On the bright future for Sraffa archival scholarship…

The uploading of Sraffa’s archival material is an important milestone in the development of the archival and intellectual legacy of the Italian Cambridge economist.  It is significant that scholars and interested people everywhere are beginning to have access to images of Sraffa’s material written in his own hand.

With the uploading of Sraffa’s Diaries, people are able to see for themselves the potential of the digital archive.  Here everything is uploaded and scholars and interested lay-people everywhere can view and study the material. The potential is tremendous and I cannot stress how exciting this will all be in the next several years and then some.  We are fortunate indeed to be able to finally see the development of the thinking of this brilliant mind.

An issue that we have to deal with for all of the archival material uploaded on the Wren website is the organization the material.  The material uploaded on the Wren website will not be organized conceptually, and instead represents the way in which one would view the material at the Wren. This means that across the archive we will have raw virgin material that needs to be collected, organized, and made useful for scholarly study.

This is huge news especially for interested and younger scholars that want to explore the material for themselves. This will become increasing true as more and more of the material is uploaded.

So what I would like to get started is some kind of online collective effort to organize, collect, and conceptualize the material.  For example take the diaries. Currently we have no concordance or table for their contents. Well if people are interested and industrious, then we can divvy-up portions of the material and following some general unified structure people can take responsibility of certain sections (i.e. years) of the diaries to provide some general account of what is in each file.  We can organize all of that on this  website, which currently exists as a blog only but will expand into a website proper in short order.

What I ultimately envision is a Wiki-Sraffa Archive, where anyone who is serious and undogmatic no matter the ideology is welcome to play a role. And there is a lot to do! Already you can see how many diaries and entries Sraffa has!  Once we start to get a handle on the content of these various files it will much easier to put them to use in terms of conducive and effective study of the material.

Specifics of the Diaries

Because of the time constraints that occupy all of us who visited the Wren, my time there has mostly been spent in Sraffa’s Notes on PCMC (D3/12), venturing out only on a few occasions to the Lecture Notes on the Advanced Theory of Value of 1927-31 (D2/4), the Black Notebook from 1943 (D1/91) which include Sraffa’s Notes on Bortkiewicz, and some of the important books in Sraffa’s vast library, such as his copy of Capital Volume I he read while interned at on the Isle of Man from July to September 1940. So just like most of you this is the first time that I have seen Sraffa’s Diaries!

Looking at the diaries in Section E in some detail we see that Wren has uploaded 49 different files that represent Sraffa’s personal diaries from 1927 to 1977.  As people work though the diaries there are a few of things that should be kept in mind:

  1. These diaries are small in physical size, maybe about 3 inches by 1.5 inches. But Sraffa’s writing was very small in size, often so small that he could almost pen a paragraph on a postage stamp!
  2. In the main these diaries record only what Sraffa was doing and his agenda. A lot of it is in Italian and yes we have people involved in our project who are native Italian speakers, and by ‘our project’ I include anyone who is serious about this effort.
  3. Really this is the first time that people can peruse the material with ease.  Accordingly for those who simply want to begin from the start and go all the way through, please make a record of your activity.  Specifically we need to make an account of the content. I will have more to say about this and as this website is developed we will have a place for people to submit any such content.
  4. For those who are familiar with Sraffa’s life and his intellectual activity, one of the best ways to approach these diaries is to recall specific points in Sraffa’s life that were associated with intellectual and other activity, and then see what Sraffa writes in his diaries.  Again, make an account of the content. As two examples of this consider the following important dates in Sraffa’s life:

Internment at Metropole Internment Camp, July – September 1940.

As a citizen of Italy which in 1940 was a belligerent nation with the UK, Sraffa was sent to internment at Metropole Internment Camp on the Isle of Man in July 1940.  The relevant diary is E12, and you can follow Sraffa’s activity up until July 1940 where he marks his calendar with a bold ‘X’ and next to it the word ‘internato‘ , the Italian word for ‘internee’.  The Diary ends here and the next one (E13) picks up in October 1940, after Sraffa was finally released at the behest and insistence of Keynes among others.

Sraffa goes to the Island of Majorca, January – March 1955

In January 1955 Sraffa left for the Island of Majorca to work on his book. In his entry for the Memorial Issue on Sraffa at the Cambridge Journal of Economics in 1988,  Brian Pollitt writes of the impact of Maurice Dobb in Sraffa’s editing work on The Works and Correspondence of David Ricardo where we find the following account of the story:

“On 3 January 1955 Dobb reported that ‘Piero is just back from interesting voyagings on the other side of the world; Ricardo Vol. X (should) be out about Feb; and he’s now off for a stay in Majorca – hoping to do some work (non-Ricardo) of his own, tho’ not too hopeful that he actually will’…The work that Sraffa hoped to do in Majorca, of course, was begin that process of thought and assembly of past thoughts that eventually emerged as Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities. That he would have felt able to do this before the publication of his edition of Ricardo seems unthinkable’ (Pollitt, 1988, p. 64).

In looking at the diary E27 from 1954-55 we find this story borne out.  Sraffa titles the whole diary ‘1954-55 Majorca‘. The diary begins the first week of December 1954. This is important because generally December was often a month of tremendous intellectual activity for Sraffa and one can see this when going through the material in D3/12; indeed I have always been struck by the amount of work he got accomplished on Christmas Day and New Years Day for several years; it seems that when other people were celebrating Sraffa was often busy with his work.

As we see from the Pollitt quote, by December 1954 Sraffa had finished his Ricardo, the last of the ten volumes were sent to press (Volumes I, II, III, and IV were published in 1951; Volumes V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, and X in 1955; Volume XI in 1975). Of course he would come back to finish his Index to Ricardo’s Works in 1974-5, but the completion of Volume X marked the end of his editorial responsibilities and the beginning of the third phase of his intellectual activity and the final push to write his book. And when we look at his diaries from the time, we find a fascinating litany of people he met with before embarking on his journey, some of whom are:

Week of December 8 – 11, 1954: ‘Joan’ (Joan Robinson); ‘Nicky’ (Nicolas Kaldor); ‘Garegnani’ (Pierangeli Garegnani); ‘Tarshis’ (Lorie Trashes); ‘Austin’ (Austin Robinson)

Week of December 12-14, 1954: ‘Joan’, where Sraffa writes in parentheses ‘storia Kahn-Kaldor’, where ‘storia’ is Italian for ‘history’

Week of December 15-18, 1954: ‘Joan’

Week of December 22-25, 1954: ‘Joan’; ‘Austin’; ‘Brunner’ (Carlo Brunner), and a ‘Mrs Pettoello’ on Gramsci

Week of December 26-28, 1954: ‘Kahn” (Richard Kahn);’Brunner’

Week of December 29, 1954 – January 1, 1955:’ Kahn’; ‘Mrs (?) Harry Johnson’; ‘Telefonata da Mattioli’

Week of January 2 – 4, 1955: ‘Walk with Kahn and Joan’; ‘Maurice’

People can click on each of the weeks and see for themselves the complete list of names as I only highlight a few notable ones that stand out to me.  Clearly Sraffa had a busy schedule and met often with people in the days immediately preceding his trip to Majorca, where he was to work on what he called his ‘economics’.  On December 27 Sraffa had evidently made arrangements for Majorca with ‘…book BEA for Majorca…’, and the diary entries for the week of January 5 are chock full of entries related to travel plans.

I encourage people interested in the third phase of Sraffa constructive activity to go through the diaries beginning here, with Majorca. We have much to say in subsequent posts, but it is here we find Sraffa begins his final phase in the eventual publication of his book, and although I have not yet gone through them, I am certain that the entries from here until 1961 or 1962 will be full of very interesting tidbits of information regarding the writing of his book, especially as regards the people with whom Sraffa met.


Pollitt, B. H. (1988) ‘The collaboration of Maurice Dobb in Sraffa’s edition of Ricardo’, Cambridge Journal of Economics, 12, pp. 55–65.

Published by Scott Carter

Associate Professor of Economics The University of Tulsa Oklahoma USA