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Russel B. Nye papers

Identifier: UA-17.171

Scope and Contents

The papers have been arranged into three series: 1. General Academic Files. 2. Photography. 3. Ferris Institute, Big Rapids, Michigan/Ferris Centennial (1984).

Series 1: General Academic Files

Russel Nye’s academic files are a mix of journal articles, handwritten notes, drafts of articles and lectures, teaching materials, research materials, professional and personal correspondence and various pieces that inspired him in his work. They are alphabetically organized, and include intellectual topics, historical subjects, geographical locations, and names of authors, public figures, private friends and colleagues. Academic journals which contain a number of Nye's published articles are included in box 4072. His academic files on the topic of photography have been separately organized under Series 2: Photography.

Also included is a twenty-six page paper entitled “The Thirties: the Framework of Belief” which was written by Russel B. Nye and delivered in April, 1974 at the 20th Century Conference in American Literature. In the paper, Nye discusses the framework of belief and the structure of ideas of the 1930s and identifies four major concepts that acquired their final form during the decade. The concepts were the rediscovery of sin, the acceptance of relativism, the promise of plenty, the discovery of culture.

Series 2: Photography

In later years, Russel Nye started a wide-ranging project on photography which he never completed. This series contains all the research and preliminary materials, much of which Nye organized. He also collected many photographs, including a large selection of portraits, dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries; their names are sometimes noted, but most remain anonymous.

Arrangement of the paper records are based on Nye’s topic list and numbering system. His handwritten guide is located in box 4070, folder 7; it covers the files titled "Technology" through "History Talk." The remaining paper files contain photography-related materials organized alphabetically by subject. Nye had created an organizational list similar to that above, but the files were not arranged or identified according to the list. Nye’s list can be found under “Nye, Russel – Organizational list.”

Boxes 4074 and 4075 contain Nye’s collection of photographs and a camera.

Series 3: Ferris Institute, Big Rapids, Michigan/ Ferris Centennial (1984)

Russel Nye was a charter member of the Ferris Board of Control and served from 1950 to 1967. In honor of the school’s centennial in 1984, a project was proposed to Nye by Robert and Caryl Ferguson and the Ferris Inaugural Committee to write a history of the school’s transition from a local vocational school to a regional educational institute. Nye’s monograph entitled Ferris Comes of Age: The Years of Transition, 1946–1963 was published in 1983 by Ferris Institute. This series contains research, correspondence and drafts pertaining to the monograph, as well as other Nye papers closely related to Ferris Institute.


  • Creation: 1886 - 1984
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1940 - 1984


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to publish material from this collection must be obtained from University Archives & Historical Collections, Michigan State University.

Biographical Note

Russel Blaine Nye (1913–1993) was a distinguished professor of English at Michigan State University from 1940 to 1979, and a leading authority on American culture. Early in his career, in 1945, he won the Pulitzer Prize in biography for his first work, George Bancroft: Brahmin Rebel. A prolific author, Nye went on to write and edit over twenty books and scores of academic articles, book reviews and general audience pieces. Some of his books are Fettered Freedom: Civil Liberties and the Antislavery Controversy (1947), Midwestern Progressive Politics (1948), A History of the United States (1956), A Baker’s Dozen: American Historical Portraits (1957), Cultural Life of the New Nation (1960), The Unembarrassed Muse 1970, and Society and Culture in America 1830-69 (1974).

Nye was well known as a pioneer in the emerging field of popular culture studies. A cultural, literary, and political historian, he urged scholars to examine the origins, development, and significance of the popular arts in society. Nye was founder of the Popular Culture Association in 1971, and was the chief donor and advisor of Michigan State University Library’s Popular Culture Collection. Renamed the Russel B. Nye Popular Culture Collection in 1978, this nationally-recognized collection contains thousands of items from popular fiction genres, 19th century Sunday school books, the comic arts, popular information, and the popular performing arts.

Nye was born in Viola, Wisconsin on February 17, 1913. He received a bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College in 1934. The University of Wisconsin awarded him a master’s degree in 1935 and a doctorate in 1939. Nye joined the faculty of Michigan State College (now Michigan State University) in 1940 and was head of the English Department from 1946 to 1959. He was named distinguished professor of English in 1962 and retired in 1979. Nye was the recipient of numerous honors, including a Knopf Fellowship, a Rockefeller Fellowship, a Newberry Library Fellowship, a Distinguished Service Award from the Michigan Council for the Humanities, and several honorary degrees. At the time of his death in 1993, friend and colleague, Victor Howard told the MSU State News, “He was very distinguished, but at the same time unassuming ... he was the model of a good professor and a good citizen. Anyone could talk to him about anything. Everyone respected him.”


18.85 Cubic Feet

Language of Materials



Arranged into three series: 1. General Academic Files. 2. Photography. 3. Ferris Institute, Big Rapids, Michigan/Ferris Centennial (1984).

Legal Status

Copyright: Unknown.

Property Rights: Michigan State University.

Russel B. Nye Papers
4 Published And Cataloged
P. Hudson
October 1983
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the University Archives and Historical Collections Repository

Conrad Hall
943 Conrad Road, Room 101
East Lansing MI 48824 US