Papers of Duncan Black, 1908-1991, economist

Scope and Content

The collection is made up mainly of notes made by Black during his career as an economist, including his influential work on voting theory. The earliest material dates from Black's student days at Glasgow University, the bulk of it is the research and lecture notes made as an academic at various British and American Universities, and after his retirement, when he worked extensively on the political theory of the Rev. Charles L Dodgson (Lewis Carroll). The work on Lewis Carroll was a continuation of Black's research into the history of social choice, which formed part of his book The Theory of Committees and Elections , published in 1958. Early drafts of this book form part of the archive, as do the rejection letters which greeted it during the 1940s. Other areas Black worked on include Game Theory, Public Finance and Theory of Value.

Content summary:

  • Notebooks and diaries 1923-1989;
  • Rough notes 1934-1985;
  • Published and unpublished articles and books 1937-1987;
  • Professional correspondence 1932-1990;
  • Books and periodicals collected by Duncan Black 1863-1990;
  • Biographical material 1968-1989.

Administrative / Biographical History

Duncan Black was born on 23 May 1908  , the son of Duncan Black of Mull, Argyll & Bute, and Margaret Brown Muir of Motherwell, North Lanarkshire. He grew up in Motherwell, North Lanarkshire, where his father worked as a boilermaker. His mother, who was a dominant influence in his life, was a milliner and ran a drapery and millinery shop in Motherwell until 1931. He was educated at Dalziel High School, Motherwell and the University of Glasgow . He graduated MA with 2nd Class Honours in Mathematics and Physics in 1929  , and MA with 1st Class Honours in Economics and Politics in 1932  .

His first appointment after graduation was as assistant lecturer at the School of Economics and Commerce, Dundee from 1932-1934  . In 1934  he moved to the University College of North Wales as lecturer in economics until 1945  , when he was appointed Senior Lecturer in Economics at Queen's University, Belfast , Ireland. Whilst at University College of North Wales he completed his thesis on income taxation, and was awarded his PhD by the University of Glasgow in 1937  . His thesis was published in 1939 under the title The Incidence of Income Taxes . In 1946  he returned to the University of Glasgow as Senior Lecturer in Social Economics. He left Glasgow in 1952  to become Professor of Economics at the University College of North Wales, where he stayed until his retirement in 1968  .

A major part of his work during this period was on Committee and Election Theory, in particular his discovery in 1951 of Lewis Carroll‰??s contributions to the theory of the Committee. The Theory of Committees and Elections was published in 1958  , and included an account of the work of Lewis Carroll. During his time as Professor of Economics at University College of North Wales he also served as Visiting Professor at the University of Toronto ( 1951-1952  ) and the Universities of Virginia and Rochester ( 1962-1963  ). He held a number of appointments following his retirement, including Visiting Professorships at the University of Chicago ( 1968-1969  and 1972-1973  ), and Michigan State University ( 1971-1972  and March-June 1975  ). In 1968-1969  he was a Research Fellow in the Department of Law and Economics at the University of Chicago; and in 1970-1971  he held the Senior Foreign Scientist Fellowship at the National Science Foundation, Virginia Polytechnic Institute. Black‰??s work was more readily recognised and accepted in the United States than it was in Britain. Duncan Black lived the later part of his life in Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England, where he died in 1991  .


The material was arranged and catalogued under an ESRC grant by Alistair McMillan of Nuffield College, Oxford. Each separate item has been allocated a reference number, with the material sorted by physical state, content and date.

Access Information


Acquisition Information

The papers were deposited in Glasgow University Archives after a coincidence brought Richard Alexander, Deputy Director of Studies at the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, together with the estate agent charged with the disposal of Duncan Black‰??s effects. His will had stated that his library was to go to the University of North Wales at Bangor but they declined. Being Duncan Black‰??s alma mater, the University of Glasgow was offered the collection and accepted.

Other Finding Aids

Digital file level list available in searchroom.

Manual file level list available at the National Registers of Archives in Edinburgh (NRA(S) 3496) and London (NRA37980)

Alternative Form Available

No known copies

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

None which affect the use of this material

Conditions Governing Use

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the Archivist.

Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use and condition of documents

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with standard GB 0248 procedures.

Custodial History

The papers were in the possession of Duncan Black and subsequently the executors of his estate, before being transferred to the University of Glasgow. Before his death, the papers had taken up 4 rooms in his house in Devon.


None expected

Related Material

No material associated by provenance

Location of Originals

This material is original


McLean, Iain, McMillan, Alistair & Monroe, Burt  , A Mathematical Approach to Proportional Representation: Duncan Black and Lewis Carroll , ( 1996  ) McLean, Iain, McMillan, Alistair & Monroe, BurtDuncan Black and Lewis Carroll Journal of Theoretical Politics , Jackson, PeterThe Foundations of Public Finance , ( 1996  )

Additional Information

Description compiled in line with the following international standards: International Council on Archives,ISAD(G) Second Edition, September 1999 and National Council on Archives,Rules for the construction of personal, place and corporate names

Scotland is the location of all place names in the administrative/biographical history element, unless otherwise stated.

Fonds level description compiled by Moira MacKay, Assistant Archivist, research by Virginia Russell, Archives Assistant, 22 September, 1997.