Guide to the American Literature Records, 1927-2000s
The earliest documents date from 1927, the year before the first issue was published. New material will continue to arrive as the journal's office deems files inactive. The bulk of the journal's papers consists of correspondence and editorial comments on submitted articles.
Aside from a relatively few submissions which seem to have been rejected after a single reading by the chair or other in-house editor (because they were too long or clearly unsuitable for the journal), articles were sent out to at least two members of the Editorial Board. They sent back written comments and a recommendation (reject, accept, accept pending revision). These responses make up the Editorial Comments Series (1928-1983) and a portion of the Correspondence and Editorial comments Series (1984-1989). By the late 1980s, the journal was receiving several hundred submissions each year, but the editorial comments suggest that the proportion of fine articles in the pool had not been maintained as sheer numbers increased. Members of the Editorial Board take on this responsibility in addition to their normal institutional duties.
The comments in the Editorial Comments Series are sometimes brief and dismissive, sometimes quite elaborate. Even in the absence of the rejected articles themsleves, they are a rich record of individual and institutional critical predispositions. In its early years, the journal was working to establish a solid documentary foundation for the profession of American literary study. Favored topics were unpublished manuscripts, biographical work, and influence studies. The journal was slow to accept the move to New Critical interpretations of texts, reluctant to give up its tradition of more empirical scholarship. Such moments of critical change or expansion - late 1960s psychoanalytical criticism, 1970s feminist readings, 1980s post-structuralism, etc. - are vividly documented by the Editorial Board's varied members. Not infrequently, one reader will enjoy the provocative nature of an article, while the other considers it to be careless scholarship or too polemical.
Most of the correspondence is in the Alphabetical and Correspondence Series. It deals with submitted articles or reviews, but there are more substantial letters dealing with policy, critical positions, and disputes (primarily about reviews).
All other papers are contained in the Subject Files Series. Included there are correspondence preceding and relevant to the inception of the journal; Foerster Prize records; materials relating to the selection of editors and the formulation of policy; annual reports to the American Literature Section of the MLA; materials relating to Duke Press and publicity; and information gathered in the early years about who was doing what with American literature (for the purpose of mapping the field and finding reviewers).
Additionally in the Card Files Series there are three boxes sized for 3 x 5 cards which are full of information saved by the American Literature offices between (roughly) 1928 and 1950. These constitute something like a scrapbook of American literature, containing: bibliography cards; sketches of periods and genres; course descriptions; etc. These materials are typed and handwritten. Finally, there are samples of the 5 x 7 cards used to process and keep track of submissions and book reviews. These cards do not contain information (in either their content or organization) that is unavailable elsewhere, but they do illustrate the process by which articles and book reviews were handled.
The accessions (2009-0177) and (2009-0242) include editorial comments and correspondence from American Literature, beginning in 1993 and continuing through the early 2000s. Materials are organized alphabetically by each person's last name.
- American Literature records, 1927-2000s
- American Literature
- 43 linear feet, 32,075 items
- Duke University. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library Durham, North Carolina 27708-0185
- For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.
Use of The American Literature Records is restricted. Scholars desiring access must contact the Chair of the Board of Editors in writing.
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. There may be a 48-hour delay in obtaining these materials.
Please contact Research Services staff before visiting the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library to use this collection.
The copyright interests in the American Literature Records have not been transferred to Duke University. For further information, see the section on copyright in the Regulations and Procedures of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
Along with one large folder of correspondence relating to the inception of the journal, these boxes contain reports, surveys, and correspondence relating to bureaucratic matters such as the journal's relationship to Duke Press and the American Literature Section (see the Scope and Content note and the Container List for details). Essentially, the Subject Files contain everything that does not fit the other series. These three boxes are organized to keep related folders together (as opposed to alphabetically by folder title).
Contains all of the card files described in the Scope and Content Note - namely the "scrap-book" file (three small boxes) and a sampling of the cards which were used to track submissions and book reviews.
