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Papers of Sir Isaiah Berlin, 1897-1998, with some family papers, 1903-1972


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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papers and publications, 1929-1998 (research notes and papers for and drafts and proofs of Berlin's published and unpublished works); Works and papers of others, c.1920-1998 (predominantly relating to Berlin's own work); Personal papers, 1922-1997 (including juvenilia, financial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

  • English
  • Russian
  • Yiddish
  • Hebrew

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.

Preferred Citation

Oxford, Bodleian Libraries [followed by shelfmark and folio or page reference, e.g. MS. Berlin 232, fols.1-3].

Please see our help page for further guidance on citing archives and manuscripts.

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.

Custodial History

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.

Related Materials

The Isaiah Berlin Virtual Library, compiled and maintained by Henry Hardy at Wolfson College, Oxford, contains a wealth of information about Berlin's life and works. This catalogue includes direct links to relevant information and documents in the Virtual Library, together with references to entries in the bibliography of Berlin's works, indicated by (bib.).

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

Repository Details

Part of the Bodleian Libraries Repository

Weston Library
Broad Street
Oxford OX1 3BG United Kingdom