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Nicholas J. Griffin

Canada Research Chair on Russell, Peace and the 20th Century

Tier 1 - 2001-01-01 Renewed: 2008-01-01



The scholarly editing of Bertrand Russell's personal correspondence and papers


Will make Russell's copious correspondence available to researchers via the Internet 


In 1950, British philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. By any standard, it amounts to a major honour and accomplishment. But what makes it even more notable? The Nobel jury didn't even see some of Russell's most prodigious writing. 

However, thanks to Nicholas Griffin, the world will soon have access to a vast inventory of some of Russell's most intimate, fascinating, and revealing writing-thousands of personal letters that he wrote throughout his life (1872 to 1970). And they'll be available in a very modern way-via the World Wide Web.

After Russell himself, Griffin is perhaps the person most familiar with this 20th century intellectual giant's copious writings. As the holder of the Canada Research Chair at McMaster University, Griffin has written five books on Russell, and has two more in the works. He is also the Director of the newly created Bertrand Russell Research Centre at McMaster.

But while Russell is best known for such daunting works of mathematical logic as Principia Mathematica, Griffin says he was also one of the 20th century's great letter writers. McMaster University's Russell Archives-one of the world's major collections of the philosopher's work-has almost 50,000 of Russell's letters. How does Griffin account for the amazing volume? Russell devoted some part of each day to letter writing and, even in his nineties, was dictating 20 or more letters at a sitting. 

The letters range from the Victorian era to those of the Cold War. They were written to people in all walks of life-including dozens of world leaders-and on every topic under the sun. 

In his new role as Canada Research Chair holder, Griffin will work to see that this historical resource of original material is made globally accessible, and that it will remain as a valuable tool for future historians looking for insight into Russell's work and times. The planned on-line edition of Russell's collected letters will be organized to be of maximum use to scholars. The edition will include keyboarded text to make it searchable, as well as scanned images of the letters so that readers can view them as Russell wrote them.

In addition to heading the on-line letters project, Griffin will also direct the editing of the ongoing edition of The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell, currently at volume 16.