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Henry Steele Commager Papers

 Collection
Identifier: MA.00173

Scope and Contents

The Henry Steele Commager Papers document the rich professional life and career of this 20th century historian, public intellectual, and engaged citizen. The papers include the extensive correspondence received from historians, congressmen, educators, journalists, jurists, publishers, as well as former students, school children, and the general public. Commager's writings and public appearances reflect his productive, active professional life as well as his influence within the profession. The papers are a rich resource for exploring pivotal issues of 20th century American society, including the interventionist role in Europe; civil liberties; academic freedom; the loyalty oath; nationalism; education; student unrest; the American military in Vietnam; the expansion of executive power; changing views of foreign policy; and the purpose and role of education in society. While the Commager papers are extensive, there are gaps in the documentation.

Dates

  • 1920-1998
  • Majority of material found within 1945-1985

Creator

Conditions Governing Access

There is no restriction on access to the Henry Steele Commager Papers for research use. Particularly fragile items may be restricted for preservation purposes. The majority of this collection is housed in off-site storage and requires a minimum of 48 hours notice before use. Please contact Archives and Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

Mary Powlesland Commager holds all literary and other rights to Henry Steele Commager‘s work; requests for permission to quote from his work should be directed to her. Additionally, requests for permission to publish material from Henry Steele Commager Papers should be directed to the Archives and Special Collections. It is the responsibility of the researcher to identify and satisfy the holders of all other copyrights.

Extent

84 Linear feet (16 records storage boxes, 120 archives boxes, 4 half archives boxes, 6 oversize flat boxes, 2 object boxes)

Language of Materials

English

Abstract

Papers documenting the professional life and career of Henry Steele Commager, 20th century historian, public intellectual, and engaged citizen. They include the extensive letters received from historians, congressmen, educators, journalists, jurists, publishers, as well as former students, and the general public. Commager's writings and public appearances reflect his active professional life as well as his influence within the profession. The papers document a wide variety of issues of 20th century American society, including the interventionist role in Europe; civil liberties; academic freedom; the loyalty oath; nationalism; the American military in Vietnam; the expansion of executive power; changing views of foreign policy; and the purpose and role of education in society.

Arrangement

This collection is organized into six series:

  1. Series 1: Correspondence, 1926-1994
  2. Series 2: Writings, 1927-1989
  3. Series 3: Public Appearances, 1938-1990
  4. Series 4: Teaching Materials, 1933-1994
  5. Series 5: Research Files, approximately 1930-1990
  6. Series 6: Biographical Materials, 1920-1998

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Mary Powlesland Commager deposited her husband's scholarly and literary papers from his home and his Amherst College offices with the Archives and Special Collections in 1987, 1992, 1993, and 1996. These deposits became a gift in 1999. Mary Powlesland Commager retains copyright and literary rights at this time (2007).

In 2006, former students, friends and family of Henry Steele Commager created the Henry Steele Commager Papers Project to support the arrangement and description of his papers to archival standards.

The Papers came to the Archives and Special Collections with little inherent organization. A portion of the papers were loose in boxes; some were in folders or manila envelopes with and without identification; enclosures and attachments were separated from the transmittal letters; multi-page letters and documents were often separated. There was evidence of previous attempts to arrange the materials by those who had access to the papers before they were given to Archives and Special Collections.

After review the Papers were organized into logical groupings of correspondence, writings, talks, teaching and other materials. Documents were sorted to these groupings and then arranged to an appropriate sequence, e.g. alphabetically by name of correspondent, or chronologically.

Related Materials

Related material at Amherst College Archives & Special Collections:

  1. Amherst College Non-Alumni Biographical Files: Commager, Henry Steele
  2. Henry Steele Commager Collection of William Jennings Bryant Material at Amherst College
  3. Henry Steele Commager Collection of Bronson Cutting Material at Amherst College
  4. Henry Steele Commager Collection of Theodore Parker Material at Amherst College
  5. Audio Recording (MP3 format) of Henry Steele Commager Symposium, Amherst College, 2007 Oct 27

Related material at other institutions:

  1. Jacques Barzun Papers at Columbia University Library
  2. Julian Boyd Papers at Princeton University Library
  3. Felix Frankfurter Papers at the Library of Congress
  4. Harper & Row, Publishers Records, at Columbia University Library
  5. Mark de Wolf Howe at Harvard Law School
  6. Harold Hyman Collection at Texas A&M University
  7. Christopher Lasch Papers at University of Rochester
  8. Archibald MacLeish Papers at the Library of Congress
  9. Samuel Eliot Morison Papers at the Library of Congress
  10. Allan Nevins Papers at Columbia University
  11. Maurice Rosenblatt Papers at Library of Congress

