Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Inside the Marshall Library by Barbara Heindl, Work Experience Student from Berlin State Library

When I first applied for an internship at the UL Cambridge, I didn’t expect to get a glimpse into such a diverse landscape of libraries which is part of a university that is at the least just as diverse! Having studied Literature at the University of Tübingen in southern Germany, having started my PhD in Cultural Studies in Frankfurt/Oder and working now in the Berlin State Library while getting another master’s degree in Library- and Information Sciences from the Humboldt-University in Berlin, I thought I knew what to expect. But Cambridge doesn’t work like most other universities. Here, there’s not only the UL, the faculty and departmental libraries but also quite a few college libraries: That means that the entire system works differently and whilst in Germany more or less every person working in a library is called “librarian”, Cambridge offers that title but to the heads of libraries.
cc-by-sa Martin McCormick

However, after two weeks in varied departments of the UL, I got the chance to spend one week in the Marshall Library and that was quite distinct from what I am used to!

© Marshall Library

The day starts off rather calm in the Marshall Library but that changes around 10 a.m. when a wave of students arrives. Most of them try to spend about an hour working in between classes and take the chance to return or borrow books. As library staff, it’s easy to see which books have been recommended in the previous class because the corresponding copies are in a very high demand. 

Both in the Berlin State Library and in the UL library life follows other rules and is a little less dependent on the schedules of students. Most of the readers come in during the morning, find their preferred desks and then stay until the evening, working on a paper or some kind of book etc.
Being above all a place for students also implicates special tasks – some of which might also be a little special to Cambridge. Libraries around Cambridge University try to get hold of as many reading lists as possible in order to provide students with whatever they might need. That means that library staff is checking each and every list to make sure that enough copies are available and that no one has to check different libraries to get that one book you’ll desperately need for your essay. That service is by no means standard in other universities where either students have to figure out how to get their books or teaching staff is scanning page after page – usually poorly paid.
But it’s not all about books, e-books and journals: The Marshall Library also offers training about finding literature and data searching. The Library also provides access to databases and economic data. 

Nor is the Library exclusively about students, the Marshall Library also supports researchers in Economics.  More and more funders expect researchers to publish open access and to provide open data. Researchers might be happy to learn that the Marshall Library knows what makes a good Data Management Plan and how to deposit works in Apollo. What is more: Did you ever think about the impact factor of your paper or the H-index? As that is part of bibliometrics, the library can help understanding these – controversial – measurements and can tell researchers about other possibilities, i.e. about Altmetrics. That might not sound too fascinating and certainly isn’t idealistic research. But it might help to demonstrate the importance and potential impact of one’s work.

As for me, I really enjoyed helping at the lending desk because I usually don’t get to meet the people for whom I’m actually working. In Berlin I’d only spend two hours twice a month at an information desk in the reading room and so it was quite a pleasure to be in touch with the students! 

As the Marshall Lectures take place in November, I was able to get to know somebody else: Robert Shiller. He will lecture on two occasions and the Marshall Library will put on an exhibition about his life, his works as well as books held in the Library. There will even be a video.

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.