History of arranging Sraffa’s Papers (I)

Jonathan Smith, Trinity Archivist who supervised the Wren Trinity arrangement of Sraffa’s Papers, indicates in a very instructive footnote from his entry to the 2012 Cambridge Journal of Economics Special Issue on Sraffa that ‘the history of attempts to catalogue Sraffa’s papers is not particularly straightforward’ (Smith, 2012, p. 1297, note *).

What we do know is that in 1974 Alessandro Roncaglia and John Eatwell gave a preliminary list of the material.  Smith  reports this was done in relation to the two scholars’ translation of Sraffa’s original 1925 Italian article critiquing Marshallian theory (Sraffa 1925), this article being the precursor to the more truncated 1926 version that appeared in English in the Economic Journal (Sraffa 1926).  For purposes of this translation they had asked Sraffa permission to consult the preparatory material for the 1925 and 1926 articles and while engaged in that endeavor realized how important it was to make a list of the content of the entire bulk of material. In an email exchange Professor Roncaglia related his account of this as follows:

“[W]hat I did in 1974-75, with some help from John [Eatwell], was not a catalogue or an inventory, but simply a rough list of material in Sraffa’s Trinity room, mainly with the aim of helping him to find things around and with the benefit, on my side, to talk with him on his manuscripts. Most of my time in Cambridge in that period (in all, a few weeks) was spent in preparing together with John an English translation of Sraffa’s 1925 article” (Alessandro Roncaglia to Scott Carter, December 9, 2015; reproduced with permission),

In Smith’s (2012) account Roncaglia and Eatwell (R&E) wrote to Sraffa on 8 August 1974 to which Sraffa returned the correspondence one month later. R&E then sent a letter in January 1975 and Sraffa responded several months later in June 1975, and during the interim in March 1975 we find papers listed by Roncaglia.  Smith articulates three points related to the Roncaglia-Eatwell list and exchange with Sraffa:

‘First, that the catalogue of papers that date from this period (e.g. 1974-75) are more a locations guide than a catalogue – sort of a preliminary draft that you would expect to be made before any attempt was made to order the papers.  Second, that in their second letter Eatwell and Roncaglia make it evident that any ordering of the papers was yet to take place. Third, that Sraffa forbade any further cataloguing at that time’ (Smith, 2012, pg. 1297, note *; emphasis added).

The second and third points especially are of tremendous importance.  Here evidence emerges that the ‘original order’ in which we find Sraffa’s papers has to be taken with a relative grain of salt.  In the first instance many-a-hand was placed on the material even before Sraffa’s death, as reported by Smith (2012) echoing a warning originally given by de Vivo (2001):

‘De Vivo (2001)…sounds a warning with regard to the archive as a whole and reminds us that Alessandro Roncaglia, John Eatwell, Antonietta Campus and Pierangelo Garegnani all helped with his papers during his lifetime, and we should thus be cautious in coming to any conclusions based on the arrangement of the material’ (Smith 2012, p. 1296)

And Smith reports that Sraffa himself indicated that as of 1975 the order of the papers was yet to be determined, as seen in his (Sraffa’s) reply dated June 1975 to the Roncaglia and Eatwell correspondence sent the previous January:

‘In his reply [Sraffa] explains that he feels that the questions raised  are connected with the final destination of the papers and that any work on them should cease until he had made up his mind about their final place of deposit’ (Smith 2012, p. 1297, note *).

Sraffa never made up his mind, and we can be reasonably certain that the papers in the order we find them in the Wren archive reflects the state at which Sraffa indicates in June 1975 – that is to say, the ‘final place of deposit’ remaining undetermined.

Sraffa’s died in 1983. He had appointed Pierangelo Garegnani as his Literary Executor who with Krishna Bharadwaj began in autumn of that year an account of Sraffa’s archival material.  Professor Garegnani (2003) in an article first published in Italian in 1998[1] recounts the story in the following way:

‘In autumn of 1983, shortly after Sraffa’s death, and then in Spring 1984, Professor Krishna Bharadwaj of Nehru University, New Delhi and myself made a first reconnaissance and inventory of the manuscript material, not least to ensure nothing got mislaid when it was moved from Sraffa’s rooms in Trinity or in the Marshall-Library to a store-room of the College.  In fact, only an index of the manuscripts a few pages long existed before then, drawn up by Professor Roncaglia, when helping Sraffa tidy up his papers in around 1974.

