Monday, 9 July 2018

Austin Robinson's 'Heart of Darkness'

The Marshall Library is fortunate in that it possesses the published output of many prominent Cambridge economists together with their archives. The latter often given an insight into the efforts - and sometimes hardships - that were involved in the production of certain works. This is the case with 'Modern industry and the African' published in 1933 by the International Missionary Council. Austin Robinson authored several of its chapters following extensive travels in Northern Rhodesia and the Belgian Congo in 1932 as part of a Commission charged with undertaking research into the effects of industrialization on native African society.

In order to accomplish this fieldwork Austin was often confined in a car with his fellow Commission members, whose backgrounds, views and approaches to fieldwork were very different, while they travelled 12,000 miles slowly and uncomfortably over rough dirt roads in an inhospitable climate. The letters that Austin sent home to Joan at this time - plus the numerous photographs he took while in Africa - are all preserved in the Marshall Library archives and  will be used in this and subsequent blogs to illustrate what was involved in producing 'Modern industry and the African.' Austin records all the personality clashes among the Commission members, the contrasting approaches to fieldwork and the arduous travelling conditions with his characteristic dry wit and humour.

The first part of this blog series will examine the background and composition of the Commission followed by a description of the route and travelling condition and finally an examination of Austin's chapters in 'Modern industry and the African.'

Background and composition of the Commission

The  main objective of the Commission of Enquiry sent to Africa in 1932 by the International Missionary Council was to prepare a report on the impact of copper mining in Northern Rhodesia and the Belgian Congo on native society. To complete this work six individuals - including Austin - were recruited from a variety of different backgrounds and nationalities. The Reverend J. Merle Davis, an American missionary with considerable practical and administrative experience, led the group. It is obvious from Austin's letters that he had great respect for Davis and his abilities. Comparing him to his fellow commission members Austin wrote "... he is not an academic ... but his judgement is in many respects the soundest" (EAGR 2/2/2/6)

The  other Commission members were Leo Marquard (Dutch history master at Bloemfontain School), Charles Coulter (Professor of Sociology, Ohio Western Univesity), Ray Phillips (Johannesburg missionary) and Mabel Shaw (Principal of a girl's school in Northern Rhodesia).

With the exception of Davis and Marquard Austin considered the other Commission members to be 'second-raters' (EAGR 2/2/2/30). Although 'a kindly soul' Austin doubted that Phillips could operate impartially due to the fact he was 'financed by the Chamber of Mines' (EAGR 2/2/2/29). 

However it was for Coulter, '... the raw middle west American ... capable of being dogmatically irritating beyond all description' that Austin reserved his most acerbic comments. (EAGR 2/2/2/8). According to Austin Coulter '... knows his subject backwards without ... having the faintest glimmering of what it is all about (EAGR 2/2/2/7). In particular Austin was '... afraid of him bogging us [the Commission] in a mire of semi-technical, half-digested anthropological-sociological-psychological-physiological-semi-logical bunk' (EAGR 2/2/25)

  In his letters home Austin delighted in deriving humour from the apparent naivety of Coulter's approach to fieldwork. He sent Joan a copy of one of Coulter's questionnaires '... in which every African native within sight is to be asked to write his life history '... pointing out that everyone who later saw it [the questionnaire] in Cambridge thought it so ridiculous that they believed it was nothing more than a 'jeu d'esprit' by Austin! (EAGR 2/2/2/11). A copy of the questionnaire may be viewed by clicking the image below:

These were Austin's colleagues on a car journal that would cover 12,000 miles, in a hostile climate, on mostly unpaved African roads.

The next blog in this series will examine the route that the Commission took through South Africa, Northern Rhodesia and the Belgian Congo and the travelling conditions that they endured.

Monday, 28 May 2018

Joan Robinson, a 'pioneering' Keynesian

Joan arrived as an undergraduate at Girton College, Cambridge, in 1922 to read for the Economics Tripos. She had studied history at school, but chose Economics for her degree, as she wanted to understand the causes of poverty and unemployment. She gained a 2:1 but was denied a degree, as this right was not granted to women at Cambridge until 1948. 

