James Wilson Bright Collection

Pioneering Johns Hopkins philologist James Wilson Bright’s 4,000 volume teaching collection includes Anglo-Saxon, Middle English, and Early Modern English texts that supported centuries of scholarship in English studies. The collection records the development of English as a university discipline. Today, it supports research in Early Modern and Modern literature, religion, political science, law, linguistics, and communications.  The Bright Collection may be searched in the college library's online catalog and selected images can be seen in the Goucher College Digital Library Collection.

Two grants awarded to special collections supported research and cataloging initiatives for the Bright Collection. The first, the Pre-1700 Book Census Project, supported study of the earliest books. The second grant, Mapping Special Collections, was awarded in 2009 and supported the identification, description, and cataloging of the remaining 2,000 volumes including copy-specific data to support broad access. At nearly $200,000 this grant, awarded by the Council on Library and Information Resources, was the largest ever awarded to the library.

James Wilson Bright (1852-1926) attended Lafayette College where he studied with Professor Francis A. March, one of the best Anglicists in America. In 1882, Bright earned a doctorate degree from Johns Hopkins University of Baltimore, where he studied English, Old Saxon, Icelandic, German, Gothic and Sanskrit. After graduation, he was appointed assistant professor of German at Hopkins, the same year that the English and German departments were combined.

At Hopkins, Bright taught what he called the “first lectures on the science of English Philology.” In a letter sent to Daniel Coit Gilman, first president of Johns Hopkins, Bright claims, "When I began giving instruction here in 1886, the idea of a university course in English was wholly undeveloped.  My lectures in English language . . . represent the first attempt in America to teach the subject in a scientific way . . . with [the] direct aim at higher academic discipline."

Bright demonstrated his commitment to developing the field of English studies in a variety of ways. His involvement with Modern Language Notes, where he served on the original board of directors and later as its editor-in-chief (1886-1925), and with the Modern Language Association helped to shape the course of English studies in America. Bright's written and editorial contributions to many literary publications focusing on Anglo Saxon, Middle English and literary criticism, as well as the nine books he authored and co-authored, are testament to his rigorous scholarship and the richness of his collection.

According to his will, dated 1911, Bright intended to leave his collection to Johns Hopkins University. For unknown reasons, Bright made an agreement with Goucher College President William Guth and Professor of English Ernest P. Kuhl to sell the collection to the college upon his death. Bright died on November 29, 1926, at the age of seventy-four.