Sraffa’s archival material is a gift to the science of economics

Perhaps what makes me the consummate Heretic has to do with my opinion that Sraffa’s archival papers belong to the science of economics, and anyone who wishes to read them should have the right to do so in their entirety. This above all motivates my efforts now and in future work.

As of this writing there are three projects in the works devoted to making Sraffa’s archival material available to the world.  They are:

  1. The long awaited Selections project under the guidance of Heinz D. Kurz as General Editor
  2. The online effort led by Giancarlo de Vivo in which the entire archive is to be put on the web
  3. My project called The Digital Sraffa which is an electronic arrangement on a searchable platform of color digital images of all of Sraffa’s Notes on his book Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities (PCMC).

The beautiful thing is that in relatively short order we will be moving from famine to feast regarding Sraffa’s archival material…so interested scholars be ready! It is important that the various projects be understood if the end goal is a better understanding of the content of Sraffa’s archival material.

The Digital Sraffa project of mine is intended to make available to all scholars digital color copies of the entirety of Sraffa’s notes on PCMC, consisting of 115 file folders and over 7000 pages of mostly handwritten material, archived according to the original Trinity convention as D3/12.  This amounts to a subset of the material that is to be put on the web under the (unrelated) de Vivo project.  The way I have approached the 115 files in D3/12 is to understand the entirety of the material as a complete organic text. Scholars will be able to search and sort the material however they want.  The gold standard for the way I envision making the material accessible to the general scholarly community is the way Sraffa himself approached his edition of Ricardo in the eleven volumes of The Works and Correspondence of David Ricardospecifically the way in which Sraffa wove the various letters from the different correspondents in Volumes VI, VII, VIII, and IX, and also the way he made his Index in Volume XI.

Indeed, when we consider the way Sraffa arranged the Ricardo letters, we see that not only is every letter numbered, but also that each letter tells the reader the correspondent and letter to which it is a reply as well as the correspondent and letter that replies to it.  In essence Sraffa conceived of the Ricardo Correspondence as a collection of what we would now call discussion threads by, from, and to the various correspondents.  In my opinion this is a very advanced way to think of the matter indeed, and it is Sraffa’s own methodology in the treatment of his Ricardo that motivates my arrangement of Sraffa’s Notes on PCMC. And when considering the Index in Volume XI, well in my opinion it remains a masterpiece of indexing and serves as the basis of the ideal manner in which the indexing of Sraffa’s own archival material should be approached.

I will be making many posts on The Digital Sraffa in the future in an effort to bring this vision to fruition and thereby make the material available to all scholars; such is one of my main goals in this endeavor.

Sraffa’s archival material is a gift he gave to the science of economics. The focus should be on getting all of the material into the hands of interested scholars in a user-friendly manner so that people can finally read and study the entirety of the material for themselves, thereby allowing for a more general dialogue to finally ensue.

Published by Scott Carter

Associate Professor of Economics The University of Tulsa Oklahoma USA