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Ralph Cohen papers and "New Literary History" records

Identifier: RG-24/54/1.151

Content Description

This collection contains the teaching, research, and personal papers of Ralph Cohen, the William R. Kenan, Jr. professor of English from the University of Virginia from 1948-2016; and the records of the "New Literary History", an international, interdisciplinary, award-winning journal that Cohen founded and edited from 1969 to 2009 at the University of Virginia. The records of the New Literary History Journal (1969-2016) (Series 1) contain correspondence, contributors' articles, proofs, financial information, audiocassettes of prominent scholars (of literary theory in the 1990's), computer disks with contributor's articles (1998-2006), and information from the Commonwealth Center of Literary and Cultural Change (1988-1995). The Center was founded and directed by Ralph Cohen at the University of Virginia and is represented in a quarterly issue of the New Literary History Journal (starting with Volume 20 in 1990). Some of the correspondence and articles from contributors are not included for some issues. (See Arrangement for details). The last issue of correspondence and articles represented in the paper collection is Volume 28 (1997).

Both the highly regarded New Literary History Journal and the Commonwealth Center for Literary and Cultural Change reflect Cohen's belief that there is a need to understand multiple disciplines when evaluating literature and human nature. He also felt that it is necessary to nurture a genuine respect for different perspectives of other individuals as a pathway to becoming a better society. Each issue of the New Literary History Journal selects a theme and invites authors to create opposing dialogues. As a strong promoter of multiculturalism and feminism, he included authors from the non-western world, and men and women with varying points of view and different backgrounds. Frequent authors/contributors are George Garrett, Joyce A. Joyce, Ihab Hassan, Toril Moi, Xiaoying Wang, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., David Bleich, Hayden White, Paul Ricoeur, Helene Cixous, William K. Winsat, Robert Weimann, Jonathan Culler, Martha Nussbaum, E. D. Hirsch, Jr., Gerald Graff, Murray Krieger, Michael Riffaterre, Barbara Hernstein Smith, Fredric Jameson, Jerome McGann, Wolfgang Iser, Jean Starobinski, Northrup Frye, Geoffrey Hartman, Wolf Lupenies, Eddie Tomarken, Rene Welleck, Marshall McCluhan, Tzvetan Todorov, Terry Eagleton, Brian Stock, Catharine R. Stimpson, Frances Ferguson, Rita Felski, Rey Chow, Cora Diamond, Michael Prince, Winfried Fluck, Sandra Gilbert, Gary Saul Morson, Katherine Neeley, Stanley Fish, James M. Holquist, Keith Moxey, Richard Rorty, Walter Sokel, and many others.

In Series 2 the Ralph Cophen papers reflect his teaching and lecturing from the years 1948 to 2011 on Eighteenth-Century literature and literary theory such as correspondence, lecture notes, class materials, articles, conferences, manuscripts, and printed journals. The content in this part of the collection spans Ancient and Medieval Literature ("The Greats"), English and Continental Literature 1660-1770, English and Continental Literature 1770 to 1900, British Literature, American 19th and 20th Century Literature and literary history, literary change, literary criticism, aesthetics, psychology, and genre. These materials cover a complete and impressive range of literary authors and their works throughout the history of literature including the Bible, ballads and medieval manuscripts, Chaucer, Homer, Virgil, Pope, Donne, Blake, Hume, Thomson, Dryden, Milton, Machiavelli, Dante, Shakespeare, Goldsmith, Austen, Cather, T.S. Eliot, George Elliot, Ellen Glasgow, Emily Dickenson, the Romantics, the Nature Poets, Swift, Olaudah Equiano, James, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Woolf, and many more. These lecture notes reveal the scope and wealth of Ralph Cohen's vast knowledge of literature and offer an opportunity for others to continue learning through his papers.

Of interest are papers written by Ralph Cohen when he was a young college student, and which are included with the papers written by his students on similar subjects. There are also drafts of articles by Ralph Cohen outlining his plans for the New Literary History, and interviews with Ralph Cohen about his teaching. As an editor, Ralph Cohen sought to publish the work of his colleagues, but this collection has some of his original drafts of articles on literary theory. (Series 2: Box 85 and 86)

The collection also includes the personal papers of Ralph Cohen's family including his wife, Libby Okun Cohen and their two children, Ruth Cohen Morris, and David Morris. The Cohen's daughter was married to David B. Morris who co-taught some classes with Ralph Cohen. There are mementos and readings documenting many of the family Seder (Pesach Haggadah). Libby Cohens' papers show her love of learning; her work in an intergenerational project (L'Dor V'Dor) with students and older generations; a Holocaust Oral History project, independent research in genealogy, and her career as an outstanding librarian.


