The Adam Curle Archive.

Scope and Content

The archive consists mainly of Adam Curle's written work (books, articles, lectures, poems) in the form of typescripts, manuscripts, offprints, and press cuttings. There are also reviews of Adam Curle's work and miscellaneous personal papers, including address books, correspondence, notebooks, photograph of Professor Curle.

Administrative / Biographical History

Charles Thomas William (Adam) Curle, peace activist, teacher, scholar, writer and poet, was born at L'Isle-Adam, Northern France, on 4 July 1916, within earshot of the Battle of the Somme. His mother Cordelia Curle, nee Fisher, named him after three of her brothers; he became 'Adam' on returning to France in 1919. Curle later speculated that his mother had brought him to France on that second occasion in order to inoculate him against war, but also commentated that the 'seeds' must therefore have been a 'slow germinating variety.' (1/Y5).
Curle's father, Richard Curle, was a journalist and close friend of the novelist Joseph Conrad. Adam was brought up largely by his mother, whose family had links throughout politics and academia. Among Cordelia's brothers were H.A.L. Fisher, the historian, Charles Fisher, the cricketer and prominent academic, and William Wordsworth Fisher, who captained a battleship at the Battle of Jutland (where Charles Fisher died) and who later became Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean and Home Fleets. Another brother, Edwin 'Tom' Fisher was appointed as chairman of Barclays Bank; while a sister, Adeline, married the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams.
Curle spent his early years in a small rectory in the quiet Oxfordshire hamlet of Wheatfield, near Henley-on-Thames, where he soon cultivated an extreme sensitivity to landscape and wild animals. In the frequent absences of Richard Curle, he was 'fathered' by a noted local celebrity, the author Douglas Kennedy. Of this relationship, Curle later remarked, 'I spent more time with him and learned more from him of what makes a human being than from any other man. He was more of a dad to me than my own father'.
In 1935, after Charterhouse, the education at which he described as 'deplorable' (Tools, 157), Curle went up to New College, Oxford, where he studied history and anthropology, which he followed with further study at Exeter College. In 1938, he made field trips to Lapland and to the Sahara Desert, while working for a further degree at the Oxford Institute of Social Anthropology. Curle served in the British Army during the Second World War, becoming senior research officer to the Army Civil Resettlement Department for returning prisoners of war. Then, in 1947, he joined the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations. In 1950, he was appointed as a lecturer in social psychology at Oxford, with a base in the University Institute of Experimental Psychology. Then, in 1952 he moved again, this time to the University of Exeter, where he was appointed to the chair in Education and Psychology. Between 1956 and 1959, he served as an advisor on social affairs to the Pakistan Planning Board, on at least one occasion travelling deep into the mountains of the Hindu Kush, where he made contact with different tribal peoples. Curle's experiences in Pakistan (and what became Bangladesh) had a deep impact on his views on development; and thereafter he often referred to them in his books and lectures.
In 1959 he was appointed Professor of Education at the University of Ghana, where he remained until 1961, the growing realisation that a 'virtually autonomous white-dominated University was out of place in an atmosphere of growing African nationalism' eventually forcing him to offer his resignation. Immediately afterwards, he entered South Africa intending to set up a college for Black Africans, but was arrested by the police and interrogated by the head of the Johannesburg Special Branch.
Between 1961 and 1973 Adam Curle was Director of the Harvard Centre for Studies in Education and Development. By now, a noted author on both these issues, he was frequently consulted by charities and governments. In 1964 he mediated in the brief war between India and Pakistan, and later (1967-1970) between the warring sides in Nigeria.
Back in the United States, the birth of the New Left and the student movement presented new challenges, to which Curle responded with sympathy and imagination. In 1968, he devoted one day a week to teaching history to junior high school children in one of the poorer neighbourhoods of Cambridge, Massachusetts; he was struck by the parallels between what he had discovered in the 'underdeveloped' world and the 'undeveloped parts of the developed world' (Harvard Crimson).
In 1973, Curle left Harvard for the University of Bradford, becoming the city's - and the country's - first Professor of Peace Studies. Peace Studies at Bradford owes its origins to George Murphy, a Quaker whose concern was to raise funds to establish the study of peace and conflict resolution in British universities. Appointed Chair in Finance at Bradford University's Management Centre in 1970, Murphy found support for establishing a Chair of Peace Studies at the University from senior staff, notably Vice Chancellor Ted Edwards and Pro Vice Chancellor Robert McKinlay, who was also a Quaker. Edwards and McKinlay were active peace campaigners and had been instrumental in the creation of the University's unique Charter with its extra 'objects' clause, 'and the application of knowledge to human welfare'. They had identified that the most pressing challenges for human welfare were 'the Bomb and the hungry world': war and poverty. Murphy's 'concern' offered one way in which the University could address these problems. In 1971 the Quaker Peace Studies Trust (QPST) was set up by the Society of Friends to oversee a public appeal for funds for this project. The appeal found influential sponsors (the University's Chancellor Harold Wilson, J.B. Priestley, Joan Baez, U Thant …) and was a great success: the funds were raised within 10 weeks of the launch in March 1972. Many eminent academics were proposed for the role of Chair. Having visited the University and expressed interest in the plans for Peace Studies, Adam Curle was offered and accepted the Chair in 1973.
The role at Bradford gave Adam Curle an opportunity to shape a practically new discipline, drawing on his extensive experience of mediation and academic work. He had already considered education and peace in his writings, notably in Making Peace and Education for Liberation. Curle outlined his emerging ideas about Peace Studies in his inaugural lecture 'The Scope and Dilemmas of Peace Studies', delivered in 1975. Based on his experiences as a mediator, he argued that ending a particular conflict was not enough. The issues that underlie conflicts (injustice, inequality) had to be addressed as well, or the problem would emerge again later. He called this phenomenon the 'fire in the peat', which can burn hidden for a long time, then re-emerge with disastrous consequences. Peace Studies departments should therefore aim to create 'peaceful societies', characterised by fairness, justice, and openness, less likely to create the resentments that lead to conflict. At Bradford, Adam Curle created programmes for undergraduate and postgraduate courses, steered his plans through University processes, recruited students, and appointed staff. Early appointments included Uri Davis, Vithal Rajan, Tom Woodhouse, and Nigel Young. The first intake comprised about 20 postgraduate students, from several different countries.
Adam Curle tried to run the department as a 'peaceful society', involving everyone in decision-making, with loose structures and high student involvement. This posed challenges: how much say did students have? There were ideological divisions among staff and students, which contributed to what McKinlay called 'the atmosphere of ardent controversy, the religious, political or social dedication that gave the School a unique and exciting flavour'. However, allowing everyone their say, handling these conflicts, and making this work within a university structure put huge pressure on Curle. In 1978, he retired from his post.
Curle's 'gentle charisma' (Tom Woodhouse) inspired alumni, colleagues, and others who learned about his work. Under his successor, political scientist James O'Connell, the School became more conventional in its management and activities and laid more emphasis on scholarly research. This enabled it to survive the deep cuts to higher education and political opposition to 'peace education' experienced during the early 1980s. The radical and practical approach pioneered by Curle and adapted to changing times by his successors has seen Peace Studies support peace work around the world and inspire many other institutions to create courses. Adam Curle wrote many books on education, development and related matters, including 'Educational strategy for developing societies' (1963), 'Mystics and militants : a study of awareness, identity and social action' (1972), 'Tools for transformation : a personal study' (1990), 'To tame the hydra : undermining the culture of violence' (1995) and 'The fragile voice of love' (2006). He was also a poet, novelist and short story writer.
Indeed, as the latter of his published books suggest, when Curle left the University, he did not retire in a conventional sense; instead he devoted much of his time to peace-making, in particular working with the Quaker Peace and Service organisation, working as a mediator in, amongst other areas, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka and the Balkans.
Adam Curle had been a Quaker since the late 1950s; in his later years, he was also deeply influenced by Tibetan Buddhism. Adam Curle was awarded the Gandhi Peace Prize in 2000. He died on 28 September 2006.


