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The Bertrand Russell Archives, William Ready Division of Archives and Research Collections

Collection Profile

In 1967 Bertrand Russell (1872–1970), the philosopher, mathematician, Nobel Prize winner, and social reformer, put up his archives for auction to raise money for his peace campaigns. An unlikely buyer emerged in the person of William Ready, the University Librarian at McMaster University Libraries. From the Victorian era of Lord John Russell to the troublesome decade of the 1960s ending with the Vietnam War, Russell's archives span more than a century of activity on many fronts in diverse fields, such as analytic philosophy, the foundations of mathematics, nationalism, imperialism, and war and peace in the 20th century.

In the Health Sciences Centre at McMaster University one can find slices of Albert Einstein's brain, but in the Russell archives there is all of Russell's mind, including his correspondence with Einstein and the last letter that Einstein wrote, dated April 11, 1955, in which Einstein agrees to sign a document, the Russell-Einstein Manifesto, with other notable scientists against the proliferation of nuclear arms. Another slogan about the Russell archives is that they cover from Lenin to Lennon—that is to say, Russell's diary notes in May 1920 of his interview with Lenin in the Soviet Union to the card of thanks written by John Lennon and Yoko Ono sent to Russell just a few weeks before his death. Practically every facet of Russell's life and times is represented in his rich archives. In many cases the correspondence is voluminous and in-depth. He wrote, for example, 1,900 love letters to Lady Ottoline Morrell, the doyenne of the Garsington circle; her epistolary enthusiasm by comparison flagged with merely 1,200 letters in return.

Russell's archives contain his fascinating library of 3,600 volumes, his manuscripts, correspondence, periodicals, offprints, leaflets, photographs, audio discs and reels, films, videocassettes, microfilms, news clippings, posters, some furniture, artwork (including a bust by Jacob Epstein), awards and medals. The first and second accruals of Russell's archives came to the McMaster University Libraries in 1968 and 1972, respectively. Russell's personal library arrived at McMaster in 1978. More than 1,500 "recent acquisitions" of various documents have been obtained from various sources outside of the Russell estate. The archives are supplemented by a supporting research library of 3,200 books, theses, and periodicals pertaining to Russell and his circle. There are also the archives of Russell's parents, cognate archives of two of his wives, and those of Lady Constance Malleson, Rupert Crawshay-Williams, and Anton Felton, his literary agent.

The Bertrand Russell archives are used and consulted on a daily basis by researchers and the public from around the world. Scores of articles and books have been published as a result of this constant research. Although the archives are accessible through two printed guides and card catalogs, correspondence can also be searched through BRACERS, an online database describing some 108,000 letters. The Bertrand Russell Research Centre at McMaster University functions as the scholarly buttress of Russell's historical legacy with a focus on The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell (1983– ) and the projected online edition of his letters. The Russell Centre also publishes Russell: The Journal of Bertrand Russell Studies (1971– ) edited by Dr. Kenneth Blackwell, the honorary Russell archivist, and sponsors Russell-l, the Russell electronic mailing list.

Collection Profile and Overview: Carl Spadoni
Illustrations: McMaster University Libraries

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