McMaster University has curated an online exhibit showcasing some the letters written to peace advocate, philosopher and Nobel laureate Bertrand Russell by some of the most recognizable figures of the 20th century. The exhibit includes letters from John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Martine Luther King, Albert Einstein and many others. Russell’s archives at McMaster is the largest collection of Russell materials in the world. The collection contains more that 130,000 letters, 250,000 original documents written by Russell, 3400 books from his personal library, 3900 volumes of his published works and other scholarly materials, as well as many photos and artifacts including his 1950 Nobel Medal in Literature.
On April 11, 1955, philosopher, peace advocate and Nobel laureate Bertrand Russell – one of the greatest intellectuals of the 20th century – received a letter from his longtime acquaintance, Albert Einstein, who was near death. Weeks earlier, Russell had authored a statement warning of the dangers of atomic weapons and urging world leaders to seek peaceful solutions to international conflict. Hoping to unite the world’s greatest scientific minds behind what would later become known as the Russell-Einstein Manifesto, Russell had written to Einstein asking for his endorsement. In a short, three-sentence reply, Einstein, a fierce opponent of nuclear proliferation wrote, “I am gladly willing to sign your excellent statement.” Einstein died just seven days later. His letter in support of the Russell-Einstein Manifesto was his last public act.
This letter, and many others written to Russell by some of the most recognizable figures of the 20th century, are part of a special online exhibit curated by McMaster University Library librarian, Rick Stapleton.
Dear Bertie: a selection of letters to Bertrand Russell contains forty letters from McMaster University Library’s extensive Bertrand Russell Archives which help shed light on key periods in Russell’s
The exhibit includes letters written by political leaders such as John F. Kennedy and Indian Prime Minster Jawaharlal Nehru and civil rights leader James Baldwin, as well as letters written by literary figures like Aldous Huxley, George Bernard Shaw and peace activist Vera Brittain. The collection also includes letters written by those who knew Russell best like his lover Constance Malleston and even his grandmother, Frances Russell.
“Even through the Bertrand Russell Archives and Research Centre isn’t currently open to the public, students and scholars can still explore some of its fascinating materials through these letters,” says Stapleton. “I hope the exhibit will not only provide a sense of who Bertrand Russell was and what’s in his archive, but also leave people curious to learn more.”
Below, Stapleton shares some of the letters highlighted in the exhibit and explains what makes them so significant:
For more information on the Russell Archives and Bertrand Russell click here
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