The inventory thus carried out immediately after Sraffa’s death was followed by a more detailed examination and systematic listing of the manuscripts as a preliminary to working on them (Trinity College, the owner of the papers, postponed a professional cataloguing of the papers; cataloguing was begun only after the papers were made available to the public, in early 1994).  The systematic examination and listing of the manuscripts was rather laborious because of their, for the most part, extremely fragmentary nature; for example, all the pages in the enormous mass of material had to be numbered. It was on this basis that the papers were microfilmed at the University Library in 1987. This job took up almost all the time that Professor Bharadwaj and I could devote to the manuscripts up to the summer of 1987’ (Garegnani, 2003, p. 623).

Here we find that the original Bharadwaj-Garengani (BG) arrangement of 1983-89 underwent two stages.  The first is the preliminary inventory accomplished immediately after Sraffa’s death ostensibly which followed the Roncaglia-Eatwell (R&E) list of a decade earlier, and second ‘a more detailed examination and systematic listing of the manuscripts as a preliminary to working on them’.

It is in the first preliminary inventory of 1983-84 that we conjecture the meta-structure of files in the BG arrangement was set, following the same method as the R&E list, as in both R&E and BG the different collections of files were identified according to the location they were found in Sraffa’s various quarters.  We know this is the case for R&E given Smith’s identification of it more as a ‘locations guide’, something made explicit in their letter to Sraffa dated 8 August 1974:

‘[W]e have already helped you to conduct a number of searches in your rooms and now we have a good idea of what papers there are, where they are, and what papers are, at the moment, missing.  We have so far compiled two lists of materials, one relating to the cupboard left of the entrance door, the other the brown paper packet at present in your room at the Marshall Library’ (Roncaglia and Eatwell to Sraffa, quoted in Smith 2012, pg. 1297, note*).

Both Kurz (2009) and Smith (1998) tell us that the same ‘location method’ was used in the meta-file convention adopted in the BG arrangement:

‘After [Sraffa’s] death the late Krishna Bharadwaj and Pierangelo Garegnani produced a valuable inventory and numbering of the papers so that nothing should get lost in moving then from Sraffa’s room in College to the place of storage.  The inventory was based on the locations where the papers had been found in Sraffa’s rooms and the grouping he had given them.  Bharadwaj and Garegnani also began to examine the manuscripts.  Jonathan Smith, archivist, then produced the catalogue of the papers on behalf of Trinity College, which is the one now generally used’ (Kurz 2009, p. 266)

For his part Jonathan Smith characterizes the BG arrangement as follows:

‘In a codicil to his will, Sraffa named Pierangelo Garegnani as his literary executor and it was to Garegnani that the task was left to bring together the physical remains of Sraffa’s literary estate.  Much important material was in Sraffa’s room in Neville’s Court, the second court of Trinity College, in bookcases, chests of drawers and suitcases….Although some papers were in good order, others were something of a jumble. Further material…was in the rooms that he had used as Librarian of the Marshall Library of Economics. In the early months of 1984, Garegnani and Krishna Bharadwaj prepared a rough inventory of the papers as they found them in two locations, before they were boxed and removed to library storage.  From May 1985 to June 1986 Professor Bharadwaj worked on the papers under the supervision of Garegnani.  In this time she was able to work her way through the papers, item by item, identifying and assessing the significance of each piece.

A more detailed catalogue was prepared and items were individually numbered and prepared for microfilming, which was undertaken by the Photography Department of Cambridge University Library.  Although the Bharadwaj list is fundamentally flawed in archival terms, this intermediate catalogue is most important in helping to preserve the order of the papers as Sraffa left them (it is clear that Garegnani and Bharadwaj knew the importance of this). There is a map of the locations of papers as they were found in Sraffa’s rooms, and what initially seems to be clumsy references to “Green Chest, Bottom Drawer” or “Horizontal piling” give useful clues to the arrangement of the papers while in use’ (Smith 1998, p. 44).

