American Literary Manuscripts records, 1930-1981

Navigate the Collection

Using These Materials Teaser

Using These Materials Links:

Using These Materials

Collection is open for research. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection. All or portions of this collection may be housed off-site in Duke...
More about accessing and using these materials...


American Literary Manuscripts
11.5 Linear Feet
8598 Items
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

The American Literary Manuscripts Records (accession #5-6-81) (8,098 items, 10.8 lf; dated 1930-1979) documents the process by which the guide was created. It contains the correspondence of J. A. Robbins with each of his editors for each region of the United States (the Regional Chairmen), copies of the directives sent to participating libraries, copies of the master list of names to be checked, minutes of editorial board meetings, descriptions of the project, a proposal for a computerized updating of the census of library holdings of American literary manuscripts, negotiations with the publisher, grant requests, and reports. The correspondence between Midwest Regional Chairman, George Hendrick, and his Regional Associates is included in order to demonstrate how the project operated. The questionnaires returned by the libraries in that region are included. There are also ten printouts, included as a random sampling of printouts required. Acquired as part of the Jay B. Hubbell Center for American Literary Historiography.

The addition (accession #89-093) (500 items, 1 lf; dated 1962-1981) contains correspondence, background material, page proofs, post-publication additions and corrections, and publicity relating primarily to the 2nd edition of American Literary Manuscripts published in 1977. It updates the earlier edition published in 1960.

Biographical / historical:

In 1930 Professor Jay B. Hubbell proposed to the American Literature Group of the Modern Language Association of America that it should gather into an index or catalog a record of the enormous amount of manuscript materials in American literature so researchers and users could readily locate the materials needed. Dr. Hubbell was then asked to form a committee to formulate a plan. The committee, made up of Professors Hubbell, Kenneth B. Murdock, Ralph L. Rusk, and Robert Spiller contracted the American Historical Association, which was planning a similar program for history materials. The two groups decided to join forces and compile a document relating to manuscripts of American literature and to all phases of American history. Funding problems caused this venture to stalemate.

The idea was kept alive, however, and in 1941 another committee chaired by Robert Spiller was formed and instructed to gather information on materials of American literary history. This committee prepared in essay form a "Guide to Resources for Research in American Literary History: A Preliminary Survey" from data gathered informally--for the most part by personal interview and correspondence. The second World War caused plans for publication to be deferred.

Using the material collected in the 1940s as a basis for renewed efforts, a new committee chaired by Lewis Leary was formed in 1950 to study the feasibility of continued work, since much of the previous work had been used in volume 3 of the Literary History of the United States. The issue was discussed in a seminar, "A Survey and Inventory of American Literary Manuscripts," at the 1950 meeting of MLA. The result was formal agreement on the need for some form of guide to manuscript resources. The seminar recommended formation of a committee on literary resources with Leary as chairman.

In 1951 a working committee was appointed to devise procedures and to commence gathering of data for eventual publication of such a guide. This committee was composed of Joseph Jones, chairman, University of Texas; Ernest Marchand, San Diego State College; H. Dan Piper, California Institute of Technology; J. Albert Robbins, Indiana University; and Herman E. Spivey, University of Tennessee.

The purpose of this project was to provide for scholars a helpful new aid in their perpetual search for new material. The first edition published in 1960 indicates the nature and scope of American literary manuscripts in over 270 libraries pertaining to approximately 2,350 American writers. The specific primary purpose, as stated in the preface of this publication, "is to assist scholars, librarians, dealers, and collectors in locating primary source materials relating to American authors; to locate primary manuscript sources with far greater use and accuracy than formerly; to encourage collectors to deposit manuscripts where they might be of greatest use and utility; and to encourage librarians to think creatively about their collections and to lend encouragement to manuscript departments."

The project was begun by compiling an extensive list of writers, publishers, and critics, and then formulating eight categories distinguished by symbols that would accurately record the extent and variety of holdings--manuscripts, journals, letters by and to, documents, etc. A checklist containing some 2,000 names of American authors was then sent to American libraries--academic, fraternal, historical, public, etc.--with instructions as to how to apply and to list the eight categories of holdings. After the holdings were compiled on cards a preliminary draft was produced and circulated for rechecking. The resulting master file of reporting libraries formed the 1960 edition of American Literary Manuscripts.

With publication of this volume, the American Literature Section of MLA authorized continuance of the committee with J. Albert Robbins as chairman of the new group. In 1969 it was felt that a revision and update were needed. The American Literature Section of MLA again sponsored the project with John Albert Robbins as chairman of the editorial board, which consisted of Professors A.W. Plumstead, University of Massachusetts; Joseph V. Ridgely, Columbia University; Kimball King, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; F. Warren Roberts, University of Texas; George Hendrick, University of Illinois; Edward P. Nolan, University of Colorado; and John Stafford, San Fernando Valley State College.

The 1960 list of authors was retained as a base and expanded to include 2,750 authors, publishers, and critics whose names were to be checked for locations and holdings of manuscripts and other papers. The United States was divided into first seven, then later, eight regions, with each member of the editorial board acting as a regional chairman. Each regional chairman then chose regional associates within his region to solicit and coordinate the holdings of the area assigned to him. During the first year J. V. Ridgely and John Stafford resigned. The Middle Atlantic region was divided into two regions and Professors Alan Margolies of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY, and Leo Weigant of the University of Maryland were chosen to replace J. V. Ridgely. Professor Thomas Wortham, University of California, Los Angeles, replaced John Stafford in the Pacific Coast area. Sixty-three regional associates were chosen.

The 1960 edition of American Literary Manuscripts was put on computer tape and print-outs of the holdings reported by individual libraries were distributed by the regional chairmen for rechecking, updating, and revision along with instructions for listing new additions and new authors. A completely new list could be compiled if the library so desired. When all the participating libraries and depositories completed their listings they sent the compilations to the regional associates who, in turn, sent them to the regional chairmen. They edited the lists before sending them to Professor Robbins, who did the overall editing and transferring of the findings to computer tape. Print-outs were again sent to the libraries for verification, correction, and updating to 1975. When these were returned and all corrections and additions were listed, the data was inverted to provide an alphabetical list by author and the master tape was sent to the publisher for machine-set composition. The volume was printed from the computer tapes by the University of Georgia Press in 1977.

Acquisition information:
The American Literary Manuscripts Records was received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book Manuscript Library as a gift in 1981 and 1989.
Processing information:

Processed by Rubenstein Library Staff

Completed September 27, 1989

Encoded by Joshua A. Kaiser

This collection is unprocessed: materials have not been ordered and described beyond their original condition.

Physical location:
For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.
Rules or conventions:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard


Using These Materials

Using These Materials Links:

Using These Materials


Collection is open for research.

Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.

All or portions of this collection may be housed off-site in Duke University's Library Service Center. The library may require up to 48 hours to retrieve these materials for research use.

Please contact Research Services staff before visiting the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library to use this collection.

Terms of access:

The copyright interests in this collection have not been transferred to Duke University. For more information, consult the copyright section of the Regulations and Procedures of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Before you visit:
Please consult our up-to-date information for visitors page, as our services and guidelines periodically change.
Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], American Literary Manuscripts Records, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.