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Tansley, Sir Arthur George (1871-1955)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0117 AT
Held at: Royal Society
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Full title: Tansley, Sir Arthur George (1871-1955)
Date(s): 1872-c1921
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 3 boxes
Name of creator(s): Tansley | Sir | Arthur George | 1871-1955 | Knight | plant ecologist


Administrative/Biographical history:

Tansley (1871-1955) was educated at Highgate School, University College London, and Trinity College Cambridge (MA). He was Demonstrator and later Assistant Professor of Botany at University College London, 1893-1906; University Lecturer in Botany, Cambridge, 1906-1923; President of the Botanical Section, British Association, 1923; Fellow of Magdalen College and Sherardian Professor of Botany, Oxford, 1927-1937. He was founder, 1902, and editor, for 30 years, of the New Phytologist, and editor, for 21 years, of the Journal of Ecology; President of the British Ecological Society, 1913-1915 and 1938-1940; Chairman of the Nature Conservancy, 1949-1953; and President of the Council for the Promotion of Field Studies from 1947. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1915; received the Linnean Gold Medal in 1941; Honorary Fellow of Trinity College Cambridge from 1944; and knighted in 1950.

Tansley was secretary to the Scientific Research Association and also a member of the Cambridge Branch of the National Union of Scientific Workers (see AT/1/2/1). Due to Tansley's role as secretary, more administrative material relating to the Scientific Research Association is to be found in this collection than for the National Union of Scientific Workers. Two rival histories of the genesis of both organisations can be found in this collection at AT/2/4/3 and AT/2/6/1/34. The Scientific Research Association was officially founded in February 1918 with the aim of promoting pure scientific research. The National Union of Scientific Workers was founded in October 1918 and negotiations over a possible merger or accommodation between the two organisations are evident from the surviving correspondence in AT/2/6. Whilst a merger between the two organisations was rejected a federation of Associations was considered by the National Union of Scientific Workers (see AT/1/3/2). The 'Federation of Technical and Scientific Associations' at AT/3 is possibly the federation suggested by the National Union of Scientific Workers. It is unclear from the surviving material in this collection how long these organisations existed, although due to insufficient support from the scientific community the Scientific Research Association considered altering the constitution and organisation of the British Association for the Advancement of Science and working through that body rather than forming a separate organisation (see AT/2/3/9 and AT/2/7).


Scope and content/abstract:

A small collection of papers of Sir Arthur George Tansley, mainly related to the formation of organisations, in the period 1918-1921, that aimed to promote pure and applied scientific research. The bulk of the collection consists of papers relating to Tansley's involvement in the Scientific Research Association. The Scientific Research Association's papers include rules, promotional leaflets and circulars, financial material and a relatively large amount of correspondence. A smaller amount of material survives for the National Union of Scientific Workers including rule booklets, membership lists, reports from meetings, agenda and promotional leaflets and circulars. Only a few items are preserved in this collection for the Federation of Technical and Scientific Associations and the Cambridge Research Group. The published articles and reports at AT/5 mainly concern issues related to the funding, support and the general state of scientific research. As a whole the collection reveals many problems faced by those who wished to organise research work after the first world war, such as the problem of rival organisations created to promote research whose aims overlapped, and disagreements over how and whether research could be organised. For example a letter from the Royal Society to the Scientific Research Association commented that 'lines of development' were 'discovered not by councils or committees but by the instinct of individuals, and the less this is trammelled by organization the better' (AT/2/6/1/42). The article 'Research and Organisation' at AT/2/3/15 was written in an attempt to answer such criticisms by arguing that research could be organised. Other issues also surface in the correspondence of the Scientific Research Association. For example one letter opposed support for any scheme founded on government funding as 'government endowment will, in the long run, corrupt Science...' (AT/2/6/2/17). There were also disagreements as to whether emphasis should be laid upon 'the promotion of scientific research' or 'the economic interest' of research workers which seems to have contributed to a division between the National Union of Scientific Workers and the Scientific Research Association (AT/2/4/3).

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

Conditions governing access:


Conditions governing reproduction:

No publication without written permission. Apply to Archivist in the first instance.

Finding aids:

Printed list.

Archival Information

Archival history:

The initial cataloguing performed on the Tansley papers in 1995 noted that the collection contained a 'notebook containing minutes of the Cambridge Research Group' and 'reprints of Tansley's papers'. These items were not found in the collection during its cataloguing in March 2002.

Immediate source of acquisition:

Allied Materials

Related material:

Natural History Museum, correspondence and papers; Department of Plant Sciences, Cambridge University, papers; Archives and Business Records Centre, Glasgow University, correspondence with FO Bower, 1918-1925; Special Collections and Western Manuscripts, Bodleian Library, Oxford University, letters to OGS Crawford, 1940-1955; Manuscript Collections, British Library, correspondence with Marie Stopes, 1903-1920.

National Register of Archives: Click here to view NRA record

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Description produced by the Royal Society and revised by Rachel Kemsley as part of the RSLP AIM25 project. Source: Who Was Who.

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
Created 8/11/2001, modified 24/06/2002, revised Sep 2002

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