Cleary the accounts of Garegnani, Kurz and Smith resonate.  In each we find the BG arrangement broken into two distinct phases; an initial inventory based on the Roncaglia-Eatwell list or ‘location’s guide’ of the various piles in Sraffa’s rooms, and a later more developed arrangement of the material, one that as we discover took conceptual content of the material into account.  The end of the BG endeavor can be marked as 1989, after which Bharadwaj began to experience health problems, which as Garegnani[2] informs us, interfered with her continued work on the papers, precipitating her premature death in 1992 at the young age of 57. [3]


[1] ‘Sui manoscitti di Piero Sraffa’, Rivista Italiana degli Economistii (Journal of the Società Italiana degli Economisti), April 1998.

[2] ‘After 1987…deterioration in Professor Bharadwaj’s health hindered her work increasingly until her premature death in 1992, shortly before she had planned a visit to Italy, so we could resume work on the Sraffa manuscripts’ (Garegnani 2003, p. 624).

[3] Geoff Harcourt’s (1993-4) Memoir of Mrs. Bharadwaj in the JPKE recounts the trying time she had while engaged in this arrangement:

‘The last time I saw Krishna for any length of time was when she came to Trinity in the middle and late 1980s to put some order into Piero Sraffa’s papers; Piero had died in September 1983 and Pierangelo Garegnani, his literary executor, asked Krishna to help with this mammoth but vital task.  It was a time of great tension for Krishna for her love of Sraffa himself and her belief in the importance of his contributions obliged her, she thought, to take on this daunting task; yet she also felt keenly the sacrifice of time she would otherwise have spent working in India on pressing Indian problems. This created an insoluble dilemma for her, a sense of ambivalence and doubt as to whether she had done the right thing, made the correct choice, and I fear that the psychological trauma all this undoubtedly caused her was a significant factor leading to her final illness.  Certainly I had never before seen her so agitated and unhappy, working–effectively as ever and as long hours as ever, but without the usual resilience and joie de vivre that went with her sense of purpose and drive. It was desperately worrisome for her friends to see her health deteriorating under the strain; we could offer support but not really relieve her of the essential burden and pressure. I was glad to learn the other day (January 1993) that the papers are in order and catalogued, although not yet opened, for this is another vindication of Krishna’s devotion and work-but at what a cost.’ (Harcourt 1993-4, p. 308).


de Vivo, G. 2001. ‘Some notes on the Sraffa papers,’ pp. 157-64 in Cozzi, T. and Marchionatti, R. (eds), Piero Sraffa’s Political Economy.

Garegnani P. 2003, ‘On Piero Sraffa’s manuscripts,’ English translation of an edited version of a paper published in April 1998 in Rivista italiana degli economisti, the journal of the Società Italiana degli Economisti. In Kurz, H. and Salvadori, N. (eds), The Legacy of Piero Sraffa, two vols. In Intellectual Legacies in Modern Economics. Cheltenham and Northampton, Edward Elgar, 623-625.

Harcourt , G.C. 1993-4, ‘Krishna Bharadwaj, August 21, 1935 – March 9, 1992: A Memoir,’ Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, 16 (2).

Kurz, H. 2009, ‘Preparing the edition of Piero Sraffa’s unpublished papers and correspondence,’ Cahiers d’économie Politique / Papers in Political Economy vol. 2, no. 57, 261-278

Smith, J. 1998. ‘An archivist’s apology: The papers of Piero Sraffa at Trinity College Cambridge,’ Pensiero Economico Itlaniano, vol. 6, 36-54.

Smith, J. 2012. ‘Circuitous processes, jigsaw puzzles, and indisputable results: Making the best use of the manuscripts of Sraffa’s Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities,’ Cambridge Journal of Economics, vol. 36, no. 6, 1291-1301.

Sraffa P. 1925. ‘Sulle relazioni fra costo e quantita produtta”, translated as “On the Relation Between Cost and Quantity Produced” by Eatwell J. and Roncaglia A.,in L.L. Pasinietti (ed.). (1998) Italian Economic Papers, vol. III, Bologna: Il Mulino; Oxford: Oxford University Press:  323-63

Sraffa, P. 1926.‘The Laws of Return Under Competitive Conditions’, Economic Journal, 36: 535-50.

Sraffa, P. 1960.Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities: Prelude to the Critique of Economic Theory. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.


Published by Scott Carter

Associate Professor of Economics The University of Tulsa Oklahoma USA