Modern language association of America

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The American Literature Group was formed in 1921, after the Modern Language Association (MLA) reluctantly acknowledged a growing scholarly interest in the writing of the United States. At the time such literature was studied primarily in secondary schools, and most colleges and universities had no courses on the topic. Those that did, usually offered only a single survey course. The idea that American literature could stand on its own as a discipline was viewed with skepticism, it being understood at the time as a branch of the literature of England - a branch almost wholly lacking the greatness of its parent.

The members of the new group felt that in order to prove their subject reputable, they must bring it into line with the model of disciplines that had come into being in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. This model was based on the empiricism of the sciences, which had been modified in English as philology, author biography, textual history, and in its furthest speculative reach, influence study. Interpretive criticism was viewed as insufficiently scholarly, the domain of the "amateurs" who had dominated writing about American literature up to this point. Similarly, some in the Group thought that it should organize a way to better train secondary school teachers in the area, but this was rejected as insufficiently academic.

The Group met each December at the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association. Many of the early papers presented under the auspices of the Group dealt with the problem of how to build a proper discipline. Work was immediately begun on bibliographies and on lists of manuscript resources and dissertations written (or needed). In 1926, as an aid to research, the field was divided into three areas: the Puritan tradition, Romanticism in American literature, and the frontier spirit. In 1928, the Group's approach was documented by the essays in The Reinterpretation of American Literature (edited by Norman Forester), which added a fourth area, realism. Efforts to establish a quarterly journal that dealt exclusively with American literature began in 1924. Duke University eventually won a small bidding war for it, and the first issue of American Literature was dated March, 1929. In 1928 a full scheme of officers and procedures was put into place with the first version of the articles of organization. This document would be periodically revised over the following decades. One project that never got off the ground was a history of American literature. Almost from its inception, the Group was dissatisfied with the existing one - The Cambridge History of American Literature (1918) - because it was written prior to the discovery of much information, gave no relative weight to different figures and genres, and had no overarching vision of the area. A committee headed by Robert Speller worked toward a plan for a new history during the thirties, but conflicting positions concerning readiness and approach caused the plan to be abandoned by 1941. (Speller proceeded with the project outside of the Group, his work resulting in The Literary History of the United States (1948).)

After World War II, with American literature firmly in place as an academic area, the Group became less central to the discipline's development. The rise of American studies in the early 1950s prompted discussion and dispute concerning the difference between cultural-historical work, and more traditional emphases on literary excellence and the humanistic approach to literature (particularly in the classroom). Insurgent movements occasionally have arisen as the Group was felt to be behind the critical times. In 1968 younger members staged a protest at the annual meeting, agitating for a direct denouncement of the Vietnam War and more explicit politics in general (particularly regarding the college students whom the professors were serving). Meanwhile the Group (which became a full-fledged MLA Section in 1966) has periodically had to fight for particular kinds of recognition and privilege within its parent organization.

A full list of the Group's/Section's Chairs and Secretaries (later Executive Coordinators) is appended to this inventory and may be used as a cross-reference with the container lists to interpret the collection's coverage of various periods and figures. A fuller listing of officers from 1921-1948 is provided in Kermit Vanderbilt's book (cited below) on pages 545-548.

For more information on the American Literature Group/Section, see the following books, parts of which were written using the American Literature Section Papers: Kermit Vanderbilt, American Literature and the Academy(Philadelphia: U. Penn. Press, 1986) David R. Shumway, Creating American Civilization: A Genealogy of American Literature as an Academic Discipline(Minneapolis: U. Minn. Press, 1994).

