100 Texts: Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth (1950) by Henry Nash Smith

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, University of Texas, Southern Methodist University, and University of California, Berkeley, from 1953 to 1960, becoming professor emeritus.

A decade after he moved to Berkeley in 1953, Smith got immersed in a series of successive and related political actions, among which were the Free Speech movement, the anti-war protests and other protest movements. Smith participated actively in some of these movements.

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 at Harvard University; therefore its publication can be seen as the hour of birth for 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), Smith expressed influential objectives and methodology of the Myth and Symbol School.

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.
Further reading
John William Ward 1955. Andrew Jackson, Symbol for an Age. New York: Oxford University Press.
John William Ward. 1969 Red, White, and Blue: Men, Books, and Ideas in American Culture . New York: Oxford University Press.

Marx, Leo (1964). The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America. New York: Oxford University Press.

Marx, Leo (1989). The Pilot and the Passenger: Essays on Literature, Technology, and Culture in the United States. New York: Oxford University Press

Ward, David C. 2004 Charles Willson Peale: Art and Selfhood in the Early Republic Berkley, California : University of California Press (John William Ward son’s book, who went on to become Senior Historian at the National Portrait Gallery)

Lewis, R. W. B. 1955. The American Adam; Innocence, Tragedy, and Tradition in the Nineteenth Century. [Chicago]: University of Chicago Press.

Matthiessen, F. O. 1949. American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman. Harvard, Boston

Meyers, Marvin 1957 The Jacksonian Persuasion: Politics and Belief Stanford Press, California

Hofstadter, Richard. 1955. The Age of Reform: from Bryan to F.D.R.