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Finding Aid to the Henry Nash Smith Papers, 1927-1986
BANC MSS 87/136 c  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Collection Summary
  • Information for Researchers
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Chronology
  • Scope and Content

  • Collection Summary

    Collection Title: Henry Nash Smith Papers
    Date (inclusive): 1927-1986
    Collection Number: BANC MSS 87/136 c
    Collector: Smith, Henry Nash
    Extent: Number of containers: 8 boxes, 4 cartons Linear feet: 8.3
    Repository: The Bancroft Library.
    University of California, Berkeley
    Berkeley, CA 94720-6000
    Phone: (510) 642-6481
    Fax: (510) 642-7589
    Email: bancref@library.berkeley.edu
    URL: http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/
    Abstract: Collection primarily consists of correspondence & research materials pertaining to Smith's published works, lectures and other professional activities and interests. The correspondence files are particularly extensive.
    Languages Represented: Collection materials are in English
    Physical Location: Many of the Bancroft Library collections are stored offsite and advance notice may be required for use. For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the library's online catalog.

    Information for Researchers


    Collection is open for research with the following exceptions: Box 4, folder 15 is closed until the year 2025.

    Publication Rights

    Materials in this collection may be protected by the U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.). In addition, the reproduction of some materials may be restricted by terms of University of California gift or purchase agreements, donor restrictions, privacy and publicity rights, licensing and trademarks. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by copyright beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owner. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.
    All requests to reproduce, publish, quote from, or otherwise use collection materials must be submitted in writing to the Head of Public Services, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley 94720-6000. See: http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/reference/permissions.html .

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Henry Nash Smith papers, BANC MSS 87/136 c, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog
    American literature--19th century--History and criticism
    West (U.S.)--In literature

    Administrative Information

    Acquisition Information

    The principal body of the Henry Nash Smith papers was received as a gift to the library from Smith's wife, Elinor Smith, in April 1987. Four additional card files of note cards were received as a gift from Duke University in June 1988.


    Henry Nash Smith was born in Dallas, Texas, in 1906. He took his bachelor's degree in English at age 19 from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where he taught from 1927 to 1941, taking time out for his M.A. in English (1929) and his Ph.D. in the History of American Civilization (1940), both at Harvard. He subsequently taught in the English departments of the University of Texas (until 1947) and the University of Minnesota (until 1953), when he was invited by Robert Gordon Sproul to join the English Department at Berkeley—coinciding with his apppointment as the literary editor for the Mark Twain Estate, succeeding Dixon Wecter.
    In 1950, following a year as a Fellow of the Huntington Library and Rockefeller Foundation, Smith published Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth, a comprehensive revision of his Harvard dissertation. Virgin Land was immediately recognized as a seminal book in the study of American culture, and it established Smith's standing in the very first rank of the academy. Ten years later, in 1960, Smith likewise transformed the study of Mark Twain when he published the Mark Twain—Howells Letters, in collaboration with William M. Gibson and Frederick Anderson. This edition was the first truly scholarly edition of Mark Twain letters ever published, and it established a new standard of excellence for Mark Twain scholarship as a whole. Two years later, Smith published Mark Twain: The Development of a Writer, considered to be the single most important critical examination of Mark Twain.
    In 1964, Smith resigned as editor of the Mark Twain Papers at The Bancroft Library, though he continued to play an absolutely crucial role in the subsequent development of the Mark Twain editions and indeed of scholarly work on American writers in general. During the late 1950's and early 1960's, Smith served both on the Board of Directors of the American Council of Learned Societies and on the Executive Council of the Modern Language Association, both of which were intimately connected with the creation of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and its program for comprehensive editions of American writers. He played a prominent role in the resistance to the Loyalty Oath in 1967 and during the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley.
    Smith retired from teaching in 1974, but remained highly active writing critical pieces and at the time of his death had at least two prepared for publication. Henry Nash Smith died in an automobile accident near Elko, Nevada, on May 30, 1986.
    (Excerpted, in part, from a memorial to Henry Nash Smith by Robert H. Hirst, CU News, Vol. 41:22, 5 June 1986)


