Rare Book & Manuscript Library

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Scope and Content Note

The Lewis Mumford Papers primarily document Mumford's professional life as writer, critic, and teacher over a period of approximately seventy years, while at the same time, they offer a rare and intimate glimpse of this extremely private man. Mumford's prolific literary output and extensive correspondence predominate in the 197 boxes that comprise the Papers. As such, the collection offers not only a unique but also a remarkably comprehensive approach to scholarship on Lewis Mumford, his fields of interest, and his times.

Lewis and Sophia Mumford began to deposit their papers at the University of Pennsylvania in 1966, when Robert E. Spiller, a Penn faculty member, was editing The Van Wyck Brooks-Lewis Mumford Letters. The University of Pennsylvania would have seemed an appropriate repository for the collection for other reasons: Mumford had spent many of the academic semesters between 1951 and 1961 as a visiting professor at Penn, and the University's Van Pelt Library had also acquired the papers of of Brooks and Waldo Frank, two of Mumford's intellectual peers.

In general, the Mumfords saved all letters that were written to them and all drafts and notes related to Lewis's writings. Throughout his adult life Lewis would even keep copieson a highly selective basisof letters that he wrote to others. Some exceptions and limitations do apply, however, regarding the extensive scope of the manuscript collection. The Mumfords did weed "seemingly unimportant" material during the twenty-two year period of transfer to the University. Lewis felt that modern scholarship depended too much upon interpretation of the flotsam and jetsam of a writer's life; there was also the practical consideration of the sheer bulk of the collection. In a conversation in June 1989, Sophia said that she has gradually come around to the view that seemingly insignificant items might have value for future research which we cannot anticipate now. Consequently, the papers sent to the University of Pennsylvania more recently reflect her changed attitude. Nonetheless, the Lewis Mumford Papers, in all their great quantity, do not contain relatively less significant research materials such as cancelled checks and receipts for household expenses: they represent an archive of philosophical and social investigation and commentary, not a record of the minutia of a family's daily life.

Some gaps in the collection, nevertheless, remain. In general, it is not possible to know whether certain materials were destroyed by the Mumfords in recent years, or if they were lost or destroyed in the past. Among the missing materials are drafts and notes for Men Must Act, Faith for Living, and Green Memories . Many of the gaps, however, are partially compensated for in other parts of the collection. For example, there are no working materials for the Lewis Mumford on the City film series in the Lewis Mumford Papers, but the extensive correspondence from the producers, the National Film Board of Canada, provides important information and background on the project. Given the size and complexity of the collection, the thorough researcher should examine the container list and the indexes to correspondents carefully.

Care was taken in processing the collection not to do violence to the Mumfords' own arrangement of the papers, while at the same time making the collection as accessible as possible. In sorting, priority was always given to Mumford's most recent use of materials. Because of the length and diversity of his writing career, he at times found it necessary to remove certain items, such as notes, partial typescripts, or articles, from their original files for use in later projects. For instance, the notes for a 1924-1925 New School lecture series are filed with materials for Sticks and Stones, for which they were later used.

Re-use of research materials is particularly evident in items from The Culture of Cities, which were used later for work on The City in History . Many pieces of early writing were utilized in compiling Interpretations and Forecasts (1973); Findings and Keepings (1975); My Works and Days (1979); Sketches from Life (1982); and several uncompleted volumes of autobiography or miscellany begun in the 1970s. For some of these late works, no typescripts exist, only files of early writings. Fortunately, the Mumfords usually made notations, often in red ink, on items removed from their original files. Sometimes they refiled what had been moved: the notations identify such items. In some cases, Mumford mixed working materials for more than one project together in such a way that attempting to separate them would destroy some of their research value. Such cases are filed in the most logical possible fashion and are noted in the container list. Many materials are inscribed with dates, and while these are usually accurate, some inadvertant errors may have been made by the Mumfords.

The present arrangement of the papers depends heavily upon Mumford's own identification of the materials, generally in the form of notes on the items themselves or on the folders which originally housed them. At times, unfortunately, the notes are cryptic or incomplete. The segments of the collection that arrived at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library in the 1960s were processed in a way which did not always adequately document the sources of identifications. In the present container list quotation marks always indicate Mumford's own identifying words.

