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PRINCETON — Every year, more than a thousand Princeton University students spend the last months before graduation slaving away on a senior thesis. Mudd Manuscript Library — known as "The Vault" — contains the theses of Michelle Obama, Brooke Shields, Ralph Nader, Bill Bradley, Tom Kean, David Duchovny, Sonia Sotomayor, Samuel Alito and more.
Tom Kean, who would later become New Jersey’s governor, wrote his 1957 thesis, titled "Niemcewicz," about the count who married his great-great-grandmother.
Kean, whose family history in New Jersey dates to the founding of the country, noted he used many of the papers housed in his family’s historic houses during his research.
Nearly 300 theses have gone missing over the years, Princeton officials said.
Most disappeared decades ago, when the theses were kept in the open stacks at the main campus library. Bush nominated Samuel Alito, a 1972 Princeton graduate, to the Supreme Court, library officials were horrified to find Alito’s thesis was among the missing.
Campus officials said other missing theses may simply have been "misshelved" — lost somewhere inside the miles of shelving inside the vast manuscript library.
Linke is currently hunting for former governor Brendan Byrne’s 1949 senior thesis, "Proportional Representation in Municipal Government," which recently went missing."I believe it is simply misshelved, since we know it was in the building a few years ago," Linke said.The current hot paper is "To the Final Conflict: Socialism in New York City, 1900-1933," written in 1981 by Elena Kagan, now a Supreme Court nominee.Anticipating Kagan’s confirmation hearings this week in Washington, readers ranging from members of Congress to legal scholars and political bloggers have been picking apart the 156-page paper written by the then-21-year-old undergraduate.Digitization orders that include a cost must be paid prior to digitization.Payment is accepted via Special Collection Research Accounts or a Princeton University Chart String.But many are requested by scholars and fans who make the pilgrimage to Princeton to peek into the young mind of someone who later became famous."There is an emotional attachment people have to their theses," said Princeton University archivist Daniel J.Linke, who oversees the 60,000-volume collection of theses.Brendan Thomas Byrne Jr., son of then-governor Brendan Byrne, similarly used his family connections to write "The Backroom Boys," his thesis on political patronage and backroom deals in New Jersey politics.More coverage: • After restricting access, Princeton University releases Michelle Obama's thesis• U. Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan's writings, views while at Princeton to be examined• U. Supreme Court pick Elena Kagan is a graduate from Princeton University• Princeton University graduate program admissions are on the rise The 1976 paper, in which the younger Byrne quotes many current and former political figures, includes a letter from his attorney forbidding anyone to copy the thesis without the author’s permission.Materials will be digitized within 3-5 business weeks; larger orders are subject to longer processing times.Materials will be uploaded to the finding aid and/or shared with the researcher via Google Drive link (researchers do not need to have a Google account in order to access the materials, the link is active for 30 days).