Focus on: Lionel Robbins’ papers at LSE

Archives Hub Feature for October/November 2013

Photograph of Lionel Robbins (1929)
Lionel Robbins, 1929, LSE/UNREGISTERED/25/1/3

The economist and the wider world: the papers of Lionel Robbins (1898 – 1984) is a project which aims to provide access to the papers of Lionel Robbins at the London School of Economics and Political Science and promote them through a programme of cataloguing, digitisation and publicity.  The project has been generously supported by the LSE Annual Fund.  The cataloguing of the collection is now complete and the catalogue is accessible via the LSE Library archives catalogue.

Lionel Robbins was closely connected with LSE for over 60 years initially as a student, then as a professor and Chair of Economics, and also through his work for the Library Appeal and on the Court of Governors. The title of the project is ‘The economist and the wider world’ and Lionel Robbins’ papers contain all the economic-related material you might expect in the personal archive of such an important figure to the practice and theory of economics.  However ‘the wider world’ of the collection title hints at the wealth of other subjects that are also covered in this collection.

Poem by Robbins
‘The return from the war’, poem by Lionel Robbins, 1918, 1922, ROBBINS/2/4

Robbins’ passion for the arts is well represented throughout his correspondence with friends and family, as well as through his work as a Trustee of the National Gallery and the Royal Opera House.  The collection also contains his own artistic endeavors as a young man in the form of poems and short stories.  Some of these, such as the poems written on his return from the First World War, are particularly moving.  There are some well-known names in the correspondents, such as Henry Moore and Kenneth Clarke, and some infamous, such as Anthony Blunt.

Robbins' diary extract (1944)
Extract from Bretton Woods diary, 1944, ROBBINS/6/1/2

There are detailed diaries covering the period during and following the Second World War when Lionel Robbins was part of the Economic Section of the War Cabinet sent to the U.S.A. for the post-war economic negotiations.  These diaries, including one from the Bretton Woods conference, give a personal account of some defining moments in post-war economic and political history.  The diaries from the Hot Spring conference of 1943 and Bretton Woods in 1944 have been digitised.  Complementing his professional reports on his war-time work in the U.S.A are the letters he sent home to his wife Iris.  He would write to her at least once a week, often once every few days, as well as writing to his children.

The period at LSE known as the Troubles, in the late 1960s, is well documented in the collection. This was a period of student unrest and protest at LSE following controversy over the appointment of a new Director.  As a member of the Court of Governors Lionel Robbins held copies of the minutes and papers of meetings that determined how the organisation would respond to student protests.  He also collected examples of the student protest publications and press reports on the situation.  The LSE Library Appeal which resulted in the successful purchase and renovation of the current LSE library premises was headed by Lionel Robbins.  The collection contains minutes and papers relating to this appeal alongside correspondence and examples of the successful marketing campaigns and strategies.

Robbins' speeches on HE 1963-1977
Speeches by Lionel Robbins on higher education, 1963 – 1977 ROBBINS/8/1/3

Throughout his life Lionel continued to write and publish books and articles on economics and the collection contains the finished products as well as drafts, proofs and correspondence with publishers.  His work as Chairman of the Financial Times is also documented.   Lecture notes, student references, correspondence with students and former students and economics department circulars provide a detailed account of his work teaching at LSE, which he continued on a part-time basis until 1981 – 1982.

Members of the Committee on Higher Education, photograph (1962)
Members of the Committee on Higher Education visiting Stanford University, 1962, ROBBINS/13/5

In 1960 Lionel Robbins was invited to head a Committee on Higher Education to review current full-time higher education provision in the UK and advise the Government on long-term development.  The report became known as the Robbins Report which essentially aimed to show that higher education could benefit all and its access should be expanded to everyone.  This month marks the 50th anniversary of the final submission of the Robbins Report.  The official papers for the Report are held at the National Archives however the Lionel Robbins Papers contains correspondence about the Report, as well as subsequent speeches and articles written by Robbins on higher education.  To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Robbins Report LSE has organised a public event ‘Shaping Higher Education Fifty Years After Robbins: what views to the future?’ on Tuesday 22nd October.

Robbins' artillery notebook (1916)
Artillery notebook kept by Lionel Robbins, 1916, ROBBINS/2/3

The Lionel Robbins catalogue on the Archives Hub now makes available the variety of subjects covered in the Lionel Robbins papers, and opens the collection up to new researchers.

Kathryn Hannan, Project Archivist
‘The economist and the wider world: the papers of Lionel Robbins (1898 – 1984)’

Useful links

Lionel Robbins Papers on the LSE archives catalogue –

From 22nd October 2013 an exhibition The economist and the wider world Lionel Robbins (1898 – 1984), will be available on the LSE Digital Library

Lionel Robbins project blog posts on LSE archive blog Out of the Box