In 1926 just two months after her marriage to Austin Robinson, a fellow of Corpus Christi, Joan and Austin sailed to Bombay where Austin took up the post of tutor to the Maharajah of Gwalior.

 Together they led a privileged life, although Joan was not always comfortable at the society events where she was expected to generate small talk. Joan assisted Austin in the drafting  of a review of the relations between the Indian states and the British Crown and was invited to London for the presentation of the Princes' case. Meanwhile Austin resigned from his post as tutor and was reunited with Joan in London where they drafted considerable portions of a book on population. The drafts remained unpublished, as they then moved back to Cambridge where Austin took up a lectureship in 1929.

Joan had to wait until 1934 for her first university post as an assistant lecturer. Although she was not appointed as a teaching fellow, Joan gave supervisions to students from various colleges. At this time she came to know Cambridge economists, including Maynard Keynes, Piero Sraffa, Maurice Dobb,Gerald Shove, James Meade, Dennis Robertson, A.C.Pigou, and of course Richard Kahn, Keyne's favourite pupil and Joan's most trusted critic. Joan had an incisive mind, and she relished the intense discussions held with colleagues in the faculty. Joan joined a small group of scholars referred to as "The Circus", which was formed by Sraffa in 1930 to discuss A Treatise on Money by Keynes. With reference to the group Joan wrote, "Keynes, and all of us, thought that [it] was of great and serious importance to get the argument right; taking credit for it was quite a secondary matter." In 1962, in correspondence with Nicky Kaldor, Joan wrote,  I value very much the work gang and I think that we all do each othjer more good working as a team thatn any one can by having prioriy or "all my own unaided work".

Joan's first publication appeared in 1932 in the form of a pamphlet Economics is a Serious Subject, followed by her first major work The Economics of Imperfect Competition in 1933.
In 1937 she was appointed a lecturer, a reader in 1949 and a professor in 1965, succeeding Austin. Throughout her academic career she worked ferociously, writing books and journal articles, as well as reviews of articles, both favourable and critical. She wrote prolifically about the new ideas being developed by Keynese and contributed much to the debate of employment theory, and the theories of money and international trade. During the Second World War Joan researched Marx's Capital to assess the impact of his economic theory on orthodox economists and Keynesisans.

Much of Joan's writing in the post-war years concerned development issues. She was fascinated by the Chinese experiment, travelling there eight times, as in her opinion China demonstrated how to implement a planned economy, in both urban and rural communities. A theme which recurred in her later years was her vehement opposition to war and the arms industry. Her last public lecture was a criticism of the nuclear arms race: "...never before has so great a proportion of economic energy and scientific study been devoted to means of destruction."

As summarised by Paul Samuelson, Joan sought to find "true socialism", helping to promote justice and equality in many different societies she had encountered throughout her life. She was an original thinker, a passionate seeker after truth, and one of the greatest economists of the twentieth century.

Original research by Sue Woods.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Austin Robinson : World War One pilot display in the Marshall Library

Most people are probably unaware that Sir Austin Robinson, described by Geoffrey Harcourt, as one of the unsung heroes of Cambridge economics, flew flying boats with the Royal Naval Air Service during World War One. This involved undertaking long exhausting patrols out over the North Sea in search of the German submarines and Zeppelins that were menacing British coastal convoys. He also went on to work as a test pilot for Shorts Brothers.

Austin was an ardent photographer and many of the photographs he took during his RNAS career, plus numerous original documents, are now held in the archives of the Marshall Library. As we are now in the midst of 100th anniversary commemerations relating to World War One we decided to use some fo these rare and unpublished photographs to illustrate the flying career of this prominent Cambridge economist.

On Monday we were delighted to host a visit from Catherine Jeffrey, Austin and Joan Robinson's granddaughter. She really enjoyed viewing the display.

