Henry Nash Smith

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Henry Nash Smith (September 29, 1906 – June 6, 1986) was a scholar of American culture and literature. He was co-founder of the academic discipline "American studies". He was also a noted Mark Twain scholar, and the curator of the Mark Twain Papers.


He taught at University of Minnesota,[1] University of Texas, Southern Methodist University, and University of California, Berkeley, from 1953 to 1960, becoming professor emeritus.[2]

His book Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth (1950) gave name to the Myth and Symbol School, which provided the paradigm of the American Studies until the 1980s. It was the first PhD thesis of the History of American Civilization course of the Harvard University, therefore its publication can be seen as the hour of birth of American studies. The book's topic was the collective perception of the American West of the 19th century. Smith used sources such as dime novels and other popular culture material.

In his essay Can American Studies Develop a Method? (American Quarterly 9, 1957: 197-208), to date frequently anthologized, Smith expressed influential objectives and methodology of the Myth and Symbol School.

He married Elinor Smith; they had children Harriet Elinor Smith, Janet Carol Smith, and Mayne Smith.[3] He died on June 6, 1986, following a car accident on May 30 near Elko, Nevada.



  • Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth, 1950 (reprint Vintage Books, 1957; Harvard University Press, 1970, ISBN 978-0-674-93955-4)
  • Mark Twain of the Enterprise, 1957
  • Mark Twain: the development of a writer Belknap Press, 1962
  • Mark Twain's fable of progress: political and economic ideas in "A Connecticut Yankee.", Rutgers University Press, 1964
  • Popular Culture and Industrialism 1865-1890, 1967
  • Democracy and the Novel, 1978.


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