Research at the RBML | Ronnie Grinberg

Ronnie Grinberg returned to the RBML recently to use collections related to the New York Intellectuals for a forthcoming book titled, “Write Like a Man: Jewish Masculinity and the New York Intellectuals (Princeton University Press, to be published in early 2024).” Below, Professor Grinberg shares some finds and advice…


What brings you to Columbia’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library? 

I came in November 2022 to scout out photos for my book and tie up loose archival ends!

How long have you been using RBML materials (for this and/or previous research)?

I first visited the RBML for what became this project in 2008 or 2009. Back then, I was writing a dissertation on Jewish intellectuals and neoconservatism. Once I landed a job l decided that I did not want to write a book on the original neoconservatives (Norman Podhoretz, a student of Lionel Trilling’s) but the larger milieu from which they emerged: the New York intellectuals. As the project developed, I came to rely more on collections at the RBML and visited more often. I went to Barnard so anytime I can be back in Morningside Heights working at Butler makes me really happy. I’ll add that I first visited the RBML when writing my senior thesis.

What have you found? Did you come here knowing this material was here?

So much. The Lionel Trilling Papers and, especially, the Diana Trilling papers are incredibly rich. Diana wrote a lot of letters to friends, editors, and acquaintances full of observation, opinion, and gossip.

The finding aids are comprehensive. But until you look at the actual letters and manuscript drafts, you don’t entirely know what you are going to find.

What have you found that’s surprised or perplexed you?

The Archival Collection Portal allows you to search by name so I was able to find various collections that had materials written by or about the intellectuals I’m writing about it. One of the most surprising finds was material about some of their military service in the New Leader Papers.

What advice do you have for other researchers or students interested in using RBML’s special collections?

  1. Many of the archivists have been there for years. They are very knowledgeable. Be kind and respectful. And ask for help when needed.
  2. Check the rules and regulations. I visited many times before the COVID-19 pandemic, but rules obviously changed in response. Schedule your appointment in advance. Also, the online Archival Collection Portal is one of the best search engines/archival systems I’ve used. It’s a great tool to use from afar as well.