Rare Book & Manuscript Library Acquires Papers of C. L. R. James

NEW YORK, September 28, 2007 The papers of one of the preeminent political intellectuals of the twentieth century have been acquired by Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library.


The Library is now the home of the papers of Cyril Lionel Robert James (1901-1989), West Indian polymath and giant of 20th-Century intellectual history. During his long career in North America, the Caribbean, and Europe, James was a political organizer, Marxist theorist, historian, literary and cultural critic, novelist, playwright and short-story writer, teacher, cricketer, and sports commentator.

“It is not an exaggeration to say that C. L. R. James is to Caribbean Studies what W.E.B. Du Bois is to African-American Studies. James was the preeminent political intellectual of the Caribbean in the twentieth century…the acquisition of the James Papers is extraordinarily significant to our university.” said Manning Marable, Professor of History and Political Science, School of International & Public Affairs at Columbia.

“James’ protégés included Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and Dr. Eric Williams of Trinidad; he revitalized the Pan-Africanist movement after 1945, and was the leader of the Federal Labour Party in the British Caribbean during the independence movements of the 1950s and 1960s. His 1938 Black Jacobins was the first comprehensive study of the Haitian Revolution of 1791-1804. His 1964 Beyond a Boundary helped to found the field of Cultural Studies,” continued Marable.

The James papers reunite files and books from the writer’s residences in London and in Washington, D.C. They include correspondence, notebooks, manuscripts, and a substantial portion or James’ working library, many books of which contain substantial annotations. Of particular interest is an unfinished autobiographical manuscript.

"In terms of the diverse range of intellectual and political interests and commitments spanning Europe, America, Africa, and the Caribbean, the C. L. R. James Papers tell a fascinating story of one of the twentieth-century's most original and remarkable thinkers," said Robert Hill, Professor of History at UCLA and Historical Consultant and Advisor to the C. L. R. James Papers.

Michael Ryan, Director of the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, said that researchers will find James’ papers especially valuable for James’ extensive correspondence with key political figures and intellectuals such as Kwame Nkrumah, George Padmore, Mbiyu Koinange, Eric Williams, Norman Manley, Michael Manley, and Maurice Bishop. Among the intellectuals who James corresponded with are Lionel Trilling, Lewis Mumford, Mark Van Doren, Basil Davidson, Daniel Guerin, Alice Walker, Wilson Harris, V. S. Naipaul, George Lamming, Maxwell Geismar, E. P. Thompson, John Berger, Michael Foot, and many others.

“Correspondence spanning the period from 1949 until his death in London in 1989 offers valuable insight into letters and thought during this era," Ryan said. "The papers are particularly strong in material from the fifties and sixties, starting with the period following James’ deportation from the U.S. in 1953 through the tumultuous events of 1968.”

According to Ryan, the arrival of this material at Columbia marks the beginning of a major, multi-year initiative to further build the collection and encourage research into it.

When cataloged and processed, the C. L. R. James Papers will be available for research. For more information, call the RBML at 212-854-5590.

Columbia University Libraries is one of the top ten academic library systems in the nation, with 9.2 million volumes, over 65,650 serials, as well as extensive collections of electronic resources, manuscripts, rare books, microforms, and other nonprint formats. The collections and services are organized into 25 libraries, supporting specific academic or professional disciplines. Columbia Libraries employs more than 400 professional and support staff to assist faculty, students, and researchers in their academic endeavors. The Libraries’ website at www.columbia.edu/cu/lweb/ is a gateway to its print and electronic collections and to its services.

The Rare Book & Manuscript Library owns over 500,000 rare books in some 20 book collections and almost 28 million manuscripts in nearly 3,000 separate manuscript collections. It is particularly strong in English and American literature and history, classical authors, children‘s literature, education, mathematics and astronomy, economics and banking, photography, the history of printing, New York City politics, librarianship, and the performing arts. Individual collections are as eclectic as they are extensive. For more information, please see: www.columbia.edu/cu/lweb/indiv/rbml/index.html.