  • Creation: 1948-2016


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for use except for restricted materials due to FERPA Boxes 138-150.

Conditions Governing Use

This collection is open for use except for restricted materials due to FERPA Boxes 138-150.

Biographical / Historical

Ralph Cohen (1917-2016) served as the William J. Kenan, Jr. professor of English (and professor emeritus) at the University of Virginia for an impressive 42 years (1967-2009). Born to Polish immigrant parents in Paterson, New Jersey on February 23, 1917, Cohen became one of the most eminent critical thinkers and educators of Twentieth Century America with a career that spanned more than 60 years. (He also taught at the City College of New York (1947-1950), the University of California Los Angeles (1950-1967), and James Madison University (2010-2013). His focus was on 18th-Century British literature, and he was a pioneer in the field of literary theory. He founded and edited the "New Literary History Journal", which was the first journal of its kind to combine the study of literature with other disciplines. It won more than six awards from the Council of Editors of Learned Journals for its special issues, a unique honor among scholarly journals. Cohen sought out different points of view from contributors across the globe to create more diverse dialogue in the journal. His extraordinary ability to promote and account for diverse positions on theory at professional conferences was legendary. He also founded and directed the Commonwealth Center for Literary and Cultural Change at the University of Virginia (1988-1995). The Center was set up by the Virginia Council of Higher Education to study the concept of change in individuals, and institutions in the arts, humanities, sciences, and social sciences. It also viewed the changes that develop in cultural, social, and political situations in African, Asian, and other non-western societies. The "New Literary History" Journal published articles and activities of the Center. In 2010 Cohen became the Provost's Distinguished Professor at James Madison University where he taught courses on Writing, Rhetoric, and Technical Communication. Cohen's innovative concept of technology led to the establishment of the Cohen Center for the Study of Technological Humanism at James Madison University. His celebrated transactive classroom strategies frequently attracted colleagues and devoted students to his courses. He taught and mentored many generations of students, preparing them for lives and careers as teachers and scholars. He maintained contact with many of his students and made recommendations supporting their teaching, fellowships, and tenure positions throughout their careers. Cohen was a dedicated teacher who examined the changing concepts and styles found in literature and other disciplines of study. Cohen led his students towards deeper insights into understanding cultural changes for society and increased awareness of their perceptions in professional and daily life. Cohen was the editor and author of many articles and books including, "The Art of Discrimination" (1964), "The Essential David Hume" (1965), "The Unfolding of 'The Season" (1970),"New Directions in Literary History" (1974), "Studies in Eighteenth-Century British Art and Aesthetics" (1985), "The Future of Literary Theory" (1989), "Studies in Historical Change" (1992), "History and...: Histories Within the Human Sciences" (1995), and "Literature and History". He was well respected as an author and was best known for promoting the work of his colleagues through editing and publishing their articles.

He was married to Libby Okun Cohen for more than 70 years. She was born in St. Petersburg, Russia on July 11, 1913. Due to persecution, her family emigrated to Vilna (now Vilnius) early in her life. She was a frequent companion in Ralph's classes and at his speaking engagements around the world, intent both on supporting her husband and continuing her own education. She co-wrote the index of Volumes I-X for the "New Literary History". She was a librarian at California State College Northridge and created the library at the Tandem Friends School where she was the librarian from 1970 to 1986. Under her inspired and challenging guidance, the multifaceted library generated unprecedented dialogue and quickly became known as "Tandem's Cultural Center. The Tandem library honored her by naming it the Libby O. Cohen Library. She also helped build the multicultural library at the University's Sundberg International Center. She spoke many languages and partnered with her husband as a promoter of education and multiculturalism. James Madison University established the Libby Okun Cohen Chair in technological humanism while her husband was teaching there. She was also an author of children stories, an independent genealogy researcher, a project coordinator for an oral history project that interviewed survivors from Nazi Germany, and an intergenerational program L’Dor V’Dor for young students to learn and share in the lives of older individuals. Ralph and Libby Cohen had two children, Ruth Cohen Morris, and David Cohen who were both born during World War II. Ruth Morris followed in her mother's footsteps by completing a doctorate in Information and Library Science at the University of Michigan, thereby initiating her career as a distinguished librarian. She was married to David B. Morris who co-taught some courses with Ralph Cohen. Libby Cohen died at age 99 in 2013. Ralph Cohen also died at age 99 in 2016.

