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   Marshall Berman papers, 1940-2013

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Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Marshall Berman Papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

COinS Metadata available (e.g., for Zotero).

Summary Information

At a Glance

Call No.:MS#1764
Bib ID:11502773 View CLIO record
Creator(s):Berman, Marshall, 1940-2013
Title:Marshall Berman papers, 1940-2013
Physical description:47.5 linear feet (38 boxes)
Language(s):In English
Access: Material is underprocessed. This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least two business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. There are newspapers throughout the collection. Researchers should be warned to not unfold newspapers.  More information »

Arrangement

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Description

Scope and Content

The collection includes drafts of his work, professional and personal correspondence, emails (both digital and in hard copy), notebooks, dream journals, heavily annotated books, lecture notes, teaching materials, photographs and ephemera. Several RBML collections already contain correspondence with Berman. For scholars, this collection will provide important new insights into the thought and work of a leading late-20th-century New York City intellectual. An important segment of the Marshall Berman papers consists of digital materials connected with his more recent work as a writer, scholar, and teacher. The files are currently stored on his home computer.

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Using the Collection

Offsite

Access Restrictions

Material is underprocessed.

 This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least two business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.

There are newspapers throughout the collection. Researchers should be warned to not unfold newspapers.

Restrictions on Use

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Marshall Berman Papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

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About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries. Rare Book and Manuscript Library; machine readable finding aid created by Columbia University Libraries Digital Library Program Division

Processing Information

Collection-level record describing unprocessed material made public in summer 2018 as part of the Hidden Collections initiative.

Review and assessment of the collection was performed in October 2018 by Katia Shraga as part of Hidden Collections. Initially collection was housed in 42 record cartons. Some of them were half-full. Collection was compressed to 38 record cartons.

Detailed folder list created by Ben Serby, and encoded in 2019.

Machine readable finding aid generated from MARC-AMC source via XSLT conversion September 7, 2018 Finding aid written in English.
    2018-09-07 File created.
    2019-01-03 Student inventory encoded. kws

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Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.

Genre/Form

HeadingCUL Archives:
Portal
CUL Collections:
CLIO
Nat'l / Int'l Archives:
ArchiveGRID
CorrespondencePortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Personal papersPortalCLIOArchiveGRID

Subjects

HeadingCUL Archives:
Portal
CUL Collections:
CLIO
Nat'l / Int'l Archives:
ArchiveGRID
Berman, Marshall, 1940-2013PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
CommunismPortalCLIOArchiveGRID
PhilosophersPortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Political sciencePortalCLIOArchiveGRID

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History / Biographical Note

Biographical Note

Marshall Berman (1940-2013) was a New York City-based academic whose writings cover a wide range of subjects that includes political theory, literary criticism, and urban studies. Berman grew up in the South Bronx, attending the Bronx High School of Science before studying at Columbia University. As an undergraduate, he was strongly influenced by several prominent faculty members, such as Jacob Taubes (Religion) and Lionel Trilling (English). Upon graduating from Columbia in 1961, Berman pursued a Bachelor of Letters at St. Antony’s College, Oxford, under the tutelage of the political philosopher Isaiah Berlin. His 1963 thesis, “Marx on Individuality and Freedom,” touched on many of the central themes and questions of his later writings. While living in England, Berman met G.A. “Jerry” Cohen, another of Berlin’s North American students. Cohen would later go on to become a leading proponent of “Analytical Marxism,” and he and Berman would remain close friends until his death in 2009. From 1963 until 1968, Berman was a doctoral student in the Government department at Harvard University, where he studied under the émigré political theorist Judith Shklar. His dissertation, The Politics of Authenticity: Radical Individualism and Modern Society , explored the problem of modern subjectivity in the writings of Montesquieu and Jean-Jacques Rousseau from a perspective that reflected the influence of the New Left and the youth counterculture. It was published as a book in 1970, receiving critical acclaim but not commercial success.

From 1969 until his death in 2013, Berman taught political philosophy at the City College of New York, a public institution in Harlem with a largely working class student body. Beginning in the 1970s, Berman also regularly contributed articles and book reviews to a wide array of publications, including The New York Times Book Review, Dissent (where he later served as an editor), Partisan Review, The Village Voice, and The Nation. One of his most important essays, “Sympathy for the Devil: Faust, the ‘60s, and the Tragedy of Development,” appeared in American Review in 1974. That piece of writing anticipated the first section of Berman’s 1982 magnum opus, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experience of Modernity , which remains his most widely read and highly regarded book. An unusual combination of personal reflection, literary analysis, and social commentary, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experience of Modernity is an engaging interpretation of the modern condition and a stirring affirmation of the human spirit. The book garnered a favorable critical reception, but it was not until unexpectedly large numbers of readers in the developing world – especially in Brazil, Mexico, Turkey, and Iran – became avid fans several years after publication that All That Is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experience of Modernity reached a mass audience. In 1988, Penguin published a new edition, and today the book continues to be a staple in courses on modernism, urban design, architecture, and literary criticism.

Among the most famous passages in All That Is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experience of Modernity are those that concern the transformation of the built environment in New York City under the notorious city planner Robert Moses. In his concluding personal reflections, Berman discussed the destructive effect that construction of the Cross-Bronx Expressway in particular had on the Bronx neighborhood where he spent his childhood. Berman’s interest in the relationship between urban planning and lived experience, especially in New York City, shaped much of his later career. During the 1980s, he wrote several important articles about gentrification on Manhattan’s Lower East Side for The Village Voice. In the 1990s, he served as a consultant on Ric Burns’ 8-part film, New York: A Documentary Film . His 1999 essay, “Views from the Burning Bridge,” for a Bronx Museum exhibition catalogue, again looked at the legacy of Robert Moses. In 2006, he published On the Town: One Hundred Years of Spectacle in Times Square , a book in which he celebrated the popular culture of the city as an expression of “modernism in the streets.” The following year, together with writer and photographer Brian Berger, he edited a volume of essays under the title New York Calling: From Blackout to Bloomberg.

Berman traveled widely in Latin America (especially Brazil), the United States, and Western Europe in the last three decades of his life, putting in appearances at dozens of conferences, often as the keynote speaker. Even as he continued to serve as an editor at the left-liberal political journal Dissent and teach in the political science department at City College, his work gained its largest audience among scholars of urban design, planning, and architecture. As a result, by the late 1980s many of his articles were published in journals such as Designer and Builder, Harvard Design Magazine, Places: A Quarterly Journal of Environmental Design, and Architectural Design. But the range of interests and projects that drew Berman’s attention continued to grow: in the 1980s, he contributed rock music criticism to the Village Voice, and in the 1990s, he became an unlikely enthusiast of hip-hop. A 1994 lecture at Oxford University, entitled “Justice/Just Us: Rap and Social Justice in America,” points to the many-faceted nature of his intellect. Meanwhile, Berman also continued to write about political theory, focusing especially on the same subjects that had been at the center of his earliest published writings: social theory, modern subjectivity, and Marxism. In 1999, Verso published a collection of his essays, entitled Adventures in Marxism, which – true to form – combined memoir with literary analysis and erudite philosophical commentary. In 2010, Berman wrote an introduction to the revised Penguin edition of The Communist Manifesto. At the time of his death, in 2013, Berman was at work on a book about democracy and urban life in ancient Greece.

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