Bertrand Russell project director to retire


On the seventh floor in Togo Salmon Hall, in the offices of the Bertrand Russell Editorial Project, lined on top of a cabinet, nests a set of 17 blue, hard-bound editions. The library consists of the 14 volumes of The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell plus three volumes of bibliography.

The Collected Papers is only half completed, however. Since 1978, the project's director, Richard Rempel, professor of history, has been part of the team that oversees the project's vision, to make Russell's writings (from McMaster's Bertrand Russell Archives) accessible in a single, definitive edition.

The complete papers of Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), whose work addresses issues from imperialism to nuclear peril, is considered to be one of McMaster's greatest treasures.

The series began in 1980 with a five-year, $1.8-million grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). The first volume, Cambridge Essays, 1888-99, was published in 1983 in England.

With such grants becoming scare, the project has had to seek funding from a variety of sources but continues to be a growing success with donations from the Toyko Club and Trinity College, at Cambridge University, Russell's alma mater.

One of the project's greatest supporters, Colin Matthew, who received an honorary doctorate from McMaster last spring, died in October 1999.

Rempel recently returned from Oxford where he attended a memorial service for the late Matthew, a professor and historian who was known for his strong commitment to the Bodleian Library at Oxford and was the general editor of the New Dictionary of National Biography.

“McMaster was the first university to bestow an honorary degree on Matthew. That meant something to him. Other universities would have followed, of course, but the fiftieth would not have been as special as the first,” remarks Rempel.

In an age and in an institution of high-tech and medical research, this art-based project has its place in fostering the liberal arts.

“In terms of research I think the project stands out. In a discipline (humanities) where most of the research carried out is done on an individual basis, the project is a collaborative effort. Students who have worked on the project have gained invaluable experience in research methods by sleuthing different sources, organizing textual notes and preparing indexes. No doubt the project can be credited for giving these young people research skills and insight,” Rempel says.

Now, Rempel is looking forward to the June publication of Volume 15, Uncertain Roads to Freedom: Russia and China, 1919-22. Half the volumes are completed, but the joy in seeing another volume published is bittersweet — the director is retiring.

“I will miss the community of the young scholars who have worked on the project and our typesetter, Arlene Duncan. We formed our own intellectual group within the Faculty of Humanities. I feel some personal sadness, but delight for those who will follow me.”