Russell journals are the first in McMaster’s Digital Commons


[img_inline align=”right” src=”” caption=”The digitization of Bertrand Russell’s journals began in 2006. Photo by Carl Spadoni.”]When Ken Blackwell was hired as the Bertrand Russell archivist at McMaster in 1968, he was asked to investigate “a computer-based catalogue” to provide better access to Russell scholarship. Little did he know that almost 40 years later, he would be completing the digitization of more than 35 years of Russell scholarship through McMaster's Digital Commons.

Dr. Blackwell was originally hired by Bertrand Russell himself, pioneer of symbolic logic, nuclear disarmer and prolific correspondent to all, to work on his papers in Russell's very own basement.

In 1968, Blackwell began his employment at McMaster and was responsible for the Russell Archives, originally housed in what was then chief librarian William Ready's office. Scholars would actually conduct their research in Ready's office until the collection subsequently moved to the old graduate reading room where it remained for 25 years.

It is now housed in the William Ready Division of Archives and Research Collections located on the lower level of Mills Library.

The scholarly journal, Russell: the Journal of Bertrand Russell Studies, a publication begun by Blackwell as a newsletter in the spring of 1971, eventually morphed into a scholarly journal and for a number of years has been published by McMaster's Russell Research Centre.

The very first issue was typed on what Blackwell called a “fancy typewriter” in Ready's office one Sunday afternoon. For the next 10 years, it was a stapled publication and finally in 1981, the journal was enlarged and published in perfectbound format.

The journal has been reincarnated once again, as all issues from 1971 to present are now available electronically and fully searchable as the first journal in McMaster's Digital Commons.

All backfiles, which include 900 journal articles, are available for free worldwide up until the most current four years. Blackwell began this digitization project in earnest in the summer of 2006 and since then has devoted a couple hundred volunteer hours to the project.

“It gives new life to the old issues which contain important articles that have since been largely inaccessible to new generations of scholars,” notes Blackwell. These include articles by Russell himself and original reminiscences of him.

The increase in access to the contents of this journal is beyond the expectations of even Blackwell himself — the articles are now picked up in a routine Google search. Their “open urls” guarantee access through international indexes and library catalogues. The possibilities for the parallel digital edition of Russell include supplementing the print edition articles with background material and even other media.

For more information on McMaster's Digital Commons, including how you can deposit materials for publication, please visit the Digital Commons website or contact Anne Pottier at