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G. Burke Johnston Papers

Identifier: Ms-1983-005

Scope and Contents

This collection contains the papers of George Burke Johnston, an English professor and university administrator at Virginia Tech and the University of Alabama; literary scholar; poet; author; artist; printer; and U. S. Army officer. The collection includes typescripts and proof copies of several of Johnston's books, as well as correspondence with editors and publishers relating to same. The correspondence files also include letters exchanged with friends and fellow scholars. Also within the collection are drafts and printed copies of Johnston's shorter works (poems, essays, and book reviews) and copies of works printed by him under his own imprint, White Rhinoceros Press. Johnston's interest in the fine arts is represented in materials relating to theatrical productions and other events, and his military career is documented in a set of files containing personnel records, orders, correspondence, and photographs.


  • 1900 - 1992


Language of Materials

The materials in the collection are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Reproduction and Use

The copyright status of this collection is unknown. Copyright restrictions may apply. Contact Special Collections and University Archives for assistance in determining the use of these materials. Reproduction or digitization of materials for personal or research use can be requested using our reproduction/digitization form: Reproduction or digitization of materials for publication or exhibit use can be requested using our publication/exhibition form: Please contact Special Collections and University Archives ( or 540-231-6308) if you need assistance with forms or to submit a completed form.

Biographical Note

George Burke Johnston, the son of George D. and Eleanor McCorvey Johnston, was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on September 8, 1907. After graduating from the University of Alabama (BA, 1929), Johnston obtained his master's and doctoral degrees in English from Columbia University (1930 and 1943, respectively). In 1936, he married Mary Tabb Lancaster (1916-2003), the daughter of Dabney S. Lancaster; the Johnstons would have four children. Johnston served as an English instructor at Virginia Tech from 1930 until 1933, when he returned to the University of Alabama to join the English Department as a professor.

Johnston became a well known Shakespearean scholar as well as an expert on English dramatist/poet Ben Jonson, about whom he wrote his dissertation and published two books: Ben Jonson, Poet (1945) and The Poems of Ben Jonson (1955). He held fellowships at Columbia University, Folger Shakespeare Library, and the Southeastern Institute of Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

Johnston's tenure at Alabama was interrupted by World War II, during which he served as a major in the U. S. Army. Following active duty, he returned to Alabama an assistant professor of English before being named assistant dean of arts and sciences. In 1950, he was named dean of applied science and business administration at Virginia Tech. He was appointed dean of science and general studies in 1961, and in 1963 became the first dean of the university's College of Arts and Sciences, a position in which he served until 1966, when he was named C. P. Miles Professor of English. He retired in 1974.

In his later years, Johnston maintained a number of personal interests. He continued to publish books on his interests, editing Poems by William Camden (1975) and writing Thomas Chalmers McCorvey: Teacher, Poet, Historian (1985), a biography of his maternal grandfather. Johnston operated a home printing press on which he published his works, issuing them under the name White Rhinoceros Press. He was a skilled artist, working in pencil, paint, clay, and wood; and was licensed as an Epicopal lay minister. George Burke Johnston died on January 1, 1995.


5.7 Cubic Feet (12 boxes)


This collection consists of papers--including correspondence, subject files, printed materials, and photographs--of George Burke Johnston, literary scholar and faculty member / administrator at Virginia Tech and the University of Alabama; U.S. Army officer; poet; author; artist; and printer.


The collection is arranged in four Series:

Series I. Writings, 1945-1992. Contained in this series are drafts and proofs of Johnston's books (including Alabama Historical Sketches, which he edited), as well as various book reviews, essays, poetry, and speeches. Included among the poems and essays are some of the works he published as White Rhinoceros Press. Major titles arranged alphabetically, followed by smaller works, arranged by genre.

Series II. Military, 1925-1967. Johnston's association with the U.S. Army is documented in this series. Included are personnel and retirement records, orders, certificates, and printed materials, as well as both official and personal correspondence. The photographs in the series relate not only to Johnston's military service but his later attendance as a college administrator visiting ROTC Summer Camp at Fort Meade, Maryland and Fort Knox, Kentucky. Arranged by document type.

