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Papers of Julian Sorell Huxley


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Ornithological papers of Julian Sorell Huxley, [c.1880s]-1949, comprising 10 boxes, including bird notes and diaries, manuscripts and drafts of papers, photographs, lantern slides, notecards, papers and correspondence regarding the 1921 Oxford University Spitzbergen Expedition.


  • Creation: [c.1880s]-1949


1.99 Linear metres (10 physical shelfmarks)

Language of Materials

  • English

Preferred Citation

Oxford, Bodleian Libraries [followed by shelfmark, e.g. MS. 14985/1].

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Full range of shelfmarks:

MSS. 14985/1-10

Collection ID (for staff)

CMD ID 14985


Ornithological papers of Julian Sorell Huxley.

Biographical / Historical

Julian Sorell was born in Bloomsbury, London in 1887, grandson of the biologist Thomas Henry Huxley. He worked first as a zoologist, then as a writer (on a wide variety of topics, including ornithology) and later became director-general of UNESCO. Throughout his life ornithology was an important hobby and a subject on which he conducted and published research.

He attended Eton College and obtained a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford where he obtained first class honours in natural science (zoology). The autumn after his graduation he went to Naples for a year to undertake research on sponges and protozoa at the Naples Marine Biological Station, funded by a Naples Scholarship. He returned to Oxford to work as a lecturer at Balliol College and a demonstrator at the Department of Zoology. In the summer of 1912 Huxley was offered the Chair of Biology at the newly-created Rice Institute in Houston, Texas. He accepted on the basis that he could take up the position for a year later after completing further study in comparative biology in Germany. This study he undertook first in Heidelberg and then in Munich.

In autumn in 1916 he returned to England, feeling he ought to become involved with the war effort, but came home via Woods Hole on Cape Cod to finish research work he had started in 1913. When he returned to England he was first given a post in the Censor's office, but found the work boring and frustrating. He resigned and in spring 1917 he enlisted in the Army Service Corps. Upon returning to England from the Italian front in 1919 Huxley was offered a fellowship in Zoology at New College, Oxford, which he took up that autumn following his marriage to Juliette Baillot. While in this post he went on the Oxford University Expedition to Spitsbergen in 1921. In 1925 he moved to take up Chair of Zoology at King's College, London. He also held the post of Fullerian Professor of Physiology at the Royal Institution from 1926 to 1928. However, in 1926 he met H.G. Wells who persuaded him to collaborate in writing the popular science book, The Science of Life and in 1927 Huxley gave up his seat to concentrate on this work.

For the next few years Huxley made his living by writing, giving lecture tours and radio talks. In 1929 he went on his first visit to Africa through his role as a member of the Colonial Office Committee on Education. He visited East Africa to report on the role of biological science in African education and on the value of nature conservation in East Africa. This visit led to Huxley being on the committee of Lord Hailey's African Survey from 1933 to 1938. His visit to Africa was just one of many foreign journeys and expeditions, which often led to the creation of new wildlife reserves.

In 1935 he took up salaried employment again as Secretary of the Zoological Society. This post involved an eclectic range of duties including visiting continental zoos and developing the zoo at Whipsnade, near Dunstable. Soon after the war broke out Huxley helped to organise a War Aims group supported by the PEP (Political and Economic Planning), which led to him taking on a lecture tour in the USA in 1941 covering general subjects, as well as war aims. In 1942, while still in America, he found out that his post of Secretary at the Zoo had been made honorary and a new Scientific Director would be appointed to look after the Society's internal affairs. Huxley fought the decision and the Privy Council pronounced the decision invalid, but facing opposition from the new Council Huxley resigned from the post. He went back to earning a living from lectures, talks on the BBC, writing and also sitting on various PEP groups and committees.

In 1945 Huxley was appointed secretary-general of the UNESCO preparatory commission by the British government, and was persuaded to become the first director-general of UNESCO a year later. This appointment ended in 1948 was his last salaried position.


Huxley, J., 1970. Memories, London: Allen & Unwin.

Needham, J., 1975. Huxley remembered. Nature, 254, pp.2-3.

Olby, Robert. "Huxley, Sir Julian Sorrell (1887-1975)." In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, edited by H.C.G. Matthews and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Online ed., edited by Lawrence Goldman, October 2009. [Accessed January 24, 2012].


Material arranged as received from the Alexander Library of Ornithology with the exception of the items in MS. 14985/1 and MS. 14985/2. These have been re-arranged into their original order, '1-22' and 'A-E'.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Transferred from the Alexander Library of Ornithology, 2018.

Catalogue of the papers of Julian Sorell Huxley
Finding aid prepared by EAD version by Jen Patterson and Marion Lowman
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Bodleian Libraries Repository

Weston Library
Broad Street
Oxford OX1 3BG United Kingdom