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American Literary Materials in Special Collections: Getting Started

A guide to resources for the study of American literature in Duke University's David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Overview of the Collections

First editions of Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Photograph by Eleanor Mills.

There is a long tradition at Duke of pioneering work in the study of American literature.  The holdings of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library reflect this tradition.  Our holdings are especially rich in the following areas:

  • Literature of the American South, featuring the primary manuscript collections of some of the best-known writers of the region and an extensive collection of published Southern literature
  • One of the most important collections of Walt Whitman materials in the world
  • 19th-century humor publications
  • Literature of social change, 1944 to the present
  • The papers of feminist authors
  • Popular and ephemeral literature such as comic books and zines
  • Records of organizations and individuals documenting the development of the study of American literature.

Collecting Policy

Existing Collection Strengths: 19th to early 20th-century authors such as Walt Whitman (manuscripts and early editions), Paul Hamilton Hayne (papers and library), Thomas Nelson Page (papers), William Dean Howells and William Cullen Bryant (books); printed works of 19th-century American humor; personal papers and printed works of contemporary authors, especially Southern authors and feminist authors; works produced by Southern small literary presses from 1945, intensively from 1992, and the records of a number of presses; records related to literary production and reception, such as those of literary agencies and critics; amateur literary productions, such as zines; and comic books.

Current Collecting Focuses: Additional materials to complement the strengths noted above; materials related to Walt Whitman, especially translations and artists' books; works and papers of authors of the literature of social change, 1944 to the present; works of collaborative literature; and materials supporting the work of RBMSCL centers, especially African-American authors and feminist authors. 

Associate Curator of Collections

Sara Seten Berghausen
David M. Rubenstein Library
080K Rubenstein Library