Papers of Sir Isaiah Berlin, 1897-1998, with some family papers, 1903-1972
The papers comprise: Diaries, 1923-1998; Correspondence and papers, 1927-1997 (encompassing a general series, letters of major correspondents, family correspondence, correspondence on academic administrative business, and files relating to various organizations and topics in which Berlin had an interest); Academic and literary research papers and publications, 1929-1998 (research notes and papers for and drafts and proofs of Berlin's published and unpublished works); Works and papers of others, c.1920-1998 (predominantly relating to Berlin's own work); Personal papers, 1922-1997 (including juvenilia, financial papers and official papers); Memorabilia and printed papers, 1897-1998; and Papers of Berlin's parents', 1903-1972 (including diaries, correspondence, financial papers and autobiographical accounts).
- Creation: 1897-1998
61.38 Linear metres (826 physical shelfmarks)
Language of Materials
Conditions Governing Access
Most correspondence later than 1980 is closed. Correspondence and papers relating to confidential university business are closed for 80 years; certain other administrative files are closed for 30 years.
Oxford, Bodleian Libraries [followed by shelfmark and folio or page reference, e.g. MS. Berlin 232, fols.1-3].
Full range of shelfmarks:
MSS. Berlin 1-826
Collection ID (for staff)
CMD ID 11369
Correspondence and papers of Sir Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997), philosopher and historian of ideas, with correspondence and papers of his parents, Mendel Borisovich Berlin (1884-1953), timber and bristle trader, and (Mussa) Marie Berlin (1880-1974).
Biographical / Historical
Sir Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997), philosopher and historian of ideas, was born in Riga, Latvia, of Jewish parents. After spending his early years mainly in Riga and in Petrograd (St Petersburg), Russia, he moved with his parents to London in 1921. Thereafter he was educated at St Paul's School and at Corpus Christi College, Oxford - thus beginning a lifelong association with the University.
Between 1932 and 1938 Berlin was a Fellow of All Souls College, where he studied philosophy and wrote a biography of Karl Marx (published in 1939). In 1938 he moved to New College, where he remained until 1950 with the exception of the war years: the period 1940-1946 was spent in the United States. There he worked for British Information Services in New York and Washington, reporting on the state of US opinion on the war. After the end of the war, in late 1945, he spent three months in Moscow and Leningrad on official business. During this period he met the poets Anna Akhmatova and Boris Pasternak: his conversations with Akhmatova in particular he considered one of the most significant and moving experiences in his life.
In the years following his return to academic life after the war, Berlin gradually created his own niche in the history of ideas, while also developing original ideas in political thought: especially in the fields of liberalism and pluralism. He returned to All Souls College in 1950, became Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory in 1957 and was knighted that same year. From 1949 he regularly lectured in the United States, establishing close links with many US academics and finding great intellectual stimulus from those of them interested in the history of ideas - better represented in that country than in Britain. In 1966 Berlin accepted the Presidency of Wolfson College (initially known as Iffley College), and was instrumental in its creation as a building and institution. He retired from the University in 1975 but had already become President of the British Academy, a position he retained until 1978. During 'retirement' he continued to pursue his academic and social interests, and was to see the publication of numerous uncollected and unpublished writings through the efforts of his editor, Henry Hardy.
Berlin had numerous interests beyond his professional work. He was involved in many aspects of Israeli political, cultural and academic affairs, notably as a Governor of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and was a committed Zionist. He had a lifelong passion for music, and became a Director of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. On both professional and social levels Berlin maintained a hectic round of engagements, his capacity for brilliant talk making him a guest eagerly sought after by countless friends and acquaintances at home and abroad. Throughout his life he developed close friendships with people from many walks of life, these relationships being vividly illuminated in his extensive correspondence. In 1956 Berlin married Aline Halban (née de Gunzbourg), thereafter enjoying many years of happily married life.
Most material in each series is arranged chronogically.
The papers were housed at Sir Isaiah's home, Headington House, Headington, at All Souls College, Oxford and at Wolfson College, Oxford.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The papers were given to the Bodleian Library by the Isaiah Berlin Literary Trust in 1999.
- Berlin | Aline Elisabeth Yvonne | b 1915 | née de Gunzbourg | formerly Strauss, Halban | wife of Sir Isaiah Berlin (Person)
- Berlin | family (Family)
- Berlin | Mendel Borisovich | 1884-1953 | timber and bristle trader (Person)
- Berlin | Mussa Marie | 1880-1974 | née Volshonok | wife of Mendel Berlin (Person)
- Berlin | Sir | Isaiah | 1909-1997 | Knight | historian and philosopher (Person)
- Catalogue of the papers of Sir Isaiah Berlin, 1897-1998, with some family papers, 1903-1972
- Michael J. Hughes
- Language of description
- Script of description