Earlier this month, the Rare Book & Manuscript Library expanded its archives, acquiring the gubernatorial papers of former New York Gov. David Paterson, CC ’77.
These documents—which include an array of press releases, budget reports, letters, and speeches—span the years from 2007 to 2011, when Paterson served as lieutenant governor and then governor, taking office after former Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned amid a prostitution scandal.
Paterson, the first African-American governor of New York State and the second legally blind governor in American history, had his time in office marked by his efforts to legalize same-sex marriage, tackle the formidable budget deficit, and address the austerity of the Rockefeller Drug Laws.
These political milestones and more are extensively documented in the acquired materials, which add 84 linear feet of papers to the 74,000 currently contained in the RBML, as well as thousands of candid photographs taken by his official photographer, Judy Sanders.
According to Thai Jones, the library’s Lehman Curator for American History, what makes these primary documents especially valuable to students is their inimitable sense of raw historical immediacy.
“Student papers today are often researched using online databases,” he said. ”But the manuscript collections at the RBML offer a uniquely rich vision of history in action. Correspondence, business transactions, diaries, and institutional records are unedited and uncut. These are the building blocks of the historian’s craft.”
Paterson—a loyal New York native, former adjunct professor at the School of International and Public Affairs, and avowed student and enthusiast of history both at college and throughout his life—said in a press release that he hopes that “this collection assists understanding of significant events and policy achievements accomplished by my administration.”
Furthermore, Paterson is keenly aware of the fact that his contribution to the RBML forms a bookend of sorts—the college provided him with a valuable education in history to pull from during his time as a policy maker, and now his policy-making has become history from which today’s Columbia students can do the same.
Patterson voiced his hope that the acquisition would benefit students at his alma mater.
“The fact that my papers were acquired by the University where I earned my undergraduate degree and worked as an adjunct professor provides a symmetry for which I am grateful,” Paterson said in a press release.
It will be some time before visitors can go look at the papers. They are currently going through a meticulous process of preperation for researchers that takes several months. Jones said that the steps of this process include organizing the papers and photographs into different categories, putting them in acid-free folders and boxes, and then creating a catalogue detailing where the pieces are located. Eventually, it will all be digitized as well.
“Once this information is posted online, researchers from all over the world will have access to the former governor’s records,” Jones said.
The RBML plans to arrange events and panels in conjunction with these documents to bring them even further to life, and RBML-coordinated public programs related to the Paterson papers will be announced in the coming months.