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Guide to the Norman O. Brown Papers, 1938-2002
MS 35  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Arrangement
  • Indexing Terms
  • Related Collections
  • Separated Material

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Norman O. Brown Papers
    Dates: 1938-2002
    Bulk Dates: (Bulk 1968-1990)
    Collection number: MS 35
    Creator: Brown, Norman Oliver
    Collection Size: 73 boxes
    Repository: University of California, Santa Cruz. University Library. Special Collections and Archives
    Santa Cruz, California 95064
    Abstract: This collection contains personal, family and business correspondence (mostly incoming) and documents covering the years from Norman O. Brown's arrival in the United States in 1936, to his death in 2002. The bulk of the material covers the time he was affiliated with the University of California at Santa Cruz, as professor and emeritus, ca. 1970-1990. Also included are his working files, card files, teaching related materials, articles and essays used for reference material.
    Physical location: Stored in Special Collections & Archives: Advance notice is required for access to the papers.
    Languages: Languages represented in the collection: English , French , German , Greek, Ancient (to 1453) , and Latin

    Administrative Information


    Collection is open for research.

    Publication Rights

    Property rights reside with the University of California. Literary rights are retained by the creators of the records and their heirs. For permission to publish or to reproduce the material, please contact the Head of Special Collections & Archives.

    Preferred Citation

    Norman O. Brown Papers. MS 35. Special Collections and Archives, University Library, University of California, Santa Cruz.

    Acquisition Information

    Gift of the Brown family, 2004-2006. Additional material via Jerry Neu added in 2012.


    Norman Oliver Brown (1913-2002) was born in El Oro de Hidalgo, Mexico, and raised in England, where he took his B.A. at Balliol College, Oxford, with double First Class Honors in the School of Literae Humaniores (Classical Philology and History). He then came to the United States and continued his studies at the University of Chicago, where he met and married Elizabeth Potter in 1938. His doctorate in classics was earned at the University of Wisconsin (1942) with a dissertation that he subsequently published as Hermes the Thief, which remains a classic of social interpretation of the history of religion. After a year of teaching at Nebraska Wesleyan University, he spent the remaining war years in Washington D.C. as a research analyst with the Office of Strategic Services, working alongside men who would become life-long friends, including Herbert Marcuse and Carl Schorske. There followed a decade and a half at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, where he eventually chaired the Classics Department. In 1968, Brown came to Santa Cruz with the appropriate title of Professor of Humanities, after a briefer period at the University of Rochester as professor of classics and comparative literature. He held senior fellowships from the Ford and Guggenheim Foundations and from the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford
    Norman O. Brown (known as "Nobby" to virtually all who knew him) made his mark in the field of classics not only with Hermes but with an edition of Hesiod's Theogony and memorable interpretive essays on Pindar, on the birth of Athena, and on Daphne. But no customary academic label can encompass the scope of his scholarship, creativity, and profound influence on his students and on the reading public. To suggest something of his quality we extract sentences written to characterize him by other leaders of the contemporary intellectual world. "Brown is a most unusual scholar, whose intellectual power is such as to have burst the bonds of traditional discursive thought and to have found its proper form in a metaphoric language often closer to poetry than to prose." "Brown's scholarship, his superb technical equipment, has been used to probe toward the very roots of meaning and organization of culture." "His unique perspective on matters cultural brings all of our shopworn pieties under doubt." "He is a wayward, sometimes obscure and perverse, at other times brilliant and penetrating, always poetical and even rhapsodic writer, whose uniqueness is unquestionable ... a true original and unusual phenomenon among academics and ... to be greatly cherished."
    It was in the early 1950's that Professor Brown found the key to a new vision in the writings of Sigmund Freud. Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytic Meaning of History (1959) brought this vision to a large public in America, and, through numerous translations, in Europe and Japan. A revolutionary generation of college youth imbibed from it a heady spirit of inner revolution; in retrospect the book remains one of the most important essays relating psychoanalysis to cultural history. Love's Body (1966), a more difficult meal for the scholarly world to digest, dealt aphoristically with central issues of archetypal symbolism. Closing Time (1973) evoked a vision of the historical process in the guise of a gloss upon the writings of James Joyce and Giambattista Vico. Professor Brown was never tame or safely academic; his polymorphous Orphic or Blakeian vision challenges the rational orderliness of the scholarly world, which often disagreed with him, even vehemently, but respected and honored him in disagreement.
    At UC Santa Cruz this prophetic figure was a solid and uncommonly responsible citizen of Cowell College, where he served on the governing committee and in other important capacities, and on the Academic Senate. In the latter capacity, he contributed loyally to two of its most important and hard-working committees. He was a central member of the Committee for the History of Consciousness Program, and also taught for the Boards of Studies of Literature and History, and for Cowell College. Throughout his career, and indeed on into retirement, he published essays and articles in a variety of journals and books.
    Professor Brown officially retired from UCSC in June of 1981, but continued to occasionally teach and offer public lectures, including a series of lectures on "The Challenge of Islam" that he gave both at Oakes College at UCSC and at Tufts University in Massachusetts. In his quest across disciplinary boundaries for the roots of human meaning, in his championship of "life against death" in a world that puts life-giving meaning in jeopardy, in his daring individuality of thought and wide-ranging compass of concern, Professor Brown represented in his person and works an important aspect of what the University community in Santa Cruz would like to regard as its distinctive strength.
    In 1985 a second addition of Life Against Death was published by Wesleyan University Press, with an added introduction by Christopher Lasch. In 1991 the University of California Press brought out Apocalypse and/or Metamorphosis, a collection of his writings spanning 30 years.
    Norman O. Brown died at age 89 in Santa Cruz on October 2, 2002 after an extended period of declining health. A memorial was held two weeks later. Many of the reminiscences given that day were published in In Memoriam: Norman O. Brown by New Pacific Press, 2005.
    (Some of this text was culled from the program notes for NOB's Faculty Research Lecture given at UCSC in 1978.)

    Scope and Content of Collection

    This collection contains personal, family and business correspondence (mostly incoming), and documents covering the years from Norman O. Brown's arrival in the United States in 1936 from England, to his death in 2002. The bulk of the material covers the time he was affiliated with the University of California at Santa Cruz, as professor and emeritus, ca. 1970-1990. Also included are his working files, card files, teaching related materials, articles and essays used for reference material.


    The personal and family correspondence has been arranged by name, while business correspondence has been arranged chronologically. The working and card files have been left as close to their original order as possible. Teaching related material has been sorted chronologically.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.


    Brown, Norman Oliver, 1913-2002
    Civilization--Psychological aspects
    Psychoanalysis and culture
    Psychoanalysis and religion

    Related Collections

    Norman O. Brown Papers. Wesleyan University, Middletown, CN
    Herbert-Marcuse-Archive. University Library, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
    John Cage Collection. Northwestern University, Evanston, IL
    John Cage Papers, Wesleyan University, Middletown, CN

    Separated Material

    The books from Norman O. Brown's personal library have been cataloged separately. Cassettes, tapes, and videotapes have been reformatted and cataloged separately.