Sources: Ralph Cohen, “Notes for a History” (from within the collection) Video interview:


75 Cubic Feet (This collection contains 150 document boxes, over 100 computer disks, 686 audio-cassettes, articles, lectures, class materials, newspaper clippings, photographs, albums, certificates, and seven oversize folders of certificates and photographs)

Language of Materials



The Ralph Cohen papers, and New Literary History records (1948-2016) are arranged into three series. Series 1. New Literary History Records (1969-2006) Boxes 1-42. Series 2. Ralph Cohen papers (1948-2015) Boxes 43-130 and Restricted (grades and recommendations) Boxes 138-150. Series 3. Cohen Family Papers (1964-2016) Boxes 131-137. Each series also has subseries.

Series 1, Subseries 1: Ralph Cohen's New Literary History correspondence as an editor and founder of the New Literary History Journal. It includes correspondence with the contributors (scholarly critics) along with their articles for publication. This makes up a substantial part of Series 1. (1969-1997) Boxes 3-33. There is also Ralph Cohen correspondence with other editors from 1984 to 1994 Boxes 1-3. Included is Ralph Cohen's teaching correspondence with his colleagues and students. The teaching correspondence for the same time is also in Series 2. (It was not combined because the original order kept them separate.)

Series 1, Subseries 2: Ralph Cohen articles about planning the New Literary History Journal, and other print and manuscripts related to the Journal. (1975-2004) Boxes 33-34.

Series 1, Subseries 3: 686 audio cassette recordings of some of the contributors who were prominent scholars on literary theory in the 1990's. (List available upon request)

Series 1, Subseries 4 contains over 100 computer files with articles from contributors and prominent scholars of literary theory for the Journal from 1998-2006. (List available upon request)

Series 1, Subseries 5: financial records of the New Literary History Journal. (1969-1986) Boxes 34-37.

Series 1, Subseries 6: papers of the Commonwealth Center for Literary and Cultural Change. (1988-1992) Boxes 37-42. (There are no articles or correspondence representing the following issues: Volumes 1-III, Volume IV, Number 1, Volume VIII, Volume IX, Volume X, Volume XV, Volume XVI Number 1, and Number 2, Volume 23, Volume 24 Number 1 and Number 2, Volume 25, and Volume 27. The last issue represented in the paper collection is Volume 28(1997). The Journal issues change to cardinal numbers after Volume 19 and the Journal becomes quarterly after Volume 20 in 1990 so that the papers from the Commonwealth Center for Literary and Cultural Change could be included.

Series 2 Ralph Cohen papers contain Ralph Cohen's work as a teacher and leader in Eighteenth-Century English Literature and Literary Theory. (1948-2015)Boxes 49-130; Boxes 138-150 (restricted).

Series 2, Subseries 1: correspondence which is like the Ralph Cohen teaching correspondence in Series 1. There is also correspondence related to many of the organizations that were part of his work. (1971-2015) Boxes 43-49

Series 2, Subseries 2: Classes and Research is a significant part of Series 2 which contains class lecture notes, class materials, readings, conferences, printed articles and journals, manuscripts, and bibliographic research (on index cards). The term research mostly refers to the notes that he made for his lectures or the actual lectures. This subseries is organized loosely by periods in English Literature (Ancient and Medieval Literature "The Greats", English and Continental Literature 1660-1770, English and Continental Literature 1770-1900, British Literature, American Literature 19th and 20th Century, then by literary history, literary change, literary theory, aesthetics, psychology, and genre. Some of the class information and content may repeat throughout this series because many courses share similar authors and content. Classes that Dr. Cohen taught in the 1950's can be found in the same folders with the classes that he taught in 2000 since he arranged them by class subject matter. Much of the material is not dated. Included within his course materials are papers that he wrote on similar subjects when he was a student at New York Teachers College in 1948 through 1950. (1948-2011) Boxes 49-130

Series 2, Subseries 3: restricted materials (due to FERPA) such as fellowships, grades, recommendations, and dissertation information. (1972-2013)Boxes 138-150. (Restricted items are mostly arranged by alphabetically or chronologically but they do not follow a consistent pattern in the original order)

Series 3: Family papers of Ralph Cohen. Subseries 1 contains Ralph Cohen's personal papers (1964-2016) Boxes 131-132. Subseries 2. Libby Okun Cohen (and family papers) contain materials related to Libby Cohen, as a genealogist, researcher, and award-winning librarian. (1964-2002 and undated) Boxes 133-137.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

This collection was an archival transfer from the University of Virginia English Dept. and the Office of New Literary History to the Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia Library on June 17, 2015.

Condition Description


Ralph Cohen papers and New Literary History Journal records
Ellen Welch
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library Repository

Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library
P.O. Box 400110
University of Virginia
Charlottesville Virginia 22904-4110 United States