skip to content

Cambridge University Library

  • One small step…or 50 years ago (almost) today

    One of my very earliest memories is sitting underneath the table in our living-room when I was a tiny child. It was the middle of the night, I’m sure I’d never been up so late before. The reason I was … Continue reading →
    Timestamp: 19 July 2019 - 8:45am
  • The moon in fact and fiction

    As the 50th anniversary of men first setting foot on the moon is observed across the world, it is only right that this blog highlights some of the European moon-related items in our collections. First is Sidereus nuncius by Galileo, … Continue reading →
    Timestamp: 17 July 2019 - 12:31pm
  • Commonwealth universities

    Presentation Day, Ahmadu Bello University, Nigeria, 1960s, Y3011WW_1

    Several fascinating personal memoirs have been donated to the Royal Commonwealth Society Library recently and the latest to be catalogued online was written by the physicist and pioneering university administrator Sir Norman Alexander (1907-1997).  ‘Commonwealth Universities’ is the unpublished draft of a book in which Alexander summarises his own academic career, and provides a frank personal account of his experience in establishing new higher educational institutions in developing countries of the Commonwealth during the 1960s and 1970s (RCMS 401).

    Alexander was born in Mangapiko, New Zealand, and graduated from Auckland University with first class honours in Physics in 1927.  He won a two-year scholarship to Cambridge University’s Cavendish Laboratory in 1930, studying with his distinguished compatriot Ernest Rutherford, and worked as Demonstrator in Physics at King’s College, London, while completing his doctorate.  Alexander includes some interesting anecdotes of his time in Cambridge, noting how Rutherford shut the lab at 6 PM, as ‘you must get out and do some thinking.’ He mentions the Foolosophical Society, a mock imitation of the famous Philosophical Society (subject of a current UL exhibition) which met at the end of the first term to present parodies of scientific papers, such as ‘The relation between hell and absolute zero.’  There was also a bicycle polo match against Newnham College.

    Changi internment camp nominal roll, 1943, RCMS 103_12_22_2

    In 1936 Alexander was appointed Professor of Physics at Raffles College in Singapore, where one of his research projects involved assisting the Royal Navy in establishing a network of radio direction-finding stations.  Alexander was interned at Changi Gaol and Sime Road civilian internment camps following the fall of Singapore to Japan in 1942.  In Changi, he contributed to the construction of a salt evaporation plant and the production of medical supplies for the camp hospital.  The acquisition of Alexander’s memoir is particularly welcome because of his presence in the RCS’s civilian internment archives, where he co-authored a report on the notorious Double Tenth incident of 10 October 1943.

    Ahmadu Bello University, Nigeria, 1960s, Y3011WW_3

    Alexander returned to Raffles College after the end of the Second World War, then in 1952, became Professor of Physics at Nigeria’s University College, Ibadan, an internal college of London University (later Ibadan University after Nigeria’s independence in 1960).  Alexander and the department conducted significant magnetic and ionospheric geophysical research.  In 1959, he was appointed first Vice-Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University, Northern Nigeria.  Creating this new university was a mammoth undertaking with capital duties not shared by his British counterparts:

    Ahmadu Bello University Library, Nigeria, 1960s, Y3011WW_2 Y3011WW_2

    ‘None of the great planners realised that a VC of a university in an undeveloped or developing country had in fact also to be the Mayor of a small town. The University had to provide on campus housing for the entire staff – a community of some four hundred houses; which meant provision for sewage services – so our own sewage plant; our own rubbish collection and disposal.  Because of the unreliably of the national water and electricity supplies we had our own stand-by plants; a bore-hole in an adjacent stream-bed, with pumping and water-treatment plant for emergency supplies; our own stand-by electricity generators for emergency; our own motor transport section, with our own system of vehicle maintenance; our own building and grounds maintenance.  On another front, a resident Medical Officer and two nurses; a primary school and teachers for the children of staff; a mosque and a Christian chapel – none of these the responsibility of a British University.’

    University of the West Indies, Barbados, 1970s, Y3011WW_4

    Alexander left Ahmadu Bello in 1966 and from this time, offered advice and support for the establishment of other universities within the Commonwealth, including the University of the West lindies in 1966 and the University of the South Pacific in Fiji (1966-68). In 1970, as an Advisor to the Ministry of Overseas Development, Alexander authored a report on the development of a federal university for Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland, combining higher education with vocational and teacher training.  He was also part of missions to universities in Mauritius, Zambia, Ghana, India and Sri Lanka.  In 1971, Alexander joined the Governing Body of the School of Oriental and African Studies, from which he retired in 1973.