Chronology

1902 Oct 25
Born in Pittsburgh, Penn. to James Williams Commager and Anna Elizabeth Dagmar Dan
1923
Completed Ph.B. at the University of Chicago
1924
Completed M.A. at the University of Chicago
1924-25
Studied at University of Copenhagen on an American-Scandinavian Foundation fellowship
1926-38
Taught at New York University:
1926-29 Instructor
1929-30 Assistant Professor
1930-31 Associate Professor
1931-38 Professor
1928
Married Evan Alexa Carroll.
Children: Henry Steele, Nellie Thomas, and Elizabeth Carroll
Completed Ph.D. at the University of Chicago: Struensee and the Reform Movement in Denmark
Began working with Samuel Eliot Morrison on Growth of the American Republic
1929
Received American Historical Association's Herbert Baxter Adams Prize for most distinguished first book
1930
Growth of the American Republic published
1934
Documents of American History published
Our Nation published, Eugene C. Barker, co-author
1936
The Great American Preacher: Theodore Parker published
1939-56
Taught at Columbia University:
Visiting Professor 1937-38
Professor 1939-56
Adjunct Faculty 1956-59
1939
Wrote New York Times Magazine series advocating interventionist role in Europe
Heritage of America published, edited with Allan Nevins
1940-46
History Editor for Oxford University Press
1940
Involved with Committee to Defend America by Defending the Allies
1941
Bacon Lecturer at Boston University
1940-49
Wrote regular column for Scholastic for middle and high school readers
1942
The Pocket History of the United States co-authored with Alan Nevins
Richards Lecturer at University of Virginia
Appointed to editorial board of The American Scholar
1942-43
Visiting Professor of American History Cambridge University, Peterhouse College
Inaugurated American Studies at Cambridge University
1943
Majority Rule and Minority Rights published
America: Story of a Free People published, with Allan Nevins
1943
Appointed special representative to the Office of War Information "to fulfill lecture arrangements scheduled by the British Ministry of Information"
Appointed to the War Department's Historical Branch Advisory Committee
1943 Fall
Assessed Nazi military power for Army Air Force with historian panel
1944
Recorded "nonpolitical talks" on American electoral process for the Office of War Information to be broadcast to Europeans on shortwave radio
Majority Rules, Minority Rights published
1945
Consultant to the United States Army, attached to the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force
The Pocket History of the United States with Allan Nevins released under the title A Short History of the United States The Story of the Second World War published
Meet the USA published
1947-48
Pitt Professor at Cambridge University
1947
"Who is Loyal to America?" published in Harper's
America in Perspective published (editor)
1948-51
President of PEN
1948
The St. Nicholas Anthology compiled with Evan Commager
1950
The Blue and Grey published
The American Mind: An Interpretation of American Thought and Character Since the 1880s published
1951
Appointed to the Foreign Policy Association Editorial Advisory Committee
Lecturer at Salzburg Seminar in American Studies
Living Ideas in America published
1952
Elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters
Attended the Fulbright Conference on American Studies at Cambridge
Chestnut the Squirrel published
1952-53
Held the first Harmsworth Professorship at Oxford University
1953
Lectured at Royal University Uppsala as Gottesman Professor
"Guilt - and Innocence - By Association" published in the New York Times
1954
Europe and America Since 1942 published, co-authored with Geoffrey Bruun
Encyclopedia of American History published, co-edited with Richard Morris
New American Nation series launched by Harpers, Commager and Morris co-editors
Freedom, Loyalty, Dissent published
Freedom, Loyalty, Dissent earned Sidney Hillman Foundation Award
1954 Nov 24
Interviewed on CBS television program Chronoscope
1954-55
Zuskind Professor at Brandeis University
1955-56
Fulbright Professor of American History at the University of Copenhagen
1956
Lectured at German universities in State Department program
1956-92
Taught at Amherst College
1956
Smith Professor of History
1957-61
Amherst College Professor of American History and American Studies
1962-71
Winthrop H. Smith Professor of American History and American Studies
1971-92
John Woodruff Simpson Lecturer in History and Emeritus Smith Professor
1993-98
John Woodruff Simpson Lecturer, Emeritus
1956
Gave lecture series at Port of Spain, Trinidad
1957
Awarded Knight of Order of Dannebrog (Denmark)
Visiting Professor at University of Aix, France
1958
The Spirit of Seventy Six published with Richard Morris
