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James M. Buchanan papers

Identifier: C0246

Scope and Content

The James M. Buchanan papers largely consist of correspondence, writings, and administrative files created between the years 1930-2014. The collection contains 9 series.

Series 1: Biographical materials (circa 1800s, 1944-2012) contains information about James M. Buchanan’s life and career. It is further divided into four subseries. Subseries 1.1: Ann Bakke Buchanan papers contains materials created by Ann Bakke Buchanan, James M. Buchanan’s wife. Materials include correspondence, recipe cards, notebooks, calendars, and photographs. Some of the correspondence is in Norwegian, and some addressed to both James and Ann as a couple. Subseries 1.2: Awards contains newspapers clippings, congratulatory letters, photographs, and memorabilia relating to awards Buchanan received during his career. The majority of the materials relate to the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics. Subseries 1.3: Education contains study notes, essays, syllabi, and research notes from Buchanan’s education, mostly from his PhD study at the University of Chicago. Subseries 1.4: Clippings contains newspaper and magazine clippings about Buchanan, including articles about his work, interviews, and reports on events he attended.

Series 2: Correspondence (1951-2014) contains letters, emails, memoranda, cards, and other forms of written communication, mostly dealing with Buchanan’s professional career. Subseries 2.1: Alphabetical correspondence contains the bulk of the correspondence, filed alphabetically by correspondent, subject, or name of an organization. Subseries 2.2: Chronological correspondence is a small amount of unrelated correspondence that was grouped together in date ranges, likely by either Buchanan himself, or his assistants Betty Tillman and Jo Ann Burgess.

Series 3: Writings (1946-2012) contains drafts, typescripts, photocopies, notes, and reprints of Buchanan’s books, articles, speaking lectures, and unpublished material. There are also research files relating to some of his writing projects, and some correspondence with publishers, coauthors, and reviewers.

Series 4: Academia (1946-2013) contains correspondence, reports, planning documents, and grant files relating to Buchanan’s work at various universities, primarily University of Virginia, Virginia Polytechnic Institute (now Virginia Tech), and George Mason University. Subseries 4.1: Administration contains reports, memoranda, correspondence, photographs, calendars, and planning documents relating to department and university business. Subseries 4.2: Teaching contains lecture notes, drafts, syllabi, exams, and readings relating to classes taught by Buchanan over the course of his career. Subseries 4.3: Grants contains correspondence and applications for grant projects undertaken by Buchanan and collaborators. Subseries 4.4: Thomas Jefferson Center for Studies in Political Economy contains annual reports, photographs, and correspondence from the University of Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson Center, which was active from 1958 to 1968. Subseries 4.5: Center for Study of Public Choice contains annual reports, conference information, grants, planning documents, board meeting minutes, and correspondence relating to the Center, an academic unit at Virginia Polytechnic Institute from 1968 to 1983 and at George Mason University from 1983 onwards.

Series 5: Professional Service (1958-2013) This series contains materials relating to Buchanan’s professional activities outside of his university responsibilities. Subseries 5.1: Conferences and events contains correspondence, schedules, planning documents, papers and lecture notes, and travel documents from conferences, speaking engagements, and other events attended by Buchanan during his career. Subseries 5.2: Consulting and organizations contains annual reports and correspondence relating to Buchanan’s work with various organizations outside of his work as a university professor.

Series 6: Betty Tillman papers (1968-2008) contains files created by Betty Tillman, administrative assistant to Buchanan and administrative director of the Center for Study of Public Choice. Subseries 6.1: Correspondence contains letters, emails, memoranda, and cards sent and received by Tillman. Subseries 6.2: Office administration contains planning documents, organizational files, and other materials relating to Tillman’s handling of Buchanan’s and Center for the Study of Public Choice office functions. Subseries 6.3: Conferences, events and travel contains correspondence, calendars, schedules, and travel documents relating to events attended by Buchanan, coordinated by Tillman. It also contains materials created by Tillman as the conference coordinator for the Liberty Fund and Center conferences and events.

Series 7: Jo Ann Burgess papers (1972-2014) contains files created by Jo Ann Burgess, administrative assistant and editor to Buchanan and secretary for the Public Choice Society. Subseries 7.1: Correspondence contains emails, letters, cards, notes, and memoranda, both personal and relating to Burgess’ work with Buchanan and the Center for Study of Public Choice. Subseries 7.2: Office administration contains correspondence, calendars, notes, program files, and edited drafts created as part of Burgess’ duties working for the Center for Study of Public Choice and as an assistant to Buchanan. Subseries 7.3: Liberty Fund editorial work contains planning documents, correspondence, and drafts created as part of Burgess’ work editing The Collected Works of James M. Buchanan and The Selected Works of Gordon Tullock on behalf of the Liberty Fund. Subseries 7.4: Public Choice Society contains correspondence, conference planning documents, and administrative files created as part of Burgess’ work as the secretary of the Public Choice Society, a professional organization.

Series 8: Writings by others (1930-2014) contains articles, book drafts, and other writings by authors other than Buchanan. Some materials have notes and annotations. Some writings are about Buchanan and his ideas.

