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Nelson M. Blake Papers

An inventory of his papers at the Syracuse University Archives


Creator: Blake, Nelson Manfred, 1908-1996.
Title: Nelson M. Blake Papers
Dates: 1943-1994
Size: 1 box (1 linear foot)
Abstract: The Nelson M. Blake Papers contains writings and other materials related to his academic career, including correspondence with Syracuse University faculty, published articles, and lecture notes.
Language: English
Repository: University Archives,
Special Collections Research Center
Syracuse University Libraries
222 Waverly Ave., Suite 600
Syracuse, NY 13244-2010


Nelson M. BlakeNelson Manfred Blake (1908-1996) taught history at Syracuse University for 37 years while also authoring several books on American history and culture.

Blake was born on October 13, 1908 in Island Pond, Vermont, though he grew up in Gardner, Massachusetts. He received his first college degree, a Bachelor of Arts, from Dartmouth College in 1930, and he received a Master of Science degree the following year from Brown University. Immediately after obtaining his second degree, Blake returned home to Gardner to begin teaching history at the local high school. Though he loved teaching, his time as a high school teacher only lasted three years, after which he turned his attention to getting his Ph.D. at Clark University.

Shortly after completing his Ph.D., Blake was offered an instructor position at Syracuse University in 1936, beginning what would be a long teaching career in the history department. This was also an important time in his personal life, as he was married the following year to Elizabeth Cox. The couple had one son, James, who would also become a college professor.

By 1939, Blake had been promoted to assistant professor at Syracuse University. He was named associate professor in 1946 and finally full professor in 1950. In 1954, he was appointed chairperson of the history department for three years. He was succeeded in that position by Oscar Barck, a professor with whom he would collaborate in writing two books on American history.

Much of Blake's time at Syracuse University involved writing history books, articles, and reviews. The academic writing he did was not driven by professional obligations, he once said, but by the personal satisfaction it brought him. In 1956, he published his first book, Water for the Cities: A History of the Urban Water Supply Problem in the United States, which demonstrated his interest in writing about less explored topics in history. Often, it was social and cultural aspects of American history that captured his attention. He published multiple books in the 1960s, including works on the topics of divorce in the United States, American thought, and the use of American novels as historical sources.

Though he wrote frequently, Blake always held teaching as his most important and rewarding work. In 1971, his efforts in education were honored when he was named a Maxwell Distinguished Professor of History. When he retired in 1973, Syracuse University granted him the title of professor emeritus of history and held a special symposium in his honor. At the "Symposium Honoring Nelson Blake," two of his former students gave talks on issues in American culture in a fitting tribute.

Blake retired from Syracuse University after 37 years, having taught over 11,000 students and mentored countless among them. In retirement, he moved to Florida, where he died on November 23, 1996.

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Scope and Content Note

The Nelson M. Blake Papers contains materials dating from 1943 to 1994, and Blake's original arrangement of those materials has been preserved. The collection is divided into two series, Biographical Material and Writings.

The Biographical Material series includes Blake's résumé, papers related to his education, extensive Syracuse University correspondence, and special recognitions he received.

The Writings series includes correspondence, reviews, publicity, and notes for some of his published books, articles, lectures, book reviews, and manuscript critiques. Common topics in his writings include a historical perspective on water use in societies, the relationship between history and fiction, environmentalism and history, and divorce in the United States, among others. Many of the critiques included in this collection are relevant to Syracuse University, including a critique of a Chancellor Eggers' writing on Syracuse University's history and critiques written for Syracuse University Press from 1968 to 1986.

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Access Restrictions

Please note that the collection is housed off-site, and advance notice is required to allow time to have the materials brought to the Reading Room on campus.

Use Restrictions

Written permission must be obtained from University Archives,
Special Collections Research Center
Syracuse University Libraries and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

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Related Material

The Archives holds a clipping file and a portrait file of Nelson M. Blake.

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Selected Search Terms


Blake, Nelson Manfred, 1908-1996.
Syracuse University -- Faculty.
Syracuse University -- History.
Syracuse University.