It has not been possible to ascertain the original order of files, so an artificial arrangement was devised:
1. Works by Adam Curle (the bulk of the archive received at present), organised alphabetically by initial letters of title;
2. Works about Adam Curle;
3. Personal items.
This simple structure will be extended/revised if significant accruals are received in future.

Access Information

Available to researchers, by appointment. 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. This Archive includes items containing personal data, to which access is restricted under the Data Protection Act pending further cataloguing. This will be carried out in response to user demand so individuals are encouraged to inform Special Collections of their interest in this material.

Acquisition Information

Transferred by Peace Studies to Special Collections, September 2004.


In addition to works cited in the text, the Biographical history is based on many primary and secondary sources, including Curle's own writings, pieces from the 100 Objects exhibition, the Guardian obituary of Adam Curle by Tom Woodhouse (4 October 2006), and 'The University of Bradford: the early years' by Robert McKinlay, which in turn drew on information supplied by Curle to the author.

Other Finding Aids

Unpublished interim catalogue.

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

Evidence of past water damage on several items, fax/computer paper fragile. No items currently unusable.

Archivist's Note

Original cataloguing by John Brooker in 2006, using ISAD(G) 2, revised by Martin Levy and Alison Cullingford in 2016.

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. Special Collections staff will assist where possible with identifying copyright owners, but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user of the material.

Appraisal Information

Appraisal so far has not revealed any material requiring weeding other than a few multiples, though it is possible that further work will reveal further duplicate or irrelevant material which will be managed following Special Collections policy.
The donation included many publications, which have been transferred to the Adam Curle book collection or rehomed following Special Collections policy.

Custodial History

Archive material given by Adam Curle to Peace Studies.

Related Material

References to Adam Curle can be found throughout University and peace-related Special Collections at the University of Bradford. Note in particular:
• The Adam Curle Collection: published works by Adam Curle and other works that belonged to him.
• The University of Bradford Archive (UNI) and Quaker Peace Studies Trust (QPST): records concerning his appointment and work in Peace Studies.
• Papers of other individuals with close links to Peace Studies.


Adam Curle : Radical Peacemaker / Tom Woodhouse and John Paul Lederach. Stroud: Hawthorn Press, 2016. ISBN: 9781907359798
Love in danger : trauma, therapy and conflict explored through the life and work of Adam Curle / Barbara Mitchels. Charlbury : Jon Carpenter, 2006. ISBN 0954972767.
Trauma, therapy and conflict : posttraumatic stress and the process of peacemaking following the 1991-1995 war in Croatia, explored through the work of Adam Curle / Barbara Mