Archival Collections
Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Mark Van Doren papers, 1917-1976 

Van Doren, Mark, 1894-1972
Phys. Desc: 
35 linear feet (35 linear feet 86 boxes; 3 card files; 1 oversize folder)
Call Number: 
Rare Book & Manuscript Library
View CLIO Record and Request Material >>

Online information

Biographical Note

Van Doren joined the Columbia faculty after earning his PhD in 1920; he was among the original band of young scholars who taught John Erskine's General Honors course. Over subsequent decades, Van Doren would open the world of ideas and poetry to Columbia students, among them alumni poets Louis Simpson, Richard Howard, John Hollander, John Berryman, Thomas Merton, and Allen Ginsberg. He guided the planning and helped launch of Humanities A in the Core Curriculum ("Lit Hum," a cornerstone of the Core to this day) and taught a section himself for 17 years, an experience about which he said in his autobiography "nothing I ever did with students was more fun." Among his writings are Collected Poems , which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1939; American and British Literature since 1890 , with his brother, Carl Van Doren; critical studies of various authors, including John Dryden and Nathaniel Hawthorne; several anthologies, and The Noble Voice , a collection of essays. Upon his retirement from full-time teaching at Columbia in 1959, Van Doren told Newsweek: "I have always had the greatest respect for students. There is nothing I hate more than condescension--the attitude that they are inferior to you. I always assume they have good minds." He semi-retired in 1953, and gave up teaching altogether in 1959, following the scandal involving his son Charles and the fixing of the popular television program "Twenty One," dramatized in the 1994 film Quiz Show. Today the students of Columbia College honor great teachers with the Mark Van Doren Award.

Scope and Contents

Correspondence and manuscripts of Van Doren, consisting of letters, poems, short stories, novels, plays, radio broadcast transcripts ("Invitation to Learning"), diaries, critical works, proofs, and printed works. Correspondents include Louise Bogan, Philip Booth, Babette Deutsch, Richard Eberhart, T.S. Eliot, John Gould Fletcher, Herbert Gorman, E.W. Howe, Robinson Jeffers, Archibald MacLeish, Louis MacNeice, Edgar Lee Masters, Lewis Mumford, Hyam Plutzik, Allen Tate, and Louis Zukovsky. Also, extensive correspondence with Robert Lax and Thomas Merton, as well as manuscripts by these two authors.