The Austin Robinson display is located in the Marshall Library social areas and contains photographs of Austin at Marlborough School in 1916 shortly before enlisting in the RNAS, of the many aircraft he flew and of the flying boat production lines at Shorts Brothers in Rochester. The display will last until the end of November.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Austin Robinson Goes 'Solo'

To commemorate Austin Robinson's first solo flight exactly one hundred years ago today his grandson David Jeffrey has kindly contributed the following post using information gained from Austin's RNAS flying log book.

"Austin was up early on Wednesday, 30th May 1917 for this was the day he had dreamed of since joining the Royal Naval Air Service some four months previously ... the day he was going to fly solo.

At the time, he was based at RNAS Chingford and the plane he was going to fly was Grahame White 8785, the type of bread and butter machine used by the RNAS for the first-time trainee pilots.

Austin Robinson around 1917

A Grahame White trainer aircraft of around 1916

Austin had first reported for training as a pilot officer at RNAS Crystal Palace on 4th Feburary 1917 and after three weeks of induction training moved on to RNAS Chingford to be taught to fly.

RNAS Crystal Palace which gave basic training on the
naval air service and the rudiments of flying

RNAS Chingford around 1916
For the first three weeks at Chingford he received ground-based training and then first took to the air on 31st March with Flt. Cmdr. Jackson, an experienced trainer, at the controls. Over the next few weeks, he flew 23 sorties, on various Grahame White aircraft, gradually building up his flying competence. Then on 22nd May, for the first time, he flew alone but just hopping off the ground and back again, all in a straight line. On 27th and 28th he continued practising this in preparation for his first solo flight.

His big day, Wednesday 30th May, began at 5.15 am when he practised straight hops on his own. In his pilot's log, see below, he wrote '... rather bad drift. Landing very poor.' He had another practice at 5.55 am and remarked '... lost prop which could not be started' ... perhaps meaning that he had dug the propeller into the grass. There was then a gap, maybe to sort out the damage, till another practise at 7.46 pm after which he remarked '... much better. With F.C. Jackson for 1/2 circuit before solo'.

Everything was now ready and at 8.00 pm he took off solo and flew for 50 minutes (by far the longest time he had ever been in the air) and getting up to 2500 feet (more than twice the height he had every experienced before).

He must have been totally elated but his log book remarks are typically Austin, analytical and reflective 'First solo. Bumpy till 1500 feet. Rather rough on controls.'

Robin Jeffrey
17th April 2017

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

The Return of Alfred Marshall’s Book V, Ch.VII of Principles of Economics (annotated) from Japan

Prof. Shoichiro Uemiya visited the Marshall Library Archive on 9 March, 2017 to return a book that belonged to Alfred Marshall. The book appears to have been in Japan for some time and possibly since the 1920s. 

As Prof. Uemiya  explains in his own words:
“I am an Emeritus Professor of Kobe University in Japan. My major field is the history of economic thought. I studied for a year (1977-78) as an Honorary Research Fellow under the late Prof. R.D.C.Black at Queen’s University, Belfast.

Just before my retirement in March 2012 Mrs. Taeko Minakata, the wife of my supervisor the late Prof. Kanichi Minakata (1923-1985), asked me to return this book, which is part of Marshall’s Principles of Economics. The book contains pages with bound-in pages of written script – possibly in the handwriting of Marshall himself. Her husband told her that he received this particular book from his old-time supervisor Prof. Yasaburo Sakamoto (1894-1981). Prof. Minakata’s major field was Marshall’s Economic Theory. He came to Cambridge for a year (1962-63) to study and stayed at St. Edmund’s House. However, Mrs. Minakata has no idea when or where Prof. Sakamoto got the book. He did travel between 1919-1927 in England, France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland.”