Series 9: Audiovisual and born-digital materials (circa 1970s-2013) contains audiocassettes, videotapes, CDs, DVDs, floppy disks, and associated paper materials. Topics include recordings of the Nobel ceremony and press coverage; interviews and lectures by Buchanan and others and Center for Study of Public Choice events.


  • circa 1800s, 1930-2014


Language of Materials

The bulk of the materials are in English. Additional languages in the collection include German, Italian, French, Spanish, Norwegian, Dutch, Turkish, Japanese, Korean, and Chinese.

Access Restrictions

IMPORTANT ACCESS INFORMATION: To schedule an appointment to view materials from the James M. Buchanan papers in the SCRC reading room, please email us at with your preferred time frame and a list of boxes you would like to view. You can request up to 12 boxes per appointment (day). Appointments will be scheduled on a first-come, first-served basis.

Please note, due to the high demand for this collection, we will be prioritizing on-site requests over remote requests. Virtual reference will be limited to 30 minutes of research per request. If your request requires more research support, we recommend hiring someone to assist you on-site. Remote digitization requests will be evaluated based on the material content and our ability to provide copies.

Certain materials in the collection are restricted due to FERPA requirements and personally identifiable information. Letters of recommendation are restricted for 40 years from creation.

Use Restrictions

The copyright and related rights status of this collection have not been evaluated (See

Biographical and Historical Information

James McGill Buchanan, Jr. was born on October 3, 1919 in Gum, Tennessee to Lila Scott (1889-1953) and James McGill Buchanan, Sr. (1888-1979). He had two younger sisters, Lila Scott Buchanan Graue (1922-2020) and Elizabeth Bradley. His paternal grandfather, John P. Buchanan (1847-1930), was a one-term governor of Tennessee from 1891 to 1893. James M. Buchanan attended Buchanan High School. He triple-majored in English, mathematics, and economics at Middle Tennessee State University from 1936 to 1940. He received a Master’s of the Arts in economics from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in 1941. Buchanan then attended the Naval War College and served on the operations staff of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz from 1941 to 1945. In that role, he was stationed in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and Guam. He met his wife, Ann Bakke (August 21, 1909-November 14, 2005) in 1943. She was born in Jamestown, North Dakota. She served with the Army Air Transport Command at Hickham Field, Oahu. In 1945 the couple married in San Francisco, California.

From 1946 to 1948 Buchanan attended the University of Chicago, where he graduated with a Ph.D. in economics. After graduation, he taught at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville as an associate professor from 1948 to 1951, and then as a full professor at Florida State University, Tallahassee from 1951 to 1956. In 1955 he was awarded a Fulbright fellowship to study in Italy for a year. In 1956 he was hired at the University of Virginia as the chair of the economics department. It was there that he co-founded the Thomas Jefferson Center for Studies in Political Economy in 1958. That same year, he published Public Principles of Public Debt. In 1962, Buchanan and co-author Gordon Tullock published The Calculus of Consent.

Buchanan worked at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) for one academic year (1968-1969) as a professor of economics. In 1969 he was hired at Virginia Polytechnic Institute (VPI, now known as Virginia Tech), as a University Distinguished Professor. He became general director of the Center for Study of Public Choice, the successor institution to the Thomas Jefferson Center for Political Economy. Buchanan continued to publish books during his time at VPI, including Cost and Choice (1969), Academia in Anarchy with Nicos Devletoglou (1970), The Limits of Liberty (1975), and The Power to Tax with Geoffrey Brennan (1980).

In 1983, Buchanan and the Center for the Study of Public Choice moved from VPI to George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. After the move, he split his time between Fairfax and his farm in Blacksburg, Virginia. In 1986, Buchanan was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in economics. While at Mason, he published The Reason of Rules (1985), Better than Plowing (1992), and Politics by Principle, Not Interest with Roger Congleton (1998). He formally retired from Mason in September 1999 but continued to work both at Mason and Virginia Tech until his death on January 9, 2013.

Buchanan was known for his contribution to the field of public choice, which uses economic principles to analyze the rules and actions of government and public sector. It was this theory which led to his Nobel award.

Born on March 19, 1927, Betty Jane Hall Tillman (also known as Betty Ross from 1977 to 1984) received an associate’s degree from The Jefferson School of Commerce at Charlottesville, Virginia in 1945. She worked for Buchanan at the University of Virginia from August 14, 1961 to August 1969, at VPI from September 1, 1969 to June 1983, and at George Mason University from July 1, 1983 until her retirement in April 2007. Tillman had multiple responsibilities including handling Buchanan’s correspondence, scheduling his events, coordinating Liberty Fund conferences, organizing activities at the Center for Study of Public Choice, and assisting graduate students and faculty associated with the Center. At the time of her retirement her position was administrative director of the Center for Study of Public Choice. She had three children. Tillman died on October 2, 2013.

