Remembering Former Project Director George Franz
Former PMVB project director George W. Franz passed away on 10 December 2020. His obituary gives you some idea of the trajectory of George's academic career and personal life.
George was the most significant person to make Martin Van Buren's papers accessible. He began work on the microfilm edition of the Van Buren Papers when it was located at Pennsylvania State University, starting as associate editor in 1975. He assumed directorship of the project the following year, overseeing its completion in 1988. Under his leadership, the project produced 55 microfilm reels containing approximately 13,000 documents from over 260 different repositories.
George might have thought he was finished with Martin Van Buren's papers at that point, but he was wrong. In 2015, I tracked him down to ask for his counsel on producing a digital edition. In a phone call, George gave some background on his own editorial work and advice on how we should proceed. He called back within the hour with astonishing news: the Penn State library had just called him asking whether he knew of anyone who would want the 337 microfilm reels from the Van Buren Papers project he had directed. George coordinated the donation, which included a complete set of the microfilm edition, to Cumberland University. With that, PMVB became more than just the vision that co-editor James Bradley had in mind when the project started on paper in 2014.
But George wasn't finished yet. Not only did he agree to join the PMVB advisory board in 2015, he once again worked with Penn State to bring about a loan of the Van Buren Papers microfilm edition project records to Cumberland, where they remain today. And if that were not enough, in 2019, George donated nearly 2,000 history books from his personal library to Cumberland's Vise Library, where they constitute the George W. Franz Historical Research Collection.
George was honest about the obstacles that the project encountered at Penn State, and he did not sugarcoat the challenges that we would face in producing a modern edition of the Van Buren Papers at Cumberland. I never met him in person, but in our email and phone conversations, George was encouraging and supportive of our efforts. His donation of his personal books to help students at Cumberland University--an institution with which he had no connection prior to to our initial phone call in 2015--is a testimony to the generosity he exhibited throughout his life.
Mark R. Cheathem, Project Director