The Papers of Geoffrey Ostergaard

Scope and Content

Typescripts and notes of articles and lectures. Transcripts of interviews with leaders and activists, including two with JP Narayan. Survey responses, data analysis, notes, and related correspondence from the Sarvodaya questionnaire of 1965. Papers, correspondence and articles, mainly from the 1970s, on aspects of sarvodaya and Indian politics. Press cuttings from Indian and British newspapers, mainly 1970s.

Administrative / Biographical History

Geoffrey Ostergaard joined the University of Birmingham in 1953, after studying at Merton College and Nuffield. He was to work there for the rest of his academic career, as lecturer and later senior lecturer in the Department of Political Science. His D. Phil thesis was on the rise of the public corporation; his early work at Birmingham, with A.H. Halsey, researched co-operatives (“Power in Co-operatives” 1965).

A Rockefeller Foundation grant took him to the University of California in 1958-1959, where he met and studied “latter-day anarchists”, the Beat Generation. He later credited his growing interest in non-violence to the activities of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the mass civil disobedience of the Committee of 100.

This interest led him to the ideas of Gandhi and those who followed him “in accepting non-violence as the central tenet of their philosophy of political action”, rather than just a useful political technique: the Sarvodaya “welfare for all” movement. Dr Ostergaard was particularly sympathetic to the “vanguard” of the movement, revolutionary Gandhism, inspired by Vinoba Bhave. This strand campaigned for bhoodan (voluntary land gifts from landowners to the landless) and gramdan (surrender of individual ownership of land to village communities) as steps leading to the establishment of a new social order in India based on Gandhi’s ideas.

Dr Ostergaard was able to record and analyse the movement when, in 1962-1965, under the Commonwealth Educational Co-operation Scheme, he was seconded to Osmania University, Hyderabad, as Visiting Professor of Political Science. In 1965, he and Dr Melville Currell surveyed leaders of the Sarvodaya movement, publishing their findings in “The Gentle Anarchists” (1971).

He told the later story of the Sarvodaya movement, from 1969 to Vinoba’s death in 1982, in “Nonviolent Revolution in India” (1985). This work, based partly on interviews with activists and on visits to India in 1975 and 1978, covered JP Narayan’s call for “Total revolution”, Mrs Gandhi’s imposition of Emergency in 1975, and how the Sarvodaya movement responded.

Dr Ostergaard also published extensively in academic publications and pacifist and anarchist journals, notably “Peace News” and “Freedom”. He used the pseudonym “Gaston Gerard” for some anarchist writing and commentaries on University matters. He was active in UK peace movements, as a member of the Peace Pledge Union and chair of the Peace News Trustees. From 1965, he was a Trustee of Commonweal Library, the independent library devoted to Gandhian ideas of nonviolence.


Geoffrey Ostergaard’s system of arrangement has been retained where this could be ascertained.

Access Information

Access to archive material is subject to preservation requirements and must also conform to the restrictions of the Data Protection Act and any other appropriate legislation. Sections of this archive contain personal data on individuals and access is therefore restricted under the Act. More detailed cataloguing may make it possible to refine this restriction. Researchers should contact the Special Collections Librarian for information about the status of the material they wish to view.

Acquisition Information

Donated to Commonweal in 1990.

Other Finding Aids

Unpublished boxlist.

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

Many press cuttings and some typescripts are fragile.

Archivist's Note

Described by Alison Cullingford.

Conditions Governing Use

Copies may be supplied or produced at the discretion of Special Collections staff, subject to copyright law and the condition of the originals. Applications for permission to make published use of any material should be directed to the Special Collections Librarian in the first instance. The Library will assist where possible with identifying copyright owners but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user of the material.

Appraisal Information

Published material transferred to other collections, material of low archival value weeded. Further weeding of duplicates within the press cuttings may be necessary.


Ostergaard, Geoffrey and Currell, Melville. “The gentle anarchists: a study of the leaders of the Sarvodaya movement for non-violent revolution in India”. Oxford University Press, 1971.

Ostergaard, Geoffrey. “Nonviolent revolution in India”. Gandhi Peace Foundation, 1985.