    1906 Born in Dallas, Texas
    1936 Married Elinor Lucas
    1986 Died May 30 in an automobile accident near Elko, Nevada


    1925 B.A., Southern Methodist University in English
    1929 M.A., Harvard in English
    1940 Ph.D., Harvard in History of American Civilization

    Academic Honors:

    1946-47 Fellow, Huntington Library and Rockefeller Foundation
    1950 Bancroft Prize in American History (Columbia University) for Virgin Land
    1951 John H. Dunning Prize (American Historical Association)
    1959-69 Member Board of Editors, John Harvard Library
    1960-61 Fellow, Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences
    1960 Special Award for Distinction in the Humanities (American Council of Learned Societies)
    1962-67 Board of Directors, American Council of Learned Societies
    1959-69 Executive Council, Modern Language Association
    1965 Fulbright lectureship, Italy
      Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences
      Litt.D., S.M.U.
    1969 President of MLA
    1970 LL.D., Colorado State University
    1974 Fellow, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
      Guggenheim Fellow
    1976 Jay B. Hubbell Award, American Literature Section, MLA
    1981 Member, American Philosophical Society
    1984 Litt.D., University of Nebraska

    Professional Experience:

    1927-41 Instructor to Associate Professor, S.M.U.
    1941-47 Professor of English and of American History, University of Texas
    1947-53 Professor of English, University of Minnesota
    1953-64 Literary Editor of Mark Twain Estate, UC Berkeley
    1953-84 Professor of English, University of California, Berkeley (Emeritus, 1974)
    1974 Hurst Professor, Washington University
    1984 Retired from University of California

    Publications: Author

    1950 Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth
    1962 Mark Twain: The Development of a Writer
    1964 Mark Twain's Fable of Progress
    1978 Democracy and the Novel: Popular Resistance to Classic American Writers

    Publications: Editor

    1950 James Fenimore Cooper, The Prairie
    1957 Mark Twain of the "Enterprise"
    1958 Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
    1959 Mark Twain, Roughing It
    1960 Mark Twain-Howells Letters (with William M. Gibson)
    1967 Popular Culture and Industrialism, 1865-90

    Articles in:

    • American Heritage
    • American Quarterly
    • Harvard Library Bulletin
    • Huntington Library Quarterly
    • Massachussetts Review
    • Mississippi Valley Historical Review
    • New England Quarterly
    • PMLA
    • Southwest Review
    • University of Texas Studies in English
    • Western American Literature
    • Yale Review

    Scope and Content

    The Henry Nash Smith Papers came to The Bancroft Library after his death in 1986. For the most part, the present arrangement reflects the original order of the materials as received.
    The Papers primarily contain correspondence, personal papers, and research materials pertaining to Smith's published works, as well as his lectures, conference papers, and book reviews. The correspondence files provide a rich resource on the development of Smith's thought and his contributions to the evolving field of American Studies. They contain letters from many prominent writers, including J. Frank Dobie, Jessica Mitford, Alfred Kazin, Wallace Stegner and Robert Penn Warren; from publishing agents; and from such noted American scholars as Leo Marx, Perry Miller, Henry May, Richard Hofstadter, John William Ward, C. Vann Woodward, and John Chapman.
    Smith's personal papers consist of biographical information, including memorials. There also are watercolor drawings and pen and ink sketches done by Smith, as well as New Yorker editorial cartoons depicting the impact of technology on American society in the 1950s.
    In the research and publications series, there are files on several of Smith's major publications. However, these files contain relatively little in the way of early or heavily revised drafts of Smith's works. The series also includes college papers, copies of lectures delivered by Smith, conference materials, reviews by Smith and about his works, and papers by others on topics of interest to Smith. His notes include reference cards and notebooks, one of which contains notes for Smith's doctoral thesis, the basis for Virgin Land. There also are files of correspondence directly relating to materials in this series.