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James Clerk Maxwell: Correspondence and papers

Reference Code: GBR/0012/MS Add.7655

Scope and Contents

Correspondence, drafts of articles and books, notes and miscellaneous papers. The main body of papers dates from Maxwell's undergraduate years at Edinburgh University beginning in 1847, until his death in 1879. Earlier and later items relate to family papers that have accrued to the collection, though these are not extensive.)


  • Creation: 1781-1951


Conditions Governing Access

RESTRICTED - Use Microfilms CMO5028-CMO5042. List in catalogue


1 collection (6 boxes) : Paper; photographs

Language of Materials



When received here, the Maxwell papers were mainly in a series of envelopes, in some confusion, and considerable work has been needed to arrange them on a systematic basis. No arrangement can be entirely satisfactory since much of the material is fragmentary and not always easy to date, and its relevance sometimes not obvious. The main body of the papers (section V) has been grouped under subject headings and arranged so far as possible chronologically under each heading. As to subject matter, wherever Maxwell himself gave a title to an item, this is quoted in inverted commas; failing this, the description is given by the cataloguer. As to dates, a precise date is normally quoted only if it occurs within the item. But as a good deal of the material can be linked to published work, reference to Maxwell's collected Scientific papers (SP) and the much more recent Scientific letters and papers (SLP) will in such cases provide a terminus ad quem for drafts or notes. In other cases, what is written on the back of the sheet may offer a terminus a quo, since Maxwell often used the back of answers to Cambridge examination papers, datable from the candidate's name, or of his own earlier articles, for drafts of new work. Most of the work on this collection was done in 1964-67, but thereafter pressure of other duties caused it to be laid aside, and the final stages have only been completed in the past twelve months.

Other Finding Aids

There is a typescript paper handlist in the Cambridge University Library Department of Manuscripts and University Archives Reading Room.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

This collection of the papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) was transferred to Cambridge University Library from the Cavendish Laboratory in 1964. They had been bequeathed to the Laboratory, along with his scientific books, by Maxwell's widow who died in 1886. A few additions were subsequently made from various sources, and since 1964 some further Maxwell items found in sorting the papers of G.G. Stokes in the University Library, and a notebook and some photographs formerly part of Add. MS 2766(4), have been incorporated in the collection. (Both groups were probably strays from the main body of Maxwell papers, having doubtless been removed by Sir Joseph Larmor, through whom both the Stokes MSS and Add. 2766(4) reached the Library.)


The collection is not open to accrual.

Related Materials

See also MS.Add.8375 for correspondence of Maxwell with G. Chrystal and a few other items in Maxwell's hand.


William Davidson Niven The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell, 2 volumes, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1890. Peter Michael Harman (ed.) The Scientific Letters and Papers of James Clerk Maxwell, volume I 1846-1862, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1990 - numbers 1 to 196. Peter Michael Harman (ed.) The Scientific Letters and Papers of James Clerk Maxwell, volume II 1862-1873, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1995 - numbers 197 to 490. Peter Michael Harman (ed.) The Scientific Letters and Papers of James Clerk Maxwell, volume III 1874-1879, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2002 numbers 491 to 764 and Supplement 28A to 482A.
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Cambridge University Library Repository

Cambridge University Library
West Road
Cambridge CB3 9DR United Kingdom