From the guide to the Modern Language Association of America, American Literature Section Papers, 1922-1999, (Duke University. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Ramsey, Warren, 1914-. Jules Laforgue and the ironic inheritance : typescript, 1949-1951. UC Berkeley Libraries
referencedIn Hubbell, Jay B. (Jay Broadus), 1885-1979. Papers, 1905-1986. Duke University Libraries, Duke University Library; Perkins Library
referencedIn New Directions Publishing records Houghton Library
creatorOf Modern Language Association of America. Correspondence with American Musicological Society, 1952-1981. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
referencedIn Rubin, Louis Decimus, 1923-. Louis Decimus Rubin papers, 1929-1992. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
referencedIn Rogers, Fred. [Letter, 1954 Nov. 11 : to Mr. Kenneth Mildenberger]. Saint Vincent College, Saint Vincent Library
referencedIn Hogan, Robert F. Papers, 1964-1978. University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign
referencedIn Margaret Lee Wiley papers [manuscript], 1936, no date University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn Brooke, Charles Frederick Tucker, 1883-1946. Charles Frederick Tucker Brooke papers, 1889-1943 (inclusive). Yale University Library
referencedIn Marguerite Yourcenar additional papers, 1842-1996. Houghton Library
referencedIn Hagstrum, Jean H., 1913-1995. Jean Hagstrum Papers, 1921-1995. Northwestern University
referencedIn Thorp, Willard, 1899-1990. Willard Thorp papers, 1886-1981 (1930-1970). Princeton University Library
referencedIn Barnard College. Dean's Office. Barnard College dean's/president's official correspondence, 1904-1960. Columbia University in the City of New York, Columbia University Libraries
referencedIn Collitz, Hermann, 1855-1935. Hermann Collitz papers, 1846-1935. Johns Hopkins University, Sheridan Libraries and the Milton S. Eisenhower Library
referencedIn Penniman, Josiah H., 1868-1941. Papers,personal and family 1706-1968 University of Pennsylvania, Archives & Records Center
referencedIn William T. Starr (1910-1999) Papers, 1939-1978 Northwestern University Archives
referencedIn American Literature, Records, 1927-2000s David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
referencedIn The Nation, records, 1879-1974 (inclusive), 1920-1955 (bulk). Houghton Library
referencedIn American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages. Records, 1941-1973. University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign
referencedIn Brown, Carleton Fairchild, 1869-1941. Letter to Horace Howard Furness, Jr., n.d. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
referencedIn Gore Vidal papers, 1850-2020 (inclusive), 1936-2008 (bulk) Houghton Library
referencedIn Blair, Walter, 1900-. Papers, 1970-1989. Duke University Libraries, Duke University Library; Perkins Library
referencedIn Papers, 1944-1981. Houghton Library
referencedIn William Empson papers Houghton Library
referencedIn Hubbell, Jay B. (Jay Broadus), 1885-1979. Jay B. Hubbell papers, 1905-1986. Duke University Libraries, Duke University Library; Perkins Library
referencedIn Tannenbaum, Samuel Aaron, 1874?-1948. Samuel Aaron Tannenbaum papers, 1857-1943. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
referencedIn Thorpe, Clarence De Witt, 1887-. Literary papers, 1920-1958. University of Michigan
referencedIn Hankins, John Erskine, 1905-. John Erskine Hankins papers, 1923-1994. University of South Carolina, System Library Service, University Libraries
referencedIn Dye, William S. William S. Dye, Jr. papers. [manuscript]. Pennsylvania State University Libraries
referencedIn Nordmeyer, Henry Waldemar, 1891-1981. Papers, 1905-1962. University of Toledo, William S. Carlson Library
referencedIn Harry Levin papers Houghton Library
referencedIn Mead, Douglass Sargeant, 1895-. Douglass S. Mead papers. [manuscript]. Pennsylvania State University Libraries
referencedIn Elaine Marks papers, Marks (Elaine) papers, (bulk 1949-2001), 1893-2001 John Hay Library, Special Collections
creatorOf Modern Language Association of America. [Minor publications]. Yale University Library
creatorOf Women's Caucus of the Modern Languages. Women's Caucus of the Modern Languages Association records 1970-1993. DePaul University Library
referencedIn Charles Frederick Tucker Brooke papers, 1889-1943 Yale University. Department of Manuscripts and Archives
creatorOf Modern Language Association of America, American Literature Section Papers, 1922-1999 David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
referencedIn Records of the Lyman R. Bradley Academic Freedom Case, 1947-1961 New York University. Archives
