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Marcus Cunliffe papers

Identifier: MS0125-UA

Collection Scope and Content

The Marcus Cunliffe Papers consists of 103 boxes, or 53.0 linear feet of materials. It consists of twelve series, and contains diaries, correspondence, research notes, articles, chapters from books, syllabi, exam questions, news clippings, correspondence, original military ballads, illustrations, and photographs. These materials range in date from 1936-90 (bulk 1960-90).

The collection is strong in documenting Cunliffe’s career as a scholar. His diaries are of the greatest value, and especially insightful in revealing Cunliffe’s observations of English and U.S. history and culture in his lifetime. Another strength of the collection are research notes and correspondence which chronicle the work he did on a number of book projects.


  • 1960-1990


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Some material may be copyrighted or restricted. It is the patron's obligation to determine and satisfy copyright or other case restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in the collections.

Biographical Note

Marcus Falkner Cunliffe (5 July 1922-2 September 1990) was born in Lancashire, England and spent his life studying the history of the United States. Professor Cunliffe was a distinguished historian and expert on George Washington. His seminal book "George Washington: Man and Monument," was first published in 1958. Professor Cunliffe served on the faculty of The George Washington University as University Professor from 1980 to his death in 1990.

As a young man growing up in England, Cunliffe was introduced to America through such writers as James Thurber, Stephen Crane, Ezra Pound, and e.e. cummings. He listened to the voice of Franklin D. Roosevelt and watched American films featuring Greta Garbo, Jean Harlow, and Joan Crawford. Professor Cunliffe read history at Oriel College, Oxford, and earned an M.A. and a B.Litt. from Oxford University. After serving in the British Army during World War II, he was a Commonwealth Fellow at Yale University from 1947-1949. With the opportunity to live in the United States, Cunliffe went there after the war, as he put it, in "complacent ignorance." When he left two years later, he carried with him a wealth of experiences of American culture gleaned from his travels throughout the country.

Upon his return to England, Cunliffe embarked on an impressive academic career. From 1949 to 1964, he was successively Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, and Professor at the University of Manchester, teaching in the areas of American history and institutions. From 1965 to 1980, he was Professor of American Studies at the University of Sussex (which established the Cunliffe Centre in 1991). In 1980 he moved to the U.S. to accept an appointment as University Professor at George Washington University, a rank created by the GW Board of Trustees to attract scholars of distinguished reputation who have made significant contributions beyond a single discipline.

Over the years, Professor Cunliffe held visiting professorships at Harvard University (1959-60), City University of New York (1970), the University of Michigan (1973), and the University of California-Berkeley (1976). In 1978, he was Lamar Lecturer at Mercer University in Georgia. During his career Cunliffe lectured extensively in the U.S., Canada, and Europe, as well as Japan, India, Nepal, Lebanon, Turkey, and Kenya, et al. His fellowships included periods at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (1977-78) and at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in Stanford, California (1959-60). The author or editor of more than 15 books on history and literature, his seminal work was "George Washington: Man and Monument," published in 1958. Other books included "The Literature of the United States"; "The Nation Takes Shape, 1789-1837"; "Soldiers and Soldiers: The Martial Spirit in America, 1775-1865"; and "Chattel Slavery and Wage Slavery: The Anglo-American Context, 1830-1860."

Cunliffe also contributed numerous articles and reviews published in periodicals such as American Historical Review, American Quarterly, Commentary, Encounter, History Today, Journal of American Studies, Manchester Guardian, New Republic, New York Times Book Review, London Times Literary Supplement, and the Washington Post.

Marcus Cunliffe was remembered by a friend as a historian who enjoyed comparing how Europeans viewed Americans and how Americans viewed Europeans. Cunliffe examined the ways societies construct values for themselves and images of themselves, and was a scholar of the first order, who, in "everything he wrote was guided by a code of grace and readability that was a deep expression of his engaging personality."

Marcus Cunliffe died of leukemia in Washington, D.C., September 2, 1990.

N.B. This history note was written in 2005


53 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



Contains diaries, correspondence, research notes, articles, chapters from books, syllabi, exam questions, news clippings, correspondence, original military ballads, illustrations, and photographs range in date from 1936-1990 (bulk 1960-1990) documenting Cunliffe’s career as a scholar of American history.

Collection Organization

Organized in twelve series: Diaries and Personal Papers, Correspondence, Conferences, Lectures, Seminars, Symposia, Professional Writing and Consulting Work, Cunliffe's Book Projects: Notes, Correspondence, Contracts, Research Notes/Articles, University Teaching Career, Pamphlets papers, and Reprints, Illustrations and Photographs, Oversize Materials, Books Written and Edited by Marcus Cunliffe, Miscellaneous Materials

Acquisition Information

The papers were donated to the Gelman Library University Archives in 1990 by Cunliffe’s widow, Dr. Phyllis Palmer.

Guide to the Marcus Cunliffe papers, 1960-1990
University Archives, Special Collections Research Center, The George Washington University
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 Special Collections Research Center, The George Washington University Repository

2130 H Street NW
Washington 20052 United States of America