Smith, Henry Nash

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Biography

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)

Chronology

  • 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
  • 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: Italy Repubblica Italiana 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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

From the guide to the Henry Nash Smith Papers, 1927-1986, (The Bancroft Library)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Edgar Marquess Branch Papers, 1939-2003 and undated, (bulk 1960-1990) David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
referencedIn Levin, Harry. Harry Levin Papers. 1920-1995. Houghton Library
referencedIn Clarence Louis Frank Gohdes Papers, and undated, bulk, 1811-1990s, 1905-1981 David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
creatorOf Henry Nash Smith Papers, 1927-1986 Bancroft Library
referencedIn Jay B. Hubbell Papers, 1816-1998 and undated, bulk 1920-1979 David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
referencedIn Brown & Haley Lecture Series, 1953-2012 University of Puget Sound Archives
referencedIn Benjamin H. Lehman Papers Bancroft Library
referencedIn Jay B. Hubbell Papers, 1816-1998 and undated, bulk 1920-1979 David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
referencedIn Wendell Holmes Stephenson Papers, 1820-1968 David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
referencedIn Ida Langdon papers, 1902-1964. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.
referencedIn Dorson mss., 1925-1981 Lilly Library (Indiana University, Bloomington)
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