In the first two (and largest) series Correspondence: Letters to Lewis Mumfordand Correspondence: Letters from Lewis Mumfordthe files are arranged alphabetically by correspondent and then chronologically within the folders. Otherwise, the guiding principle for arranging the papers has been to establish a chronological order within the respective series. Materials relating to Mumford's books and pamphlets, for example, are arranged chronologically from project to project. Within any given work, however, proofs are filed first, followed by typescripts, then notes, research materials, and finally reviews. There are a few exceptions to chronological order, consisting mainly of small, logical groups of items which would have to be broken up to be interfiled chronologically within their series.

In processing the Lewis Mumford Papers and in preparing this register, it has been assumed that researchers will make use of Elmer S. Newman's 1971 Lewis Mumford: A Bibliography 1914-1970 and its update prepared by Jane Morley for the University of Pennsylvania Press. The additions to Newman's 1971 publication include Mumford's work after 1970; translations and reprints of articles; and a group of early articles in The Dial and The Freeman, which were apparently overlooked when Mumford made his personal files available to Newman. Morley's bibliography will provide an index by title of Mumford's books, pamphlets, and articles; the year of publication will be the guide to finding that piece within this container list. In other words, although book and pamphlet titles are clearly identified in the container list, there is no listing by title of all articles written by Mumford in the Papers: the articles were simply placed in folders and arranged and identified by year of publication or by year of composition, if unpublished.

Those who use the Mumford Papers should keep in mind the important role played by Sophia Wittenberg Mumford in her husband's career. She has been his only real assistant throughout their life together (they were married in 1921). She brought to this work her intellectual capabilities and her professional experience as an editor for The Dial . Sophia prepared typescripts from Lewis's drafts, proofread, and sometimes conducted correspondence on his behalf. Items in the collection may contain Sophia's notations, usually initialed "SWM." She also actively shared many of her husband's civic and political interests. The collection contains letters to and from Sophia, concerning both Lewis's work and some of her own activities. Her letters are interfiled with those of Lewis, as they had been in the Mumfords' own files. There are also several folders of material from Sophia's work with the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies (1940-1941).

Mumford was a prolific and regular correspondent, for whom letters were the primary means of communicating with his friends and colleagues throughout his career. His personal letters and, to a certain extent, even his business correspondence contain many of his most candid and profound observations on current events, contemporary arts and literature, and his own works-in-progress. Mumford's correspondents, in turn, offered him a great deal of constructive criticism and moral support in his writing endeavors. They include well-known writers and publishers such as Van Wyck Brooks, Waldo Frank, and Harold Ross; modern artists and architects such as Naum Gabo, Clarence Stein, and Frank Lloyd Wright; and contemporary philosophers and intellectuals such as Sir Patrick Geddes, Erich Fromm, and Reinhold Niebuhr.

In working on various autobiographical projects, Mumford obtained some of his own letters back from a number of correspondents. He also received copies of his letters to Van Wyck Brooks and David Liebovitz when the correspondence was being prepared for publication in book form, as well as copies of his letters from Sir Patrick Geddes when he was writing his autobiography. The Rare Book and Manuscript Library has obtained some photocopies of other Mumford letters from various repositories and has received groups of original and photocopied letters as gifts from individuals. In the mid-1980s, under increasing financial strain, the Mumfords sold letters from their "Persons of Note" file through James Lowe Autographs, Ltd., of London. The Rare Book and Manuscript Library was able to photocopy these letters before they were sold. All photocopies of letters which were sold, or which were made from originals held elsewhere, are so marked. There are a very few photocopies of unknown origin in the correspondence series. When letters were found with other manuscript materials, they were replaced with photocopies and the originals filed with correspondence.

The Correspondence Series are rather strict files of letters and other items which were definitely correspondence. Other kinds of materialspublishers' Royalty Statements, for exampleare filed elsewhere in the collection. A very high percentage of the correspondence is connected with Mumford's career. Although many of the letters are from friends, most relate in some way to Mumford's work and thought. There is very little family material, except for the restricted Lewis/Sophia correspondence.

The better part of Lewis Mumford's art work, in terms of quality and quantity, is on extended loan to Monmouth College in West Long Branch, New Jersey. The Rare Book and Manuscript Library holds some eighty small works, which arrived as part of the Mumford Papers. Monmouth College has also arranged to purchase Mumford's personal library, although at this time the books have not actually been transferred to New Jersey.


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Last update: Friday, 31-Jan-2003 21:22:08 EST
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