Lecturer, University of Israel
1960-61
Received Guggenheim Fellowship to study American nationalism
1960
Appointed Gino Speranza Lecturer on American Traditions and Ideals at Columbia University
Supported Senator John F. Kennedy as a member of the organization Intellectuals for Kennedy
1960
Editorial advisory committee to the Woodrow Wilson Papers
1961
Historical consultant to NBC television series The Americans
Appeared on ABC television show Meet the Professor
1962
Appointed to the United States National Commission for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
Crusaders for Freedom published
1963
Advisory Editor of History to Charles H. Merrill Books College Division
1963 Jul 31
The Dialogues of Allan Nevins and Henry Steele Commager broadcast on CBS Television Network
1964
Commonwealth Lecturer, University of London
Harris Lecturer, Northwestern University
1965
Visiting Lecturer, National University of Mexico
The Nature and Study of History published
1966
Elected to the National Academy of Arts & Letters
"Television the Medium" in TV Guide
Freedom and Order published
1967
Freedom and Reform edited by Harold Hyman and Leonard Levy published to honor Commager
Donates Childe Hassam painting Flags on Friar's Club to Amherst College
Chaired the Massachusetts Dissenting Democrats
Active with the National Committee for Effective Congress (NCEC)
1967 Feb 20
Appeared before Senate Foreign Relations Committee to discuss foreign policy
1968
The Commonwealth of Learning published
1968
Active with Citizens for Eugene McCarthy
1968 Mar 28
Evan (Carroll) Commager died
Born: 1904 Feb 4
Married: 1928 Jul 3
1970
Donated nearly 6,000 volumes to Hampshire College Library
1971
Appointed to the John Woodruff Simpson Chair at Amherst College, previously held by Robert Frost and Archibald MacLeish; appointed Emeritus Professor
Served Library of Congress as Honorary Consultant in American History
Funded Evan Commager Fellowship at Amherst College
1971 Mar 8
Appeared before Senate Foreign Relations Committee on War Powers Act
1972
Awarded American Academy of Arts and Letters Gold Medal for History
1972 Mar 1
Addressed the Senate Subcommittee on Administrative Practice and Procedure on issue of amnesty for Vietnam draft resisters
1973 Oct
New York Times headline: "Commager Urges Nixon Impeachment"
1974
Britain Through American Eyes published
The Defeat of America published
1974
Appeared on Bill Moyer's Journal television program
1975
Declaration of Interdependence for World Affairs Council published
1977
Empire of Reason published
1977 Spring
Held Patten Lectureship at Indiana University
1979
Our Day and Generation: The Words of Edward M. Kennedy, editor
Mort Kunstler's 50 Epic Paintings, text by Commager
1979 Jul 14
Married Mary Eleanor Powlesland
1980 Feb 20
Appeared on The Dick Cavett Show
1981
Appointed Bullitt Visiting Professor of American History at the University of Washington in Seattle for the winter and spring quarters
1984
Awarded Claude Pepper Medal for contributions to social democracy
1985
Awarded special citation from Actor's Fund of America at Night of 100 Stars II
1987
Advisor to PBS Childhood
1988 Sep 15
Appeared on Bill Moyer's A World of Ideas television series (WNET)
1990 May 2
Received the Society of American Historians, Bruce Catton Prize for Lifetime Achievement
1991
Honored with named professorship "in recognition of 35 years distinguished scholarship and dedication to the teaching" of Amherst students
1993
Commager on Tocqueville published
1998 Mar 2
Died in Amherst, Mass.
Status
Completed
Author
Processed by: Anne Ostendarp, Project Archivist; Juliet Demeter, Project Assistant; Adam Novitt, Project Assistant; Caro Pinto, Project Assistant; Mariah Sakrejda-Leavitt, Project Assistant; Michelle Barron, AC 2010, Student Assistant; William Bell, AC 2010, Student Assistant; Kita Lantman, AC 2008E, Student Assistant; Jackline Makena, AC 2010, Student Assistant Finding Aid prepared by: Anne Ostendarp, Project Archivist; Juliet Demeter, Project Assistant; Adam Novitt, Project Assistant; Caro Pinto, Project Assistant; Mariah Sakrejda-Leavitt, Project Assistant Edited by: Daria D'Arienzo, Head of Archives & Special Collections; Anne Ostendarp, Project Archivist
Date
2007
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Sponsor
Supported by former students, family and friends of Henry Steele Commager through the Commager Papers Project Fund; additional support from the Friends of the Amherst College Library.

Repository Details

Part of the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections Repository

Contact:
Amherst College Archives & Special Collections
Robert Frost Library
61 Quadrangle Drive
Amherst MA 01002-5000
(413) 542-2299