Correspondence, administrative records and personal papers, 1910 - 2022
Scope and Contents
In 1937, three Chinese scientists from Nanjing arrived at Cambridge University to carry out research in biochemistry. They worked alongside Dr. Joseph Needham, at the time Dunn Reader in Biochemistry, and a fellow of Gonville and Caius College. Dr. Needham already had very wide interests, having written extensively on the relationship between science, religion and socialism, and making pioneering forays in the young field of the history of science. He knew that China had invented paper, printing, gunpowder and the compass, but, like most in the West, had the impression that China was making very little progress in modern science. However, he was very struck by the excellence of these scientists from China, and determined that he must learn more of China, its culture and language. He took up the study of Chinese, and began enquiring deeper into China's scientific heritage.
In 1943, Dr. Needham was sent to Chongqing by the British Council to establish the Sino-British Scientific Cooperation Bureau, with the primary aim of facilitating the provision of laboratory equipment and scientific journals to Chinese scientists scattered across Western China. He traveled extensively throughout Sichuan, Yunnan, and other provinces of South, Southwest and Northwest China, visiting universities and laboratories, and meeting scientists and other academics. During this time he took every opportunity to discuss the history of Chinese science with the scholars he met, and to collect books and other materials on the subject.
On his return to Britain after World War II, he determined to write a history of Chinese science. The more he learned about the subject, the more he realised the magnitude of the task ahead of him, and so he built up around him a team of collaborators, most notably Wang Ling, Lu Gwei-Djen (one of the biochemists who had come to Cambridge in 1937), and later Ho Peng-Yoke. With the help of these scholars, the Science and Civilisation in China Project, as it came to be known, grew and grew.
The documents in this collection are those amassed by Joseph Needham in the course of this great project. At its core are 389 files of notes, correspondence and photographs covering every topic of the plan for 'Science and Civilisation in China', many with numerous sub-files. In addition there are important peripheral files relating to lectures given and conferences attended; travel; parallel publications; organisations; contacts etc., as well as files concerning the practicalities of publishing the work.
- 1910 - 2022
16 archive box(es) : Paper, cardboard, plastic and fabric.
5 document(s) (5 oversize items) : Paper, cardboard, glass and wood.
Language of Materials
A list of the contents of 5 boxes of Joseph Needham's miscellaneous papers was made by Charlotte Hensman in Sep. 2012. These were re-arranged into the NRI2/9 categories in Nov. 2022.