Fonds RC0096 - Bertrand Russell fonds

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Bertrand Russell fonds

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  • 1847-2000; predominant 1888-1976 (Creation)
    Russell, Bertrand

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Physical description

147 m of textual records and other materials

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Name of creator


Biographical history

Bertrand Arthur William Russell, philosopher, logician, peace advocate and social reformer, was born at Trelleck in Monmouthshire on 18 May 1872, the younger son of Viscount Amberley, and the grandson of Lord John Russell, the first Earl Russell. Educated at Cambridge, Russell was a prolific author, publishing his first book, Germany Social Democracy, in 1896, quickly followed by his dissertation, An Essay on the Foundations of Geometry (1897). His principal work, Principia Mathematica, written with Alfred North Whitehead, was published in three volumes, 1910-1913. In addition to philosophy, he wrote books about education, marriage, religion, politics, and many other subjects.

He was an active campaigner against World War I, nuclear weapons, and the Vietnam war. For a time he owned and operated his own school, Beacon Hill, together with his wife, Dora Russell. He was a recipient of many awards and honours, including the Nobel Prize for Literature (1950) and the Order of Merit (1949). He married four times--Alys Pearsall Smith (m. 1894); Dora Black (m. 1921); Patricia (‘Peter’) Spence (m. 1936); and Edith Finch (m. 1952)—and had significant relationships with other women, most notably Ottoline Morrell and Constance Malleson. Russell published an Autobiography in three volumes, 1967-1969. He died at Plas Penrhyn, Merionethshire, Wales on 2 February 1970.

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Scope and content

The fonds consists of Russell's manuscripts, correspondence, library, periodicals, offprints, leaflets, photographs, audio discs, audio reels, audio cassettes, films, videocassettes, microfilms, news clippings, posters, some furniture, artwork (including a bust by Jacob Epstein), awards and medals. Also included are records of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation, including those that relate to the International War Crimes Tribunal. The archive is supplemented by a supporting research library of books, theses about Russell, and his publications in periodicals. The fonds also contains the archives of Russell's parents, Viscount and Viscountess Amberley. The fonds has been supplemented with ongoing acquisitions of original material from a variety of sources, as well as copies of selected material held elsewhere.

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Physical condition

Immediate source of acquisition

There have been two major accruals. The first accrual, called Archives 1, was acquired from Bertrand Russell in March 1968 and arrived at McMaster University in May 1968. The second accrual, called Archives 2, was acquired from the Russell estate in October 1972 and arrived at McMaster in the spring of 1973. Many accruals have been made since that date from a variety of sources; collectively they are called Archives 3, or Recent Acquisitions. The fourth major accrual, called Archives 4 (RA4), was acquired from the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation in 2018.


The archive has been arranged in 4 groupings called Archives 1, 2, 3, and 4, based on the date of acquisition.

Archives 1 and 2 were acquired from Russell and his estate and form the core of the archive. They have been arranged in the following broad series, also referred to as ‘classes’ in some contexts. Most of these series have been sub-divided into additional series, which are described in greater detail.

100 Ancestral Papers
200 Manuscripts
300 Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation
400 Publishing Correspondence
500 Political Organizations to 1955
600 Nuclear Disarmament and Peace Activities
700 Personal/Family Correspondence
800 Legal Correspondence
900 Works by others, photos, films, etc.

Archives 3 consists of individual accruals—called ‘Recent Acquisitions’--that have accumulated since the acquisition of Archives 1 and 2. They are numbered sequentially and currently total over 1,700 acquisitions.

Archives 4 has been arranged into 24 series, most of which are records of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation, including those that relate to the International War Crimes Tribunal. For a complete listing, see the finding aid.

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Availability of other formats

Parts of this fonds are available in the Digital Archive, highlights include 'Notes on Russell's Epistemology lectures at Harvard' and
230.030000-F1 pp. 1-61 Notes on Mathematical Work; pp. 63-155 Notes on Leibniz.

Restrictions on access

Correspondence between Bertrand Russell and members of his family is closed until 5 years after the death of the family member concerned. The restrictions still in effect relate to Russell’s daughter, Katharine Tait, and to Russell’s grandchildren.

In addition, restrictions have been placed on some of the Recent Acquisitions.

Terms governing use, reproduction, and publication

Rights to Russell’s unpublished manuscripts and most of the letters authored by him are held by McMaster University, with other rights for Russell-authored material held by The Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation and Routledge publishers. Contact for details.

Finding aids


Correspondence database: BRACERS
RA1 and RA2 Overview: Box and Series listing
Manuscripts (Series 200): Finding Aid
Archives 4: Finding Aid
See individual series descriptions for additional finding aids.


Archives 1: B. Feinberg, ed. A Detailed Catalogue of the Archives of Bertrand Russell (London: Continuum, 1967). Note: for many series (classes), this finding aid is now out of date.

Archives 2: K. Blackwell and C. Spadoni, The Second Archives of Bertrand Russell (Bristol: Thoemmes, 1992).

Archives 3: A card catalogue in the Division of Archives and Research Collections reading room. New accruals are reported and described in Russell: the Journal of Bertrand Russell Studies.

Manuscripts: the published bibliography of Russell can also be used as a guide to his manuscripts in the Russell archives. See K. Blackwell and H. Ruja, A Bibliography of Bertrand Russell, 3 vols. (London and New York: Routledge, 1994).

Associated materials

Alys Whitall Pearsall Russell papers (part of the H.W. Smith Mss.) at the Lilly Library, Indiana University. Photocopies of the Russell-related material from Alys Russell's papers are available with the Bertrand Russell archives in Rec. Acq. 434, boxes 6.52 to 6.60, and Rec. Acq. 678 (photographs); the letters are indexed in BRACERS.

Dora Winifred (Black) Russell Papers, at the Institute of Social History in Amsterdam. Note that her papers were split between the Institute and McMaster University Library.

Patricia (‘Peter’) Spence archive, The Bodleian Library, Oxford University where they are under an access restriction. There is no online finding aid at present.

Ottoline Morrell papers at The Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas, Austin. Microfilm and photocopies of Russell’s letters to Ottoline Morrell are available in the Bertrand Russell archives in Rec. Acq. 69, boxes 2.53 to 2.70; listed in BRACERS.

In addition, the Bertrand Russell Collection at the Thomas Fisher Library at the University of Toronto contains more than 10,000 publications by or about Russell, as compiled by John G. Slater.


Further accruals are expected.

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RA4, G. Dunks, 2 Oct. 2019.

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