Series III. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 1930-1989. This series contains materials relating to Johnston's activities at Virginia Tech. Included are files on Founders Day and the Visiting Scholars Program. A folder of correspondence covers a wide variety of university-related subjects but particularly focuses on Johnston's personal milestones, particularly his 1950 hire as dean of applied science and business administration. The series also contains a folder of materials relating to various Virginia Tech events, including programs for a 1963 football banquet, banquets honoring Harry W. Sanders and Martha G. Creighton, and the inauguration of Virginia Tech President Thomas Marshall Hahn Jr.; dedications of Williams and Randolph halls and Newman Library; texts of speeches delivered by Edward LeRoy Long, Jr. ("Piety, Moralism, and Vocation") and Jan Karski ("The Nature of the Communist Threat"); and a history of the Division of Arts and Sciences. A small collection of photographs completes the series.

Series III. Theater and Fine Arts, 1900-1983. This series contains materials relating to Johnston's interest in the arts. Included are promotional materials for theatrical production companies that Johnston was likely instrumental in securing for performances at Virginia Tech. The series also contains events and memorabilia from theatrical and musical productions at Virginia Tech. A folder relating to local and regional fine arts and theater events includes materials about the Barter Theatre, "The Long Way Home" outdoor historical drama, the Blacksburg Art Association Festival, and the Blacksburg Music Club. The majority of the series, however, consists of programs from non-local productions. The series also contains a small collection of sheet music.

Series IV. Subject / Correspondence Files, 1904-1993. This series relates mostly to Johnston's literary scholarship, published works, personal relationships, interest in printing and art, and his duties as a faculty member and university administrator. Included are letters, printed materials, and photographs from friends, colleagues, editors, and publishers. Johnston's literary interests included, but were not limited to, Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, William Camden, and J. R. R. Tolkien. (The letters housed in the collection from Tolkien and his daughter Priscilla to Johnston are photocopies only. Special Collections does not hold the original letters.) A single folder bearing Johnston's name contains a few pieces of biographical material, photographs, and a number of sketches and small watercolors executed by him. The series is arranged alphabetically by correspondent / subject, though materials relating to a single topic may appear in several different folders. Arranged alphabetically by correspondent or subject.

Series V. Microfilm, 1952-1972. This series is comprised of microfilm copies of rare literary works made for Johnston during the course of his research. The series contains selected pages from a number of works from Elizabethan and Stuart England, with a particular focus on poems by Ben Jonson.

Source of Acquisition

The G. Burke Johnston Papers were donated to Special Collections in several accruals, dated 1985, 1988, and 1990-1993.

Separated Materials

The following items were removed from the collection and cataloged for the Rare Book Collection:

Gridiron Guide. Blacksburg, VA: Virginia Tech Athletic Association, 1969. (LD5655 A3 T42 1969 VPI Spec)

Davis, Jefferson. Relations of States. Baltimore: J. Murphy & Co., 1860. (E438 D261 c. 2 Civil War Spec)

Leary, Lewis, ed. Mark Twain's Letters to Mary. New York: Columbia University Press, 1961. [inscribed by the ed.] (PS1331 A3 R6 c.2 Large Spec)

The following item was removed from the collection and added to the Historical Map Collection:

Map of James River, Virginia and Vicinity: Virginia Navigation Company. E. A. Barber, Jr. 1899.

Rights Statement for Archival Description

The guide to the G. Burke Johnston Papers by Special Collections and University Archives, Virginia Tech, is licensed under a CC0 (

Processing Information

The processing, arrangement, and description of the G. Burke Johnston Papers commenced in March, 2013 and was completed in April, 2013. Some preliminary processing seems to have occurred at the time of acquisition.

A Guide to the G. Burke Johnston Papers, 1900-1992
John M. Jackson
2013 (CC0 1.0)
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
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Revision Statements

  • 2020-08-06: Finding aid notes updated to new department standards. juliags

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives, Virginia Tech Repository

Special Collections and University Archives, University Libraries (0434)
560 Drillfield Drive
Newman Library, Virginia Tech
Blacksburg Virginia 24061 US