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The University of Texas at Austin


Briscoe Center Acquires Alexander Cockburn Papers
Archive of Polemicist Adds to Growing Intellectual Resources

Alexander Cockburn

July 28, 2014

AUSTIN, Texas — The Briscoe Center has acquired the papers of journalist, author and polemicist Alexander Cockburn. In a career spanning five decades, Cockburn became one of the most popular intellectual columnists in Britain and America, writing for many publications including The Times Literary Supplement, New Left Review, The New Statesman, The New York Review of Books, Harper's Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly and The Wall Street Journal.

“Alexander Cockburn was an intellectual heavyweight of the late 20th century, balancing wit, analysis, controversy and contrarianism in ways that forced academic substance into the public sphere,” said Don Carleton, executive director of the Briscoe Center.

Cockburn was born in Scotland but grew up in Ireland. His journalism career began in the 1960s after graduating from Oxford University. After working as editor of The Times Literary Supplement, he wrote for New Left Review and The New Statesman. A permanent resident of the United States since 1973, he became a popular writer with The Nation, authoring the “Beat the Devil” column, and wrote for many other publications.

He founded the website Counterpunch in 1996 with Jeffrey St. Clair and often wrote scathingly about his peers, including highly publicized spats with Christopher Hitchens and Thomas Friedman. He also published and edited many books including Al Gore: A User’s Manual (2000), Corruptions of Empire (1987) and The Politics of Anti-Semitism (2003). Cockburn died in 2012. A Colossal Wreck: A Road Trip Through Political Scandal, Corruption, and American Culture (2014) was published posthumously.

“Cockburn’s importance is not easily appreciated in the current era of constant polemical commentary,” Carleton said. “Cockburn was an early pioneer of a form of journalistic writing that made the press itself the heart of the story—or the butt of the joke. His influence is still felt, and his papers will enable scholars to better understand the evolution of the interaction between ideas, events and journalism.”

The Cockburn papers, which were housed in his home office in Petrolia, California, include column drafts, correspondence, reference and research files, copies of rare newspapers, photographs, postcards, notes and correspondence. Several documents reference his father, Claud Cockburn, a reporter for The Daily Worker who covered the Spanish Civil War. The papers add to the center’s growing resources on the history of journalism as well as intellectual history, which include the papers of Norman Birnbaum, Walter Prescott Webb, Lewis Gould, Clarence Ayres, Lewis Filler and C. Wright Mills.

The Cockburn Papers are currently being processed by archival staff in order to make them accessible to students, scholars and members of the public. Journalists wishing to access the collection immediately should contact