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About whom are we seeking information?

We are interested in the papers of those who thought of themselves primarily as economists, regardless of where they practised that profession or art. Making use of two electronic sources, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and the listings for ‘economist’ given on the website maintained by the National Register of Archives (NRA), a list of British and Irish economists has been compiled (see Missing Persons). These sources have also helped us to supplement the list of names for which entries were compiled in the earlier version of the guide.

The geographical restriction to Britain and Ireland is solely in the interests of making the project manageable. Whether a person spent a significant period of his or her professional life in Britain or Ireland is more important than birthplace or nationality. Where collections of the papers of ‘our’ economists are in foreign collections, they will be listed here. We welcome links with those engaged on similar projects in other countries.

Our bias is towards economists, but we have not made a rigid distinction between economists and economic historians. Although they have increasingly become separate tribes, this was not true for much of the period with which we are concerned.

What kind of information are we seeking to record?

After making inquiries about the existence and availability of papers, whether in private hands or official archives, we aim to record the location and general nature of the papers and correspondence for each of the economists on our lists, together with any printed sources that may be relevant to this task. We are particularly concerned to record the names of the chief correspondents as a clue to past networks.

While our entries will be organised around the names of economists, we shall not be aiming, as the original guide did, to record the source of all known letters that passed between the subject and other correspondents. The main collections are recorded under the name, but others will be found via generic sources (a link to be introduced later) that contain the work of a large number of economists.

What other features will the website include?

Useful links to other sites and online services are provided, including links to journals and other publications relevant to the history of economic thought.

We hope to run an occasional news and views service on individuals, ideas, and events that further the aims of the project and may help to stimulate interest in archival research. The news will typically begin by flagging those entries that are either new or have been substantially revised.

How can visitors to the site participate in the project?

Contact us provides a message form that enables visitors to send us their queries, comments, and suggestions, as well as any information or news items relevant to the project.

We welcome the assistance of anyone who possesses information about the papers of economists on our search lists. We would be especially grateful to those who are prepared to take on the work entailed in compiling an entry or exploring an archive that is either local to them or can be made part of a research trip.

Nature of the Directory and directions for its use

The Economists’ Papers Directory contains a finding list of personal papers and correspondence of the most distinguished British economists, as well as a considerable number of lesser contributors to the subject in one or other of its forms. The Directory listings comprise all those cases where a significant body of material is known to exist, whatever its content. Indeed, in a few cases, such as Isaac Butt and Fleeming Jenkin, little or nothing of what is listed is directly economic in content. The individuals listed include personalities from the universities, banking, business, politics, the Civil Service, journalism and other fields. The directory will therefore be useful not only to specialist historians of economics, but also to all concerned with the role of economic ideas in political debate, public and private decision-making, and in the formation of public opinion.

Wherever possible, three main types of information have been recorded:

1. A brief description of the main group or groups of personal papers which the economist accumulated during his lifetime. It indicates the nature of the material (e.g. whether in-letters, drafts, or copies of out-letters, manuscripts of published or unpublished works, diaries, memoranda, etc.); period of origin; quantity; and, if relevant, the state of preservation or organisation.

Reference is also made to many of the artificial collections of papers relating to prominent figures assembled or acquired by libraries, usually after the subject’s death. The geographical location of the material listed is largely confined to Great Britain and Ireland, with some additions from the more obvious sources on the continents of Europe and North America. The locations of collections are indicated (a) by name of repository in abbreviated form; (b) N.R.A. numbers, where appropriate (see list of N.R.A. No’s).

2. A list of persons to whom the economist wrote, information as to the whereabouts of his out-letters and, where possible, an indication of the numbers and period of the surviving correspondence. For eight economists (David Hume, Jevons, J. M. Keynes, Smith, Bentham, Burke, Ricardo and J. S. Mill) this section is omitted as extensive editions of their correspondence are now complete or in progress, and provide much fuller lists than could be offered here.

3. A brief note of the principal published works largely or wholly consisting of material from the economist’s papers, including substantial biographies and other printed works using or containing references to his papers. References to articles in five major biographical dictionaries and encyclopaedias are given in abbreviated form, and there is some information as to the whereabouts of the subject’s portrait.

In the case of the first and last of these categories, no comments are required. In the case of category 2, however, it should be noted that limitations of time made it impossible to trace all the economist’s letters which might exist in the possession of the descendants of his known or presumed correspondents.

Consequently, many more groups of letters are listed for the major nineteenth-century figures, some of whom were more famous outside the field of economics, than for more recent or less well-known individuals. Since many lists and indexes omit this information, it has not always been possible to indicate the quantity and the period of groups of letters. However, some indication of the numbers has been provided, and the terms ‘a few’, ‘several’ and ‘many’ may be taken as roughly equivalent to ‘two or three’, ‘about a dozen’ and `more than a dozen’ respectively. The term `items’ includes letters, enclosures, drafts of replies, etc.

The most important class of records omitted is that contained in the Public Records Office. Collections of politicians’ papers given to or deposited with the PRO are referred to in so far as the PRO’s indexes permit. But it has not been possible to undertake a systematic search through the papers of a relevant ministry or department to trace the letters and memoranda of an economist who was employed there. Research workers are, however, advised to examine the papers of government departments where appropriate, as these often constitute rich sources of material. The Bank of England is another important source which has not been investigated for the purposes of this Directory.

Notes for using the Directory

1. The Directory is designed to assist the research worker at the beginning of his/her enquiries by enabling him/her to find the items listed and obtain some idea of their size and scope. It does no more to reveal the contents of any collection. The reader is advised that lists of the kind provided herein can never be exhaustive, and those who wish to obtain as complete a coverage of the manuscript material as possible will look beyond these pages.

2. The Directory does not distinguish between papers owned by a library or repository and those merely loaned or deposited there by the owners or their trustees. In the latter case, permission to publish material from the papers will be required from both the library and the owner; and in certain cases the owner’s permission will be required before the papers can be viewed. It is therefore advisable to enquire about the accessibility of papers before visiting a collection.

3. Some collections are privately owned and retained in the owner’s private residence or business premises. A reference to a collection in the Directory does not necessarily mean that the owner is prepared to grant access to each and every enquirer. Wherever possible, an indication of the conditions under which the owners are prepared to grant access has been given.

4. Finally, research workers are reminded of the need to familiarise themselves with the law of copyright. Descendants of an individual listed herein may retain copyright in his out-letters even when the item concerned forms part of the recipient’s archive and is legally the possession of the present owners of the archive.