Papers and correspondence of Keith Gordon Cox, 1933-1998

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The papers cover the period 1951-1998. Preponderantly, however, they date from Cox's time at Oxford from 1972 to his death. There are no direct remaining records of his work at Edinburgh, and only his doctoral thesis commemorates the Leeds period.

Biographical and personal material includes Cox's incomplete autobiographical account of his career, his doctoral thesis at Leeds, and correspondence showing his concern with the life, work and gardens of Jesus College, Oxford where he was Senior Research Fellow and Garden Master. The account of his death and the many tributes received from school friends, research students and senior colleagues give insights into personality and scholarly achievements. There are records of Cox's research on volcanic basalts in diverse regions of the globe, including correspondence, research proposals, plans and results, data, analyses, calculations, and drafts for papers. The Oxford University Department of Earth Sciences is represented by teaching and lecture material, which follows the development of Cox's research interests and methodology and the material for student field trips, his own introductory information for participants, and the detailed maps provided which reflect the importance he attached to accurate geological mapping.

There is a scanty record of Cox's lectures and conferences, since he virtually never wrote or delivered a prepared text. The papers are also deficient in drafts or manuscripts for Cox's own publications, but give quite a full picture of his extensive involvement in editorial and refereeing work, including a long association with the Journal of Petrology of which he was Managing Editor from 1972 and where many of his papers were published. Similarly, societies and organisations material is not extensive, as Cox did not actively seek out participation in the public life of science or in general advisory work. There is, however, documentation of his Chairmanship of the Scientific Advisory Board of GEOMAR (the Research Centre for Marine Geosciences at Kiel) and some of his appointments and work at the Royal Society. Cox's correspondence often provides a useful complement to the research material, being almost entirely concerned with research and publications, though it is mainly confined to the Oxford period. Non-textual material comprises transparencies, maps, diagrams and photographs, the latter including a famous photograph of the Deccan Traps which was frequently borrowed and reproduced. Cox was a talented amateur water-colourist and several of the maps and diagrams show his skill.

Administrative / Biographical History

Keith Gordon Cox was born in 1933 in Birmingham where his father Ernest Gordon (later Sir Gordon) Cox was Reader in Chemistry at the University of Birmingham. In 1940, after the outbreak of the Second World War, and along with other children of Birmingham University families, he and his sister Pat were evacuated to Canada and spent the next four years in Toronto. Returning the England in autumn 1945, Cox went to King Edward VI School, Birmingham, and subsequently to Leeds Grammar School on his father's appointment as Professor of Inorganic and Physical Chemistry at the university. In 1950 he was awarded a Hastings Scholarship at The Queen's College Oxford. At this time, the National Service Act was still in force and Cox served in the Royal Engineers in Hamburg and Berlin, acquiring a useful knowledge of German. He took up his scholarship at Queen's in 1952 and graduated with First Class Honours in geology in 1956. His postgraduate work was at the Research Institute of African Studies at Leeds University, where he was the first Oppenheimer Scholar.

In 1957 his field season took him for the first time to Southern Africa (Northern and Southern Rhodesia), mapping the igneous complex of the Nuanetsi River, which became the subject of his thesis and began his main research interest, basaltic lavas. This is the Earth's most abundant volcanic rock. Cox's studies on basalts took him from the Jurassic 'flood basalt' lavas of south-east Africa to the late Cretaceous sequences known as the 'Deccan Traps' in north-west India. His research developed to encompass the source of basalts in the Earth's mantle, the ascent of mantle plumes and the evidence of continental break-up. In his work Cox extensively studied kimberlites, intrusive rocks from the Earth's depths which carry with them samples of the Earth's mantle.

In 1960 Cox married Gillian Palmer and in 1962 moved to the Grant Institute of Geology at Edinburgh University as University Lecturer, spending 1971 on a Royal Society European Fellowship at Ruhr Universitüt, Bochum, Germany. In 1972 he was appointed Lecturer in Geology at Oxford (Reader in Petrology 1990) and in 1973 was elected to a Senior Research Fellowship at Jesus College. He was elected FRS in 1988.

In 1997, after many years of full participation in all the teaching, research and administrative activities of the Department and university, Cox had indicated his intention to resign with effect from 30 September 1998, and his retirement had been marked with parties and celebrations at the end of his last Trinity (summer) term 1998. On 27 August, during a sailing holiday with his wife, he was lost at sea in an accident off the coast of Mull in the Hebrides. The shock of the event, and of the heroic attempts at rescue by his wife, herself injured in the accident, elicited many tributes at memorial services and a special issue of the Journal of Petrology, vol. 41 (2000).


By section as follows: Biographical and personal, Research, Oxford University Department of Earth Sciences, Lectures and conferences, Publications - editorial and advisory, Societies and organisations, Correspondence, References and recommendations, Non-textual material. Index of correspondents.

Conditions Governing Access

Access to bona fide scholars upon written application to the Director of the Museum.

Other Finding Aids

Printed Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of Keith Gordon Cox: NCUACS catalogue no. 96/1/01, 81 pp. Copies available from NCUACS, University of Bath.

Custodial History

The papers were received for cataloguing by the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists from Mrs Cox and from the Oxford University Department of Earth Sciences via Professor W.J. Kennedy, on various dates June 1999 - October 2000. The papers were placed in Oxford University Museum of Natural History in 2001.

Related Material

An extensive collection of 25 boxes of rock specimens assembled by Cox from various locations is held in the Oxford University Department of Earth Sciences, catalogue ref: MUG 0611-0635.An extensive collection of 25 boxes of rock specimens assembled by Cox from various locations is held in the Oxford University Department of Earth Sciences, catalogue ref: MUG 0611-0635.Some letters and memorabilia are retained in family hands.Some letters and memorabilia are retained in family hands.A collection of geological specimens, mainly of African rocks, is held in the University of Leeds.