Jo Ann Burgess was born on June 27, 1948. She began work at the Center for the Study of Public Choice at George Mason University in 1989. Previously, Burgess lived around the world working for the State Department and the U.S military. She had four children with her husband, Roger. Burgess had many varied responsibilities at the Center including organizing Buchanan’s archival papers, and administrative duties for the Public Choice Society. She edited Buchanan’s published work in the 1990s and 2000s, including editing The Collected Works of James Buchanan and The Selected Works of Gordon Tullock for the Liberty Fund. After Tillman’s retirement, Burgess took on additional responsibilities related to handling Buchanan’s correspondence and scheduling, and additional administrative duties at the Center. Burgess retired in the summer of 2014. She died on March 19, 2020.


270 Linear Feet (546 boxes, one map case)


The James M. Buchanan papers consist of materials created primarily by economist James M. Buchanan (1919-2013) from the years 1936-2014. There are also materials created by the Center for Study of Public Choice, an academic unit associated with Virginia Tech (1969-1983) and George Mason University (1983-). The papers document Buchanan’s career and academic output, primarily in the field of public choice economics and political economy.


The collection is arranged in nine series.


  1. Series 1: Biographical materials
  2. Series 2: Correspondence
  3. Series 3: Writings
  4. Series 4: Academia
  5. Series 5: Professional service
  6. Series 6: Betty Tillman papers
  7. Series 7: Jo Ann Burgess papers
  8. Series 8: Writings by others
  9. Series 9: Audiovisual and born-digital materials

Physical Location

R 101 - 102

OS R 1, C 3, S 3-5

Map Case 24.1

Acquisition Information

Acquired by George Mason University Special Collections Research Center in September 2016. Additional materials acquired in April 2021.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Rebecca Thayer as part of a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant project from March 2021 to March 2023.

Initial processing of the collection was begun after James M. Buchanan’s death in 2013, while the papers were at Buchanan House (also known as Roberts House), where the offices of Buchanan, Betty Tillman, Jo Ann Burgess, and the Center for Study of Public Choice were then located. Processing at this time was done by Greta Suiter, then-Processing Coordinator at the Special Collections Research Center (SCRC), and Solomon Stein, then-economics PhD student at Mason. Stein and Suiter established an initial arrangement scheme and began foldering and sorting materials accordingly. Elizabeth Beckman, then-Processing Coordinator, continued arrangement and refoldering work alongside Stein at Buchanan House from 2014 to 2016. 145 linear feet of materials were ultimately arranged during this time. The following series were created: Correspondence, Academic (Subseries: Courses taken and Courses taught), Conferences (Subseries: Conferences attended and Conferences held), Writings, Articles Read, and Administrative.

Materials were boxed up and removed from Buchanan House to the SCRC office space in Fenwick Library in 2016. Beckman completed EAD markup of a preliminary finding aid with the processed materials in June 2017. Processing was paused in 2017 to apply for a NEH grant to hire a dedicated processing archivist. The grant was approved to start in 2020 but was delayed for several months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rebecca Thayer was hired in March 2021 to process the collection. She surveyed the arranged part of the collection (145 linear feet) and the unprocessed part (147 linear feet) to create a processing plan. This plan included adjustments to the original arrangement scheme based on material in the unprocessed section of the papers. A large number of the eventual Jo Ann Burgess papers series materials were in the unprocessed section of the collection, although the unprocessed section did contain materials from all series.

The prior arrangement scheme did not preserve Tillman and Burgess’ files as discrete series, so it is likely that some materials created by Tillman or Burgess were dispersed into the various other series. Some materials in the correspondence series especially which were obviously correspondence involving only Tillman, Burgess, or Ann Bakke Buchanan, were removed to their respective series and subseries. However, Thayer did not attempt a systematic review of materials in other series such as Professional Services and Academia in order to separate out Tillman and Burgess-created files from Buchanan-created files. This has resulted in some significant overlap between those series and the Betty Tillman papers and Jo Ann Burgess papers series. This does reflect the significant overlap in work responsibilities of Tillman, Burgess, Buchanan, and the Center as seen in the materials.

Processors prior to the NEH grant appear to filed out materials that were originally grouped in large miscellaneous folders. Buchanan, Tillman, and Burgess do not seem to have created many files with only one or two emails or letters, preferring larger bulk folders. However, in the collection there are now many individual folders with correspondents that seem to have been created from larger files. No additional filing out of material was done under the NEH grant.

Thayer arranged the unprocessed materials and reprocessed the previously arranged materials, combining the two. Mason Graduate Research Assistant Rachel Barton and undergraduate assistants Colin McDonald and Vilma Chicas Garcia assisted with arrangement, reboxing, and inventory creation. Amanda Menjivar, Manuscripts and Archives Librarian, assisted with finding aid data entry and publishing.

Guide to the James M. Buchanan papers
James M. Buchanan papers
Rebecca Thayer
June 1, 2023
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is in English

Repository Details

Part of the George Mason University. Libraries. Special Collections Research Center Repository

Fenwick Library, MS2FL
4400 University Dr.
Fairfax Virginia 22030 United States
703-993-8911 (Fax)