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Papers of Lionel Robbins by Susan Howson



Lionel Robbins

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Susan Howson, whose biography of Lionel Robbins was published by Cambridge University Press in 2011 (ISBN 978-1-107-0024-9), has provided this summary statement of what future researchers will find interesting about the papers of Robbins which, after having been catalogued, will soon be available to readers at the BLPES Archive department.

Lionel Robbins (1898-1984; professor of economics at LSE 1929-61) left his mark in several areas, including the academic discipline of economics; British economic policy, especially in the Second World War; the arts, higher education, and economic and financial journalism in Britain.

At LSE he headed the Department of Economics for thirty years and built it up to its preeminent position in British economics. He is still well known to economists as the author of An Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science (1932 and 1935), one of the three most important methodological statements on economics, for his analysis of The Great Depression (1934) and for two major works in the history of economic thought, The Theory of Economic Policy in English Classical Political Economy (1952) and Robert Torrens and the Evolution of Classical Economics (1958).

During the Second World War he entered government service in 1940 and became the head of the Economic Section of the Cabinet Offices. As well as helping to create the British total war economy, he was decisively involved in the preparation of the 1944 Employment Policy white paper, in the creation of the post-war international economy – especially the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank – and in the Anglo-American Loan Negotiations in 1945 which allowed Britain to participate in the new post-war international economic order.

He served the arts for several decades in the management of the Courtauld Institute of Art, the National Gallery and the Tate Gallery, and the Royal Opera House Covent Garden. In 1960-3 he chaired the Committee on Higher Education and wrote its famous ‘Robbins Report’ advocating the expansion of higher education in the UK, especially at the postgraduate level. In the 1960s he was chairman of the Financial Times and helped, according to the historian of the FT, ‘to give the paper a certain added intellectual authority’.  He had himself often contributed to the ‘higher journalism’ with articles in Lloyds Bank Review and other newspaper and magazines.
His major services to LSE included the chairmanship of the Court of Governors in the difficult conditions of the late 1960s and of the Library Appeal to re-house the BLPES in what is now the Lionel Robbins Building.

His extensive papers, which, following his own wishes, his family have given to LSE, cover almost all these activities and more. They extend from personal notebooks and poems dating from the First World War and the years before he entered LSE in 1920, lecture notes and reading notes taken while he was an undergraduate there, letters from colleagues, friends and fellow economists from the 1920s to the end of his life, through drafts of academic articles and journalism also from the 1920s to the end of his life, manuscripts or typescripts and other material for his books, reviews of his books, correspondence with his publishers, his notes for his lectures at Oxford in the 1920s and LSE in the 1920s and 1930s, late 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, notes for speeches and talks outside the School, and on to letters and other papers relating to his chairmanship of the LSE governors and of the Library Appeal.  In addition there are rich files relating to his membership of the Economic Advisory Council’s Committee of Economists chaired by Keynes in 1930, to the resulting controversies over both protection and public works in the 1930s and to the 1945 Loan Negotiations. The files relating to the arts and to higher education, though smaller in extent, contain valuable material complementary to that in the archives of the Courtauld, National Gallery, Tate and Royal Opera House, and the National Archives at Kew.

The earlier material – correspondence, notebooks, and papers – for the years from the First World War to the Second is especially revealing on the development of his own thought and career. The correspondence with other economists and LSE colleagues, especially that for the years 1946-61, fully illuminates his role in the development of the economics discipline here at the School and in Britain generally. The Robbins Papers will be, therefore, an invaluable resource for many scholars with a wide range of interests. These include, but are not limited to, those studying the life and work of any of the many economists, British and foreign, who corresponded with Robbins, or of his teachers; historians of economics interested in the development of the discipline in the 20th century; historians (political and economic) concerned with the making of economic policy or with the making of public opinion on economic and financial matters; students of the arts in Britain; specialists in higher education; and, of course, anyone interested in the history of the School.