referencedIn Women's literature from a regional perspective collection, 1977-1978. University of North Carolina, Charlotte, J. Murrey Atkins Library
referencedIn Halsband, Robert, 1914-. Robert Halsband papers, 1708-1976. Columbia University in the City of New York, Columbia University Libraries
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
correspondedWith Alexander Cowie person
correspondedWith Alexander Kern) person
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correspondedWith Allan Halline person
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associatedWith American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages. corporateBody
associatedWith American Literature corporateBody
associatedWith American Literature Group corporateBody
associatedWith American Literature Section corporateBody
associatedWith American Studies Association corporateBody
correspondedWith Arlin Turner person
correspondedWith Barnard College. Dean's Office. corporateBody
correspondedWith Benjamin Franklin Fisher person
associatedWith Blair, Walter, 1900- person
correspondedWith Blotner, Joseph person
associatedWith Brooke, Charles Frederick Tucker, 1883-1946. person
associatedWith Brown, Carleton Fairchild, 1869-1941. person
correspondedWith Charles Nilon person
associatedWith Collitz, Hermann, 1855-1935. person
associatedWith Committee on a Cooperative Literary History corporateBody
associatedWith Committee on Library Manuscript Holdings corporateBody
associatedWith Committee on Materials of American Literary History corporateBody
associatedWith Committee on Trends in Research in American Literature corporateBody
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associatedWith Dye, William S. person
correspondedWith Edward Bradley person
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correspondedWith Empson, William, 1906-1984 person
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associatedWith Foerster Prize Committee corporateBody
associatedWith Hagstrum, Jean H., 1913-1995 person
associatedWith Halsband, Robert, 1914- person
associatedWith Hankins, John Erskine, 1905- person
correspondedWith Hayford, Harrison person
correspondedWith Hedges, Elaine person
correspondedWith Henry Pochmann) person
associatedWith Hogan, Robert F. person
correspondedWith Holman, High person
associatedWith Hubbell, Jay B. (Jay Broadus), 1885-1979. person
correspondedWith J. A. Leo Lemay) person
correspondedWith James Woodress) person
correspondedWith Jay B. Hubbell person
correspondedWith J. Herber person
associatedWith John Gerber person
correspondedWith Joseph Blotner person
correspondedWith Levin, Harry, 1912-1994 person
correspondedWith Lewis P. Simpson person
correspondedWith Louis D. Rubin person
associatedWith Manuscript Holdings Committee corporateBody
associatedWith Marks, Elaine person
associatedWith Mead, Douglass Sargeant, 1895- person
correspondedWith Millgate, Michael person
correspondedWith MLA corporateBody
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correspondedWith Nathalia Wright) person
associatedWith Nation (New York, N.Y. : 1865). corporateBody
associatedWith NEH corporateBody
correspondedWith New Directions Publishing Corp. corporateBody
associatedWith Nordmeyer, Henry Waldemar, 1891-1981. person
associatedWith Office of the Secretary corporateBody
correspondedWith Paul Carter person
associatedWith Penniman, Josiah H., 1868-1941 person
correspondedWith Pochmann, Henry person
associatedWith Ramsey, Warren, 1914- person
correspondedWith R. H. Pearce person
associatedWith Richard Adams person
correspondedWith Richard Beale Davis person
correspondedWith Robert Edson Lee) person
correspondedWith Robert Falk person
correspondedWith Robert Spiller) person
associatedWith Rogers, Fred. person
associatedWith Rubin, Louis Decimus, 1923- person
correspondedWith Russel B. Nye person
associatedWith Security Bank corporateBody
correspondedWith Sissman, L. E., 1928-1976 person
associatedWith Society for American Studies corporateBody
correspondedWith Spiller, Robert person
associatedWith Starr, William Thomas, 1910-1999 person
associatedWith Tannenbaum, Samuel Aaron, 1874?-1948. person
associatedWith Thorpe, Clarence De Witt, 1887- person
associatedWith Thorp, Willard, 1899-1990. person
correspondedWith Turner, Arlin person
associatedWith U. Colorado corporateBody
associatedWith University of Utah corporateBody
associatedWith Vidal, Gore, 1925- person
correspondedWith Willard Thorp) person
correspondedWith William M. Gibson person
correspondedWith William Mulder) person
associatedWith Women's Caucus of the Modern Languages. corporateBody
correspondedWith Yourcenar, Marguerite. person
Place Name Admin Code Country

Corporate Body

Active 1952

Active 1981





Ark ID: w68w7hnn

SNAC ID: 46475680