Types of material

Writings (documents)

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Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Blake M. Nelson Papers,
University Archives,
Special Collections Research Center
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

The Nelson M. Blake Papers were donated to the Archives by Nelson Blake in 1994.

Processing Information

Items were placed in acid-free folders and stored in an acid-free box. Metal paper clips were removed and replaced with chemically inert plastic clips. Acidic newspaper clippings were replaced with photocopies.

Finding Aid Information

Created by: Kyle C. Wilson
Date: 2007
Revision history: Processed and converted to EAD by Sean Molinaro, 2013

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Items in this collection appear in the original order in which Nelson Blake arranged them. Blake's original folder titles were also preserved, with the exception of the first folder, "Résumé and miscellaneous biographical papers," which was edited for clarity.

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Biographical Material
Early Life and Education
Box 1 Résumé and miscellaneous biographical papers 1971-1986
Box 1 Relations with Dartmouth College 1980-1990
Box 1 Graduate work at Brown and Clark 1948, 1993-1994
Career at Syracuse University
Box 1 History Department 1949-1983
Box 1 Correspondence - Public officials and distinguished scholars 1942, 1979-1988
Box 1 Correspondence - Syracuse University officials 1946-1970
Box 1 Correspondence - History department members and former members 1968-1988
Box 1 Correspondence - Barck, Oscar T. 1963-1972
Box 1 Correspondence - Ketcham, Ralph 1974-1987
Box 1 Correspondence - Former students 1971-1987
Box 1 Correspondence - Johnson, James 1969-1994
Box 1 Correspondence - Regarding Kiefer, Charles 1980-1983
Box 1 Correspondence - Kinney, Sister Honora 1972-1981
Box 1 Correspondence - Lohof, Bruce 1974-1980
Box 1 Correspondence - Mabry, Donald 1971-1983
Box 1 Correspondence - Weston, Rubin 1970-1977
Special Recognitions
Box 1 Appointment as Distinguished Professor 1971
Box 1 Maxwell Symposium on Retirement 1973
Box 1 "Remember the Ladies" - Correspondence regarding book of essays honoring Blake 1972-1976
Box 1 Blake Seminar Room 1981-1983
Books - Correspondence, Reviews and Publicity
Box 1 Since 1900 - First edition 1945-1948
Box 1 Since 1900 - Later editions 1944-1988
Box 1 Road to Reno 1960-1974 (2 folders)
Box 1 Novelists' America 1967-1971
Box 1 Land into Water, Water into Land 1978-1986 (2 folders)
Box 1 A Lasting Spring 1981-1987
Box 1 "Eunice Against the Shakers" in New York History 1960, 1990
Box 1 "Water Supply and Conservation" in Dictionary of American History 1972
Box 1 "John James Audubon"; "The Everglades"; "Flood Control" in Encyclopedia of Southern Culture 1982-1989
Box 1 "Roosevelt and Venezuela", unpublished manuscript 1943
Box 1 "Don't Kiss the Baby", unpublished manuscript 1970
Box 1 "Fiction as History" 1963-1991
Box 1 "Niebuhr and History" 1963-1964
Box 1 "Instant History" 1974
Box 1 "Water in History" 1978
Box 1 "Threats to Environment" 1981
Box 1 "Exploring Environmental History" 1978-1982
Box 1 "Does South Florida Have Enough Water?" 1983
Box 1 "Water and the City: Lessons from History" 1989
Book Reviews
Box 1 Typescripts and off prints 1973-1986
Box 1 Four books reviewed for Journal of Forest History 1987-1988
Critiques of Manuscripts Submitted for Publication
Box 1 For Chancellor Eggers' "Syracuse University History" 1973
Box 1 For Encyclopedia of American Forest and Conservation History 1980
Box 1 For Technology and Culture 1993
Box 1 For Syracuse University Press 1968-1981
Box 1 For Syracuse University Press 1982-1984
Box 1 For Syracuse University Press 1985-1986
Box 1 For Syracuse University Press 1987-1988

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