that is being sent in various ways this coming month. I felt I needed more human and personal information to add to the factual and statistical data to write a decent history of an educational institution. The returns from that questionnaire will eventually be turned over to the Mudd archives as a permanent record.

I had hoped to be farther along in my writing by this time, but the GS commission has taken all of my "free" time this semester. As soon as I finish the GS chapter(s) in January, I will return actively to writing up the marvelous material I have for the four chapters. But even if I don't finish the writing--which I won't--by mid-May (when our semester ends), I will be back in Princeton for a few more weeks of research on other chapters, such as the art museum, financial resources, faculty, and students. Clearly, without the generous and timely assistance of the Friends' Fellowship, I would not be able to think of completing my book in three years, a very quick turnaround for someone with multiple teaching and graduate responsibilities. I am most grateful.


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