Radical Literature Collection

The Radical Literature Collection, housed in UMBC’s Special Collections, contains a variety of documents concerning various social and political movements and organizations, ranging from anarchism to Indigenous rights to global politics. Within the almost 1,000 items in the collection, researchers can browse flyers, illustrated pamphlets, cartoons, published speeches, and various other publications from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Radical Literature Collection provides us with a glimpse at the lives and concerns of those within radical parties and organizations and their image in society.

What makes literature "radical," and what kinds of documents can you find in the Radical Literature Collection?

In the context of this collection, "radical literature" refers to writings and works that challenge conventional norms and offer novel socio-political insights with an effort to inspire movements for social and political change. On this site, we focus on materials in the collection surrounding socialist and communist movements in the US and beyond. The collection features works of famous authors such as Friedrich Engels and Angela Davis, as well as many niche pieces from small, politically-affiliated publishers and both local and national political organizations.

What themes might you notice while browsing the Radical Literature Collection?

Browsing this collection, you will find writings on the following topics: working class solidarity, political education, education on the era’s social climate, the liberation and empowerment of historically marginalized and oppressed peoples, principles of politically radical ideologies, published speeches and talks by prominent leaders, calls to action, etc. 

Who were the documents written for?

One notable feature of the Radical Literature Collection is its variety. Some documents are reprints of important speeches and articles, likely targeting existing members of their respective organizations. Others are ‘advertisements’ for their parties — many documents in the collection address high schoolers and other ‘youth’ directly, in an attempt to persuade and perhaps mobilize younger audiences. Because of its variety in style and potential audience, the collection lends itself to a multitude of diverse audiences, as well as to a myriad of different types of research and study when viewed today.

Why look at the Radical Literature Collection, and how is it relevant to the contemporary world?

The Radical Literature Collection is an excellent resource for studying social and political movements and organizations, but its value reaches beyond the study of one or two communities. Through documents in the collection, researchers can learn about rhetoric, grassroots organization, graphic design, history, and much more — the collection is full of threads to unravel.