Commentary magazine has donated its archive to the Harry Ransom Center, a humanities research library and museum at The University of Texas at Austin.
Founded in November 1945, just months after World War II, Commentary magazine was established to reconnect assimilated American Jews and Jewish intellectuals with the broader Jewish community and to bring the ideas of young Jewish intellectuals to a wider audience.
According to historian Richard Pells, professor emeritus at The University of Texas at Austin, “no other journal of the past half century has been so consistently influential, or so central to the major debates that have transformed the political and intellectual life of the United States.”
Throughout its history, Commentary has published significant articles on historical, political, cultural and theological issues in addition to fiction and memoirs. The magazine has a reputation for featuring many of the leading intellectual and cultural figures of the time.
Spanning from 1945 to 1995, the archive consists mainly of editorial correspondence, galleys and other records. The collection contains correspondence with a number of writers whose archives reside at the Ransom Center, including Norman Mailer, Bernard Malamud and Isaac Bashevis Singer, in addition to correspondence with S. Y. Agnon, Hannah Arendt, James Baldwin, Saul Bellow, William F. Buckley, George W. Bush, Henry Kissinger, George Orwell, Amos Oz, Philip Roth, Elie Wiesel, Tom Wolfe and A. B. Yehoshua.
Also included are galleys of articles by Isaac Babel, Pearl S. Buck, Thomas Mann, Orwell and Jean-Paul Sartre.
Commentary was established as a non-partisan, scholarly journal. When Norman Podhoretz became editor in 1960, he initially moved Commentary’s ideology to the left. In his 1999 book “Ex-Friends: Falling Out with Allen Ginsberg, Lionel and Diana Trilling, Lillian Hellman, Hannah Arendt, and Norman Mailer,” Podhoretz wrote that he accepted editorship of Commentary with the understanding that he would “change it from a Jewish magazine that carried a certain amount of general material to a general magazine that carried a certain amount of Jewish material.”
Following the emergence of the New Left in the 1960s and 1970s, Podhoretz and the magazine’s readership shifted right politically. By 1976, Commentary became one of the leading voices of neoconservatism.
“The early decades of Commentary, especially its first 25 years, should prove to be an invaluable resource for the social and intellectual history of the postwar years and the gradual assimilation of Jews into the mainstream of American life,” said Morris Dickstein, Distinguished Professor of English at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and senior fellow of the Center for the Humanities.
The Commentary archive enhances collections of Jewish-American writers at the Ransom Center, joining the archives of Mailer, Malamud, David Mamet, Singer, Leon Uris and other collections related to Jewish studies.
The Albert and Ethel Herzstein Charitable Foundation made a generous donation to support the cataloging of the Commentary magazine archive.
“The Ransom Center — the stellar repository of manuscripts, archives and works-in-progress by renowned authors — was brought to the attention of the Albert and Ethel Herzstein Charitable Foundation in recent years,” said Nathan Topek, Chair of the Albert and Ethel Herzstein Charitable Foundation. “We have been pleased to assist the Center with meaningful acquisitions and conservation in accord with the intent of the founders of the Herzstein Foundation and which honor their memory.”
The materials will be accessible once processed and cataloged. High-resolution press images are available.