The ability to research effectively is an asset to potential employees in essentially any field. In 2010, as a third-year history and international affairs major, I knew that I wanted to graduate with University Honors upon completing a junior/senior honors research project. This would provide me with the opportunity to dedicate at least two semesters to a topic of my choice and the chance to conduct archival research, something I had always wanted to experience. In particular, I wanted to try my hand at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. as many of my history classmates had taken the initiative to do. I just needed a topic, the time and the finances to make it happen.
The opportunity presented itself in early 2011 when I was offered the internship of a lifetime at the U.S. Department of State in the Office of the Secretary of State for the upcoming fall. Here was my chance to spend some significant time in Washington. Moreover, I knew exactly what I wanted to research. I had been studying the Cambridge Five since taking Professor Burds’ Soviet Secret Police course my freshman year. I had become well acquainted with the names Kim Philby, Donald Maclean, Anthony Blunt, Guy Burgess and John Cairncross, the five high-ranking British government officials who had offered their services to the Soviets for over two decades beginning in the 1930s. These five men have gone down in history as some of the most notorious and prolific Soviet spies and, fortunately for me, three of them had been stationed in Washington, D.C.
The Honors Gladys Brooks Award made not only my research, but also my internship, possible. I was able to finance the move from Boston to Washington in August to allow for a month of research before beginning at State. A novice to navigating archives, I started small. I registered for my researcher’s card and began in the manuscript room at the Library of Congress.
I filtered through VENONA-related documents – records pertaining to the U.S.-UK project of decrypting Soviet codes – looking for any reference to Kim Philby, the British intelligence liaison to the CIA at the time. Once I felt secure in how to locate boxes, make requests and handle documents, I stepped up my search and registered at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) at Capitol Hill. I soon realized, however, that the papers I sought on Donald Maclean were at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. And so I began my daily commutes between Maryland and Washington.
The NARA at College Park is immense. Once you pass through initial security, place your personal belongings in the downstairs lockers and pass through additional security and equipment registration, you reach the textual research room on the second floor. Upon inquiring about State Department papers, I was pointed towards binders upon binders of serial reference numbers belonging to boxes upon boxes of documents. I began with the State Department’s Atomic Energy records from 1945 to 1952. Over the next two weeks I went through more than 20 boxes. I came across carbon copies of correspondence between Donald Maclean and American diplomats on the U.S.-UK-Canada Combined Policy Committee (CPC). These led me to scour for minutes from the five CPC meetings Maclean had attended as British Secretary and then to my discovery that many of these documents had been reclassified – a frustrating reality when dealing with government records.The earthquake in August abruptly interrupted my last day at the archives, causing me to abandon eight boxes of unread documents. When I returned to the archives in December after my internship, the documents took on an entirely new meaning. I had just spent three months editing, reviewing and clearing countless internal State Department memoranda. I suddenly had a much greater appreciation for how these documents may have been handled and by whom. Not to mention, those last eight boxes held some particular gems including the penciled scrawl of Harry S. Truman’s signature as well as J. Edgar Hoover’s elegant penmanship on requests for reviewing personnel security procedures.
Whether or not I made any fresh discoveries about the Cambridge Five, I left Washington with indispensible new skills, memorable learning experiences and several hundred documents to incorporate into my final project, none of which would have been possible without the Honors grant.
-Kelsey Bacon, History & International Affairs