About George Mason University: A History

George Mason University: A History and the Mason History Project


George Mason University: A History has evolved from a series of published articles, websites, and exhibitions created by George Mason University Libraries’ Special Collections & Archives department (SC&A) during the period between 1996 and 2010. Preserving the history of the University has been the one of SC&A’s main missions ever since its inception in 1978. Documenting and revealing that very unique history has been one of its passions since the mid 1990s.


This project originally began with research and writing done by a Mason graduate student of History in the spring of 2011. Later that year, two generous sponsors provided funding for the continuation of the project. They were the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and Mason's Auxiliary Enterprise Management Council. With this funding students with backgrounds in history and information technology were hired to create this site.


SC&A has partnered in this project with the University Libraries' Digital Programs and Systems Division (DPS), the unit charged with the building and maintenance of the Libraries IT infrastructure, its data services, and digital programs. Together, DPS and SC&A have created the content and customized the Omeka theme.


This site is a collection of essays describing persons, places, organizations, and events in the history of George Mason University. Unlike a traditional comprehensive institutional history which would treat events in fine detail, the narratives in this site are brief and intended to be quickly digestible by the reader. This site is more of a primer. It seeks to recall the milestone events and basic concepts one might need or want to know in order understand the larger history of the University. The essays are meant to stimulate interest and provide jump-off points from which more detailed historical research can be conducted.


George Mason University: A History was built using the Omeka exhibit tool developed by George Mason University's Center for History and New Media. Omeka is a free, flexible, and open source web-publishing platform designed for the creation and display of library, museum, archives, and scholarly collections and exhibitions.


The stories in this collection deal with noteworthy and newsworthy events, persons, and movements in George Mason’s development. Though its official history begins in August 1957, when it opened as a branch college of the University of Virginia with a student body of seventeen, the institution had been in the planning since 1949. In that year the University of Virginia initially proposed to support higher education in the Northern Virginia area. During this very early period, the foundations of George Mason University’s personality, image, and character were laid by men and women who became leaders and long-time friends of the University. As the University itself is a continual work in progress, so will this site be. Additional topics, no matter where in the story, will be added as time passes.


George Mason University: A History features digital objects or "artifacts" from the collections of the University Libraries which help illustrate the narratives, much like photographs in a printed historical monograph. Many of these artifacts are indeed photographs of persons and places in the institution’s history, but the site also features single- and multi-page documents, and audio and video recordings.


The Mason History Project team is a group of librarians, archivists, and George Mason University students from DPS and SC&A who created and continue to maintain this site. The team uses sources such as oral histories of persons who were involved in the development and growth of the University, such as local leaders, presidents of the University, students, faculty, and staff. Also consulted are previously-written histories of George Mason University (both published and unpublished), official university archives, personal papers of individuals who were involved in the University, George Mason’s student and staff newspapers, and state government documents.


Special Collections & Archives, George Mason University Libraries


Special Collections & Archives (SC&A) is the unit within the University Libraries charged with acquiring, documenting, preserving, and providing access to primary research collections and documents. SC&A also manages the non-current and archival records of George Mason University, is responsible for the administration of, and preservation and access to the University's theses and dissertations, and undertakes, through its Oral History program, the creation of audiovisual documentary resources. SC&A services, collections and programs support the teaching and research activities of George Mason University and also serve the community at large.


Documents in SC&A are authentic, original, often unique, valuable, fragile, or otherwise exceptional. Some have the capacity to evoke the past, and embody the transmittal of knowledge over time. Others simply function as the only record of an individual or corporate life. SC&A preserves the materiality of information as it has been recorded and distributed in its original format. SC&A also adds value to its holdings through selective digitization and through interpretive exhibits, instruction, and programming.