Correspondence which was apparently segregated by the American Literature office itself. It consists of letters to and from scholars with major involvement with the journal during the period covered. Each figure has a folder to him or herself (see the Container List), and they are arranged alphabetically by name. Though there does not appear to be any overlap with the Correspondence Files, there are other major figures from the same period who were not included in the Alphabetical Files. Louise Pound, for instance, has a named folder to herself in the Correspondence Files. These letters deal with a great variety of subjects. Many of them have to do with editorial or review work, but because many of the writers were friends, there is biographical information as well. In addition to individuals, this series also includes several folders of materials relating to the American Literature Section of the MLA (correspondence, minutes, reports, and papers).
Contain all the letters of this period which were not segregated into the Alphabetical Files. Researchers interested in a particular scholar's work should check both the Alphabetical and Correspondence Files. Though there is much correspondence here dealing with editorial and review work, the great bulk of it is to and from scholars who had submitted papers to the journal: Letters introducing a paper or asking why no response has been sent, and letters apologizing for delays or relating news of acceptance or rejection. After 1983, American Literature began to keep correspondence with scholars in the same files as the editorial comments written about submitted essays. For the 1927-1983 period, such related material must be recombined by the researcher by using both the Correspondence Files and the Editorial Comments Files. Post-1983 correspondence continues with Box 61.
The Correspondence Files are divided into periods (by the journal's office) and arranged alphabetically by the name of the writer. The periods are as long as 32 years and as short as 3; the number of boxes for a period ranges from 2 to 10. Researchers should consult the Container List and check each period within the lifetime of the scholar whose papers they are seeking. Some of the periods are accompanied by complete lists of correspondents contained therein. These lists are contained in the first box of the period.
Consists of the sheets used by editors to comment on submitted articles. They are grouped into time periods ranging from 1 to 11 years and are therein arranged alphabetically by the name of the writer of the submitted article. Since scholars are more likely to be interested in the reviewers than the reviewed, pages are attached here which list the editors whose review work is contained within a given division of the series. Post-1983 editorial comments continue with Box 60, at which point they are combined with correspondence of the same period.
After 1983, correspondence and editorial comments were combined in the journal's files. This means that all material relating to a submission is in one place, along with correspondence dealing with editorial or review work. A list of editors reviewing during the 1984-1989 period follows this series. Recent additions include other administrative files (Box 84).
The accessions (2009-0177) and (2009-0242) include editorial comments and correspondence from American Literature, beginning in 1993 and continuing through the early 2000s. Materials are organized alphabetically by each submitter's last name.
Access to this portion of the collection is restricted. Permission is required from the editors of American Literature.
The quarterly journal American Literature was founded in 1928 by Jay Broadus Hubbell as a joint effort of the Modern Language Association's American Literature Group (later Section) and Duke University (it is published by Duke Press). The journal was the first to take American literature as its exclusive subject.
Hubbell served as Chairman of the Board of Editors 1929-1954; Clarence Gohdes 1954-1969; Arlin Turner 1969-1979; Edwin Cady 1979-1985; Louis Budd 1985-1990; Cathy Davidson took over in 1990. The size of the board of editors (in addition to the Chairman and a Managing or Associate Editor) began at four, became eight in 1960, and 12 in 1990. Members must be approved by the American Literature Section. The membership of the Board at any given time can be found at the front of issues of the journal. How commentary by members of the Board is distributed through the collection is detailed in the accompanying guide to the "Editorial Comments" files.
Today the journal retains most of its original form. It consists of scholarly articles on American literature, shorter pieces (usually called "Notes"), long and brief book reviews, and increasingly occasional unpublished manuscripts by American writers. Because such information was available in a more thorough form elsewhere, annotated bibliographies and a listing of articles on American literature in current periodicals stopped appearing in the early 1970s.
In 1964 Norman Foerster, a major literary scholar of the Hubbell generation, endowed an annual award (The Foerster Prize) for the best article published in American Literature each year. The Jay B. Hubbell Medallion was established that same year, initially to recognize Hubbell's own contributions to the field but thereafter as a sort of lifetime achievement award. Though administered by the American Literature Section, overlapping membership means that those involved with the journal often have had much to do with the Hubbell Medallion (as both recipients and selectors).
[Identification of item], The American Literature Records, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.
The American Literature Records (1927-2000s) were transferred from Duke Archives and donated by American Literature from 1976-2009.
Processed by: John Hilgart
Completed in: 1995
Encoded by Robin LaPasha
Updated by Meghan Lyon, August 2009 and November 2009
This finding aid is NCEAD compliant.