The book comprises Book V, Ch. VII  pp. 449-610 of Principles of Economics. Many of the pages include handwritten insertions in coloured pencils and ink. There is also a stamp showing 15 Jan. 90, University Press, Cambridge. Clare Trowell, Marshall Librarian and Simon Frost, Deputy Librarian can confirm that the inserted pages are in Marshall’s handwriting as the Library Rare Books collections contain many examples of Marshall’s handwriting and it is clearly recognisable.

The Marshall Library Archive contains several photographs, including an intriguing picture of Mrs Mary Paley Marshall entertaining a Japanese visitor and his wife at her house, Balliol Croft, in 1928. This visitor is Prof. Tsunao Miyajima (1884-1965) who translated the Memoirs of Alfred Marshall (1925) into Japanese. Between 1919-1928 Prof. Miyajima was Prof. at the Kansai University, Osaka. In 1928 he also visited France. Between 1948-1952 he was Chief Director of Kansai University. There does not appear to be a link between Prof. Miyajima , Prof. Sakamoto and the mysterious annotated book that has just been returned to the Marshall Library Archives.

We plan to catalogue the returned book as a Rare Book and make it available to scholars of Alfred Marshall as soon as possible.

Prof. Uemiya also kindly donated a copy of his translation of the work:

The Scope and Method of Political Economy / J.N. Keynes    Marshall Library   20 F 18

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Encyclopedia of political thought

Users of the Marshall Library may be interested in the:

Encyclopedia of political thought

The University of Cambridge now has access to the Encyclopedia of political thought.  The Encyclopedia can be accessed via this link:
The Encyclopedia examines the history of political thought, contemporary political theory, and political philosophy. The entries range in size from shorter definitions and biographies to extended treatments of major topics and traditions. Tracing the evolution of political thinking from antiquity to the present, the scope of this unprecedented resource emphasizes the richness and diversity of the field’s traditions.
  • Offers over 900 A-Z entries including shorter definitions and biographies as well as extended treatments of major topics from over 700 contributors from around the world.
  • Examines the history of political thought from antiquity to contemporary political theory and political philosophy
  • Reflects diverse traditions in the evolution of political theory and political science
  • Addresses the theorists, their key theories and methods from within the western canon as well as from non-western perspectives
“A central problem for constitutionalism is the enforcement of constitutional norms. In the USA, there is no effective dissent from the practice, established in 1803 by Chief Justice Marshall in Marbury v. Madison, that courts in appropriate cases may overturn statutes as unconstitutional. But the idea of a constitutional court, though gaining ground around the world, is not a necessary component of constitutionalism. Legislatures and executives may feel bound by constitutional norms, even though they have the formal power to disregard them. Not since 1707 have British monarchs vetoed legislation enacted by parliament, though they have the “legal” authority to do so. In the USA, decisions to impeach and convict federal officials, such as the president and judges, are wholly in the hands of Congress under the constitution itself, but the impeachment power has been used only sparingly and when, occasionally, it was misused, the Senate refused to convict. That said, it is also indisputable that constitutional norms can change so that what was once thought to be perfectly plain and acceptable to one generation becomes unthinkable, as a matter of constitutional law, to another. The most spectacular example in American history is the Supreme Court’s change of mind on the question of racial segregation from its 1896 decision in Plessy v. Ferguson to its decision in 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education.”
— Lieberman, J. K. 2014. Constitutionalism. The Encyclopedia of Political Thought. 730–732

Inscription on the wall of the Supreme Court Building from Marbury v. Madison, in which Chief Justice John Marshall outlined the concept of judicial review

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Austin Robinson's Indian sojourn

Amongst the varied and extensive material contained within the Austin Robinson archives held by the Marshall Library there is an unassuming brown marbled folder containing 112 typewritten foolscap pages. This is the draft report produced by Austin in 1928 at the behest of the Indian States and which was incorporated into "The British Crown and the Indian States" published in 1929. It is significant in that it not only represents Austin's first involvement in the practical problems of development economics but also provides an early example of his belief in the importance of quantifying economic arguments.