    Alexander’s memoir neatly complements the photograph collection of the Inter-University Council, Y3011WW, which is already held by the RCS.  Originally formed in the aftermath of the Second World War, the council promoted the development of universities in independent countries of the Commonwealth and beyond, before its amalgamation with the British Council in 1981.  The Inter-University Council’s collection of glass plates has been digitised and may be viewed on Cambridge Digital Library (Y3011KKK).





    Timestamp: 17 July 2019 - 10:48am
  • The Economic Consequences of the Peace by John Maynard Keynes, 1919 Part III: Maynard and his mother: Florence Ada Keynes by Sue Woods

    Florence was devoted to her son, Maynard, and took enormous pride in his achievements. In her collection of family scrapbooks, she carefully stored all the press cuttings and reviews tracing the successful careers of her three children, Maynard, Geoffrey, and Margaret. Bound in these scrapbooks were hundreds of articles featuring Maynard’s publication of the Economic Consequences of the Peace, including his letters to newspapers as well as the reactions of his readers.  Florence and Neville, Maynard's father, set up their home at 6 Harvey Road, Cambridge, where they enjoyed the relatively affluent lifestyle of the Victorian academic family. With three young children, Florence shared her children's interests and ambitions, so that she was always there for them, ready to help. Portrait of Florence Ada Keynes, by courtesy of Cambridgeshire Collection

    Maynard's friends referred to her as "the good mother Keynes" [1] and although she was committed to so many good causes, her family always came first and she would drop everything to help them.
    Florence was immensely proud of Maynard, and in a letter to him in August 1917, when he was serving in the Treasury, Florence wrote:“How exciting it must be for you to attend the Cabinet meetings.  Indeed, it seems to me that you are having such experiences as will make the whole of life pale afterwards.” [2]
    Just 2 years later, when attending the Peace Conference in Paris, Maynard relied on his mother for support.  They corresponded regularly, with Maynard relating his many meetings with the Chancellor and the Prime Minister, as well as his frustrations at the lack of progress.  Despairing of the failure of the Peace Conference, Maynard was on the point of resigning his post at the Treasury, and wrote to his mother regretting that he had been “an accomplice in all this wickedness and folly.[3]  Florence reassured Maynard and tried to console him, writing on 19 May, “… perhaps things are not quite so desperate”[4].  Maynard felt unable to continue and wrote to the Prime Minister on 5 June to resign his position.
    Even when working all hours on writing “The Economic Consequences of the Peace”, Maynard took the time to write to his mother, “… managed to keep up my average of 1,000 words fit for the printer every day, seven days a week; but there are still some very difficult bits to do.  I hope to finish by the first week of October and have it actually published before the last day of the month.” [5] By 23 September 1919, Maynard had sent the first five chapters to the printers, but had not yet started the two remaining chapters and reckoned that he was ten days behind schedule.  He wrote again to Florence from Charleston, “They weigh rather heavily as I am stale and should like to take a month off…. But I suppose I must persevere.”[6]
    Florence tried to persuade Maynard to tone down the personal passages in "The Economic Consequences of the Peace", as she was concerned about the offence they might cause to Wilson and Lloyd George. She considered his references to Lord Sumner as possibly libellous and hoped that he would remove the "nasty hits at Lloyd owe some loyalty to your Chief, even if you don't agree with him... Also spare the President where you can...Don't call him 'poor'. Broadly speaking it is really important to be careful about international susceptibilities, so don't call the French demands perposterous, or call any 'great' man wicked or wanton. The work will gain, not lose, by restraint."[7]. Maynard heeded some but not all of his mother's advice and removed some of the references. 
    REFERENCES[1] Skidelsky, Robert. John Maynard Keynes. Volume 1. London: Macmillan, 1983[2] Letter: FAK to JMK 1 Aug 1917[3] Letter: JMK to FAK 14 May 1919[4] Skidelsky, Robert. John Maynard Keynes. Volume 1. London: Macmillan, 1983[5] Letter: JMK to FAK 3 Sep 1919[6] Letter: JMK to FAK 23 Sep 1919[7] Skidelsky, Robert. John Maynard Keynes. Volume 1. London: Macmillan, 1983

    Timestamp: 16 July 2019 - 9:27am