Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Society of American Historians records, 1879-1976, bulk 1939-1976

Summary Information


This collection contains the early records of the Society of American Historians (SAH). The bulk of the material relates to the founding of the magazine American Heritage in 1954, and the establishment of the Francis Parkman and the Allan Nevins Prizes, awarded by the SAH since 1957 and 1961, respectively. Also present is a small amount of research material collected by Allan Nevins, Columbia University history professor and one of the founders of the SAH.

At a Glance

Call No.: MS#1420
Bib ID 6915231 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Society of American Historians
Title Society of American Historians records, 1879-1976, bulk 1939-1976
Physical Description 10 linear feet (24 document boxes)
Language(s) English .

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

This collection has no restrictions.



This collection is arranged in seven series.



The Society of American Historians Records include material from the first four decades of the SAH. Available in this collection are administrative records such as minutes and membership lists, financial records, correspondence, printed materials, and photographs. The bulk of the collection concerns the founding of the magazine American Heritage in 1954. Included are minutes, correspondence, fundraising letters, and promotional materials. Aside from the letters among SAH members that discuss the scope of the magazine, fundraising letters comprise the bulk of the correspondence. Material related to the annual Francis Parkman and the Allan Nevins Prizes also comprises a large part of the collection. Correspondence with history departments regarding submissions for the awards, and with publishers makes up the bulk of the prize material, but guest lists, photos and documents relating to the annual awards dinner are also present. The collection includes a small amount of Allan Nevins' research material. The research notes and documents concern Nevins' books about the John D. Rockefeller and the Rockefeller family.

  • Series I: Administrative Records, 1939-1975

    This series includes charters of the SAH, and minutes from annual meetings and council meetings. The minutes are arranged chronologically. Also included are membership lists, correspondence and inquiries regarding membership.

  • Series II: Correspondence, 1939-1975

    Correspondence among SAH members regarding the general business of the SAH can be found here. The series also includes inquiries from the public regarding the activities of the SAH. Correspondence related to the magazine project was filed separately by the SAH and can be found in Series III: Magazine Project.

  • Series III: Magazine Project, 1941-1959

    This series consists of materials related to the founding of the American Heritage magazine. The bulk of the material dates from the late 1940s to the mid-1950s. Included are minutes from magazine committees, correspondence and memorandum among the SAH members. This series also contains numerous fundraising letters sent to various individuals and organizations. Lists and clippings regarding prospective donors, and progress reports sent to the contributors can also be found here. Letters to and from Courtland Canby, who was in charge of the financial campaign, comprise the bulk of the correspondence, which is arranged alphabetically.

    This series also contains materials relating to a 1951-1952 survey on the use of history in the mass media. The SAH presented its findings at a conference in 1952, and along with papers and speeches, research materials such as clippings, articles, and questionnaires are available. Correspondence with the Rockefeller Foundation, which funded the survey, is here as well.

    Advertisements, pamphlets, prospectuses and other promotional material are included in this series.

  • Series IV: History Agency, 1952-1953

    This series contains materials related to the History Agency, an organization that from 1952-1953 attempted to connect professional historians with members of the media in need of history services. In addition to correspondence and prospectuses, the series contains radio scripts that the agency prepared for the National Broadcasting Company's series, Omnibus, in 1953.

  • Series V: Awards and Special Occasions, 1944-1976

    Correspondence, printed material and photographs related to awards and ceremonies constitute this series. The bulk of the material relates to the annual Allan Nevins Prize and the Francis Parkman Prize, and includes, primarily, submission letters from history departments and from publishers. Correspondence regarding the founding of the prizes, guest lists, photos, and reprints of speeches can also be found here.

  • Series VI: Financial Records, 1941-1974

    This series contains annual financial statements and tax records. Financial records relating to the magazine project can be found both in this series and in Series III: Magazine Project.

  • Series VII: Allan Nevins--Personal Research Files, 1879-1886, undated

    A small collection of Allen Nevins' research files, which include original documents, a box of index cards and handwritten research notes on the Rockefellers, make up this series.

Using the Collection

Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Restrictions on Access

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

This collection has no restrictions.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

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); Society of American Historians records; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.


No additional material is expected

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Processing Information

Papers processed Yuki Oda (GSAS 2013) 2010.

Finding Aid written Yuki Oda (GSAS 2013) 08/--/2010.

Revision Description

2010-09-16 xml document instance created by Carrie Hintz

2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.

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.


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
American Heritage Publishing Company Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Baxter, James Phinney, 1893-1975 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Canby, Courtlandt Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Columbia University -- Faculty Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Freeman, Douglas Southall, 1886-1953 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Garraty, John A (John Arthur), 1920-2007 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Goldman, Eric Frederick, 1915-1989 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Historians -- United States Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Historians -- United States -- Correspondence Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
National Broadcasting Company Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Nevins, Allan, 1890-1971 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Parkman, Francis, 1823-1893 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Rockefeller Foundation Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Tuchman, Barbara W (Barbara Wertheim), 1912-1989 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note

Biographical / Historical

The Society of American Historians (SAH) was founded in 1939 by Allan Nevins (1890-1971) and several other historians for the purpose of promoting literary distinction in the writing of history and biography.

Until the mid-1950s, the principal aim of the SAH was in launching a history magazine that could appeal to a wide audience beyond the academic community. Nevins, a history professor at Columbia University and a two-time Pulitzer winner, initially proposed the idea of publishing a popular magazine of history to the American Historial Association (AHA). The AHA declined this proposal, however, which induced Nevins to establish the SAH in 1939 to undertake the publishing project. It took the SAH fifteen years to realize the idea, and over the years tentative titles for the publication included History, Horizons, Living History, and Milestones. In 1954, in cooperation with the American Association for State and Local History, the magazine finally came into being as the American Heritage.

For a brief period from 1952 to 1953, the SAH also ran the History Agency, an organization with the goal of providing the media with the services of professional historians. Although the History Agency was short-lived, one of its products was a collection of scripts for the 1953 radio series Omnibus, which was aired by the National Broadcasting Company.

Since the mid-1950s, the SAH's main focus has been in awarding prizes to promote historical writing with an American theme. In 1957, in order to stimulate the writing of history as literature, the SAH established the annual Francis Parkman Prize to honor the best nonfiction book of the year. The first Parkman Prize was awarded to George F. Kennan, Russia Leaves the War (Princeton University Press). Since 1960, the SAH has also awarded the Allan Nevins Prize, annually, for the best-written doctoral dissertation in history. Most of the winning dissertations have subsequently been published.

Presidents of the SAH have included Douglas Southall Freeman (1939-1944), James P. Baxter III (1944-1946), Allan Nevins (1946-1961), Eric F. Goldman (1961-1969), John A. Garraty (1969-1971) and Barbara Tuchman (1971-1975). After several revisions to its policy, the SAH limited its membership, in the the late 1960s, to invitation only.