Arthur E. Bestor (1908-94) earned his B.A. and Ph.D. degrees at Yale. He taught history at Columbia, Stanford, and the University of Wisconsin before joining the faculty at the University of Illinois in 1947. While at Illinois he published his major works, Backwoods Utopias (1950) and Educational Wastelands (1953). In 1962, he left for the University of Washington where he served as professor of history until 1976.
After a brief interest in the early 1930s in Emerson, Thoreau, and Transcendentalism, Bestor turned his efforts to the study of American communitarianism. His dissertation examined the Fourierist movement in the 1840s, while Backwoods Utopias discussed its American Utopian antecedents, particularly Owenism. Backwoods Utopias was to be the first of three books on communitarianism in the United States. Although Bestor did not complete other volumes, he collected pamphlets and articles for the project.
There are two distinct parts to the Bestor collection: the communitarian photographic materials and the communitarian research materials. The pictorial materials include photographs and postcards showing sites and buildings of 30 communities as well as photocopies of portraits and maps. Bestor's research notes on communitarianism comprise the bulk of the collection. These include notes on individual communities, communitarian correspondence and periodicals, newspapers and pamphlets. Bestor's published and unpublished studies are also included. The Brook Farm materials have been microfilmed.
Bestor donated the collection to the Library in 1951 and 1979. Portions of "Phalanxes of Social Reform" (Series IV.A.), the sequel to Backwoods Utopias, may not be photocopied without the written permission of the IHLC curator. Bestor's personal and professional papers (to 1971) are held by the University of Illinois Archives. Additional papers are available at the University of Washington.