Unique C. L. R. James Manuscript Acquired by Rare Book & Manuscript Library

NEW YORK, December 11, 2007 Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library has acquired the manuscript that Cyril Lionel Robert James (1901-1989), West Indian polymath and giant of 20th-Century intellectual history, adjudged to be his single most important piece of work. An abridged and bowdlerized version was published in 1980 from an uncorrected typescript. The present manuscript represents the complete original work in its entirety, thus making possible a surer grasp of James's original thought. In addition, ten lengthy handwritten letters by James related to the original manuscript were also acquired.


Notes on Dialectic is the only extant full-length manuscript in C.L.R. James's handwriting. It was written by James between late September and early November 1948 in Nevada whence James had gone to obtain a divorce. James was employed as a landscaper and handyman at the Pyramid Lake Ranch, located on the Indian reservation at Pyramid Lake, Nevada, and worked on the manuscript in the evenings and on weekends.

According to Robert Hill, Professor of History at UCLA and Executor of the James Estate, the purpose of the manuscript was to educate the members of James’s political organization in the Hegelian and Marxist dialectic and to work out the political premises of the coming stage of revolutionary struggle on the part of the modern working-class following the end of World War II.

“In the manuscript James outlined with great clarity and prescience the course that within a few short years the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 would take against the oppressive state-capitalist bureaucracy imposed by the Soviet Union. There is no other work of its kind within either European or American Marxism,” further explained Hill.

The acquisition of Notes on Dialectic complements the extensive collection of James's papers acquired by the Library in September 2007. The arrival of the James Papers at Columbia marks the beginning of a major, multi-year initiative to further build the collection and encourage research into it. An announcement about the acquisition of the James Papers can be found at www.columbia.edu/cu/lweb/news/libraries/2007/2007-09-28.james.html.

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.

12/11/07 LMK