Professor Sir Joseph Rotblat

Professor Sir Joseph Rotblat.

60 years ago, on 9th July 1955, the Russell–Einstein Manifesto was issued, highlighting the dangers posed by nuclear weapons and calling for world leaders to seek peaceful resolutions to international conflict. The Manifesto was launched in London by Bertrand Russell, at the very height of the Cold War. Albert Einstein had agreed to be a signatory only days before his death, and other signatories included eleven pre-eminent intellectuals and scientists, ten of them Nobel Laureates.

Copies of the remarkable correspondence which led to the Manifesto can be found in the collection of Joseph Rotblat, held at the Churchill Archives Centre. Rotblat’s papers, including those of the Pugwash organisation, are held and are currently being made available to readers at the Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge. Rotblat was a nuclear physicist and worked on the Manhattan project, until asking to leave the project on grounds of personal conscience. He believed that scientists should always be concerned with the ethical consequences of their work. He became one of the most prominent critics of the nuclear arms race and dedicated his life to campaigning against nuclear weapons.

Although the Russell–Einstein Manifesto was launched in July 1955, this was the result of several months of discussion between those who became the signatories. In February 1955 Bertrand Russell wrote to Einstein saying:

“I think that eminent men of science ought to do something dramatic to bring home to the public and Governments the disasters that may occur. Do you think it would be possible to get, say, six men of the very highest scientific repute, headed by yourself, to make a very solemn statement about the imperative necessity of avoiding war?”

Einstein responded positively and sought to involve others. On the 5th April, Russell sent a draft of the manifesto asking if Einstein would be prepared to sign it. Einstein agreed and signed the Manifesto nine days before his death.

Letter from Bertrand Russell

Letter from Bertrand Russell, Papers of Professor Sir Joseph Rotblat, RTBT 5/1/1/2. Credit: The Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation Ltd.

The manifesto was released during a press conference at Caxton Hall, London. Rotblat, who was asked to chair the meeting, describes it as follows:

“.. It was thought that only a few of the Press would turn up and a small room was booked in Caxton Hall for the Press Conference. But it soon became clear that interest was increasing and the next larger room was booked. In the end the largest room was taken and on the day of the Conference this was packed to capacity with representatives of the press, radio and television from all over the world.”

A few days after the release, philanthropist Cyrus S. Eaton offered to sponsor a conference—called for in the Manifesto—in Pugwash, Nova Scotia, Eaton’s birthplace. This conference was to be the first of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, held in July 1957. The Pugwash Conferences continue to this day and Rotblat and the Pugwash Conference jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995 for their efforts on nuclear disarmament.

Rotblat’s collection comprises 1,117 archive boxes and has been a massive undertaking to prepare for readers to access. Some sections of the papers (RTBT 2-4, 6 and 10) were catalogued by the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists and the first section of the papers was transferred in January 2009. Cataloguing of Pugwash materials (RTBT 5) was by the Centre for Scientific Archives at the Science Museum. In the past nine months 75 boxes in this series have been repackaged, with a further 20 boxes in RTBT 5 to be repackaged. The letter shown above can be found in the Papers of Professor Sir Joseph Rotblat, RTBT 5/1/1/2.

Amanda Hawkes

Catalogue to the Rotblat Papers

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