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Robert Earnest Spiller

1924 Ph.D. Graduate
Dissertation Advisor(s): Arthur Hobson Quinn
"The American in England During the First Half Century of Independence"

Robert Ernest Spiller was a Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania from 1945 to 1967, acting dean of the Annenberg School of Communications from 1963 to 1964, and pioneer in the study of American literature. He was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on November 13, 1896 to William Gibson Spiller and Helen Constance Newbold Spiller. After graduating from the Phillips Brooks School in 1913 he entered the University of Pennsylvania where he earned a B.A. in 1917. After graduation he served with the University of Pennsylvania Medical Corps during World War I. Afterward, he returned to Penn to complete his graduate work, earning an M.A. in 1921 and Ph.D. in 1924. From 1920 to 1921 Spiller served as an Instructor of English at the University of Pennsylvania. He then joined the faculty at Swarthmore College as an Instructor of English and was promoted to Professor of English in 1934. He returned to the University of Pennsylvania in 1945 as the Felix E. Schelling Professor of English, a position he held until 1967 when he was named Professor Emeritus. 

Spiller is credited with helping to earn scholarly respect for American literature, which had been considered the less-distinguished partner of English literature. As chair of the Modern Language Association’s American Literature Group, he was one of the founders of the scholarly journal American Literature and was editor from 1932 to 1939. Spiller published many books and articles on American literature, most notable among them being Literary History of the United States (1948), which was considered the foremost text on American literature, and The Cycle of American Literature (1955), which was translated into fourteen languages. 

Spiller was a leading figure in the development of American studies programs at both domestic and international colleges and universities. In 1955 he served as president of the American Studies Association, the oldest scholarly organization devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history, and helped found its scholarly journal American Quarterly. He was also chair of the Department of American Civilization at the University of Pennsylvania. 

Robert Ernest Spiller married Mary Scott in 1922 and had three children: William Scott, Constance Newbold (Mrs. T. J. Johnston), and Mary Miles. He died on August 24, 1988, survived by his second wife, Anna Moss Wright Spiller, whom he married in 1975, and his eldest daughter.

Doctoral Dissertations Chaired


John H Meister "The Descent of the Irrelative One: The Metaphysics of Cosmology of Edgar Allan Poe's Eureka"


Carol A Kyle "The Theme of "Knowledge" in the Poetry of Robert Frost"


Susan Archer Cockcroft "Hawthorne's Use of Spenser"
Wilma B Hall "The Moral Significance of Land and Landscape in the Novels of James Fenimore Cooper"
Richard A Yoder "Emerson's Poetry"


Virginia A. Hallam "The Critical Reception of F. Scott Fitzgerald"
William J. Lynch "The Theory and Practice of the Literary Criticism of James T. Farrell"


Peter M Bauland "German Drama on the American Stage: 1894-1961"
Frederic Thomas Closs "Symbol Cast in Steel: the Verse of H. MacKnight Black (1896-1931)"
Philip Eugene Williams "The Biblical View of Hisotry: Hawthorne, Twain, Faulkner, and Eliot"
Douglas Lawson Wilson "Santayana: The Poet in America "


Michael J. Hoffman "The Development of Abstractionism in the Writing of Gertrude Stein to 1913"
Sujit Kumar Mukherjee "Passage to America: The Reception of Rabindranath Tagore in the United States, 1912-1941"


Paul Osborne Williams "The Transcendental Movement in American Poetry "


Herbert G Eldridge Jr "A Study of Literary Ideals and Intentions in Philadelphia, 1783-1827"
Womble Quay Grigg Jr "The Molds of Form: Comedy and Conscience in the Novels of Henry James"


Colin Chandler Campbell "The Poet as Artist and Citizen: A Study of the Life and Writings of Archibald Macleish through 1958"
George Austin Test "The Vital Connection: A Study of the New Republic Magainze as a Literary Journal (1914-1922)"


Francis Wayland Warlow "Marianne Moore"


Edward Lawrence Galligan "Within Limits: The Novels of James Gould Cozzens"


Verne Henry Bovie "The Evolution of a Myth: A Study of the Major Symbols in the Works of Ernest Hemingway"
Sister St. Agnes Heeney "The Cathedral in Four Major New England Authors: A Study in Symbolic Inspiration"


Thomas Dean Clareson "The Emergence of American Science Fiction, 1880-1915: A Study of the Impact of Science on American Romanticism "
Joel Conrad Mickelson "Attitudes of Americans in France Toward Contemporary French Political Life, 1860-1914"
George Arthur Small "American Dramatic Comedy: 1900-1950"


Carl Lennart Anderson "The Swedish Reception of Sinclair Lewis and his Contemporaries "
William Robert Bittner "The Novels of Waldo Frank "
John Thomas Queenan "The Port Folio: A Study of an Early American Magazine "


Robert M. Davies "The Religious Humanism of Paul Elmer More"


Harold E. Hall "James Kirke Paulding"
Edward H. Rosenberry "The Comic Spirit in the Art of Herman Melville"


Joseph Leo Blotner "Thorne Smith: A Study in Popular Fiction "
Albert George Hofammann Jr "Faulkner's Conflicting Galaxies: A Study in Literary Polarity "
Mervin Ray Lowe "Stephen Crane's "The Red Badge of Courage": A Study of a Novel "


Robert Dunn Faner "Operatic Music and the Poetry of Walt Whitman"