 Folder containing Austin's typescript draft notes on the economic relationships between Indian States and British India (Austin Robinson Papers 7/1/10)

It is perhaps not surprising that Austin should be drawn to development economics and the idea that economics should, ideally, be about improving the state of the world. After leaving the Royal Naval Air Service he returned to Cambridge as an undergraduate and, in the long vacation of 1920, found himself participating in the Liverpool University Settlement which undertook to help poor dockers living in the slums of Merseyside. As a result of this experience he gained some understanding of the problems facing the less fortunate elements of society. Moreover Austin was fortunate to be taught by Keynes, Pigou, Fay and Shove at a time when there was general consensus amongst Cambridge economists that economics should not be studied for itself but for the benefits it could bring.

It was not, however, until Austin had the opportunity to live in India that he was presented with the opportunity to use his economic ideas to promote development. In 1923 he was made a fellow of Corpus and, in 1926, married Joan Maurice. Shortly afterwards, and as a result of his College connections, Austin was offered the job of tutor to the ten-year-old Maharaja Jivajiro Scindia in Gwalior, a semi-sovereign princely state in India.

Official photograph of the ten year old Maharajah of Gwalior, dated 19/11/1928  (Austin Robinson Papers 12/1/14)

Austin and Joan arrived in Gwalior in October 1926 and received accommodation in an enormous mansion close to the Maharajah's palace. Although Austin's primary concern was the education of the young Mararajah it was during his time in Gwalior that he became interested in the financial relations between the Princely States and the Government of India and, through this, the problems confronting developing regions generally.

The mansion in which Austin and Joan lived during their stay in Gwalior (Austin Robinson Papers 12/1/2)

Austin's Indian sojourn coincided with the arrival of an official committee under Sir Harcourt Butler which had been appointed to report on a range of issues regarding the governance of India.

Having had the opportunity to meet several of the representatives of the Princely States - notably Pandit Narian Haksar - socially at the Palace of Gwalior, Austin has been made aware of many of the economic and fiscal issues that concerned the states in their dealings with the Government of India. He also met members of the Butler Committee and became concerned that they didn't fully appreciate the significance of the issues as explained to him by Haksar - Butler, in particular, he considered to be "terribly lazy and self-satisfied".

 As a result, in April 1928, Austin produced the draft memorandum that currently resides in the Marshall Library in which he set out the economic case for the Princely States. After reviewing Austin's work the group acting for the States realized that the economic arguments were more complex than they had initially imagined and, in June 1928, asked Joan to accompany them to London to assist in the presentation of their case. Austin was not involved in any subsequent amendments or the final presentation of the document which was later published by P.S. King as 'The British Crown and the Indian States' in 1929.


Table of contents to Austin's memorandum - Click here for larger image (Austin Robinson Papers 7/1/10)

Austin's preface to the memorandum showing some of Joan's amendments - Click here for larger image (Austin Robinson Papers 7/1/10)


Austin argued that, because the Princely States were relatively underdeveloped compared to those areas administered directly by the Government of India, it was essential to review the fiscal burdens and obligations imposed on the States to ensure that they were fair and just and to release capital which could then be used to promote development. To this end he sought to quantify the benefits and burdens arising out of the State's relations with the Indian Government. Although this was difficult due to the paucity of accurate data available he considered it vital if the claims and arguments of the States were not to be dismissed out of hand by the Butler Committee.

This memorandum is significant as it represents Austin's first work in economics to appear in print - although, of course, it was eventually much revised and re-written and was never actually attributed to him in the final published version which appeared in 1929. It is also significant in that it represents his first foray into the practicalities of economic development and, as such, has been described by Geoff harcourt (2006, p.521) as '... a first-class piece of applied political economy'.*1

*1 Harcourt, G.C. (2006) 'Robinson, (Edward) Austin (Gossage) (1897-1993)', in Clark, D.A. (ed.) The Elgar companion to development studies. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, pp. 520-525.