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Correspondence and papers of Edward Arthur Milne


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Milne died suddenly, away from home, in 1950, at the relatively early age of fifty-four. He had been twice widowed and had three still young children. In these circumstances there were more urgent tasks than the care of his papers, and the present collection, assembled after a considerable lapse of time, has many gaps. In particular, there is little record of Milne's overseas travel for research and conferences, or of his committee and editorial work. The surviving correspondence, interesting though it is, is clearly no more than a fraction of the original corpus.

The lecture notes and drafts in lecture and papers and notes and drafts series indicate the range of Milne's mathematical and astrophysical interests reasonably well, if not as fully as could be wished. Perhaps the main interest is to be found in the correspondence. The letters to his parents and brother in the biographical and personal series are revealing of his personality as well as of his work as a young man in the First World War. The letters to Chandrasekhar in Section D, while mainly on technical subjects and especially Milne's growing belief in his theory of kinematic relativity, also contain many insights into his family life, bereavements, and daily struggles. There is clearly to be seen in both these sequences of correspondence Milne's deep love for Trinity College, Cambridge, whose traditions and ceremonies he accepted wholeheartedly and took part in whenever he could.


  • Creation: 1916-1976


1.65 Linear metres (11 physical shelfmarks)

Language of Materials

  • English
  • Dutch; Flemish

Preferred Citation

Oxford, Bodleian Libraries [followed by shelfmark and folio or page reference, e.g. MS. Eng. misc. b. 423/A.1, fol. 1.].

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Full range of shelfmarks:

MSS. Eng. misc. b. 423-429; c. 870-872; d. 1277

Collection ID (for staff)

CMD ID 15582


Correspondence and papers of Edward Arthur Milne, FRS, (1896-1950), mathematician, astrophysicist and cosmologist.

Biographical / Historical

Edward Arthur Milne was a distinguished mathematician and one of the founders of modern theoretical astrophysics.

Milne was born in Hull, Yorkshire on 14 February 1896. He was educated at Hymers College, Hull, and Trinity College, Cambridge. He became Assistant Director of the Solar Physics Observatory, Cambridge (1920), Beyer Professor of Applied Mathematics at Manchester (1925-1928) and the first holder of the Rouse Ball Professorship at Oxford (1928-1950). Milne served in both World Wars, on ballistics and sound-ranging at the Anti-Aircraft Experimental Station at Portsmouth 1916-1918 (holding an R.N.V.R. Commission), and for the Ministry of Supply at the Ordnance Board as a 'Key Scientist' for much of the Second World War (1939-1944).

W.H. McCrea, in his memoir of Milne for the Royal Society, distinguishes three principal phases in Milne's work: atmospheric problems in astrophysics (1920-1929), stellar structure (1929-1935) and the discovery and development of kinematic relativity (from 1932). Other topics on which he wrote and lectured include thermodynamics, statistical mechanics and pulsating stars.

Milne died suddenly, in Dublin, in 1950, while preparing to give a series of lectures. These can be found in one of his last published books: Modern Cosmology and the Christian Idea of God (1952).

An annual Milne lecture was founded under the auspices of Wadham College, Oxford, the first being given in 1978.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The collection has been assembled from several sources.

The personal letters at MS. Eng. misc. b. 423/A.6 - MS. Eng. misc. b. 423/A.20 and the note on Geoffrey Milne at MS. Eng. misc. b. 423/A.21 are the gift of Mrs. M.K. Milne, widow of Geoffrey and sister-in-law of Arthur Milne.

The correspondence at MS. Eng. misc. b. 429/D.58 - MS. Eng. misc. b. 429/D.61 is the gift of Professor and Mrs. Theodore Dunham, friends with whom Milne's daughters stayed during the Second World War.

The photocopies of letters to H. Davenport at CSAC 102.6.84/D.53A were made available by Mrs. Anne Davenport.

The remainder of the material was assembled and given by Mrs. Margaret (Meggie) Weston-Smith and Miranda Weston-Smith (daughter and grand-daughter), who were also responsible for obtaining the photocopied documents and transcripts at MS. Eng. misc. b. 427/D.2 - MS. Eng. misc. b. 429/D.50, MS. Eng. misc. b. 429/D.51 - MS. Eng. misc. b. 429/D.53, and MS. Eng. misc. b. 429/D.63 - MS. Eng. misc. b. 429/D.68.

Related Materials

A fuller account of Milne's career can be found in the memoir by W.H. McCrea, Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society, 7, 1950-1951, pp.421-443.

A little correspondence remains in family hands.

The manuscript of Milne's Edward Cadbury Lectures, 'Modern Cosmology and the Christian Idea of God', is held in the Library of Trinity College, Cambridge (Ref.: Add. Ms. a.228). The lectures were to have been given in the University of Birmingham in 1950 but Milne died in September of that year. The manuscript was edited by G.J. Whitrow and published in 1952.

Six letters by Milne to Sir Joseph Larmor written between 1930 and 1933 are held in the Royal Society, London.

A list of additional locations of letters by and to Milne can be found at MS. Eng. misc. b. 427/D1.

Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of Edward Arthur Milne, FRS, (1896-1950), mathematician and physicist
Finding aid prepared by Original catalogue by Jeannine Alton and Peter Harper; EAD version by Lawrence Mielniczuk
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Bodleian Libraries Repository

Weston Library
Broad Street
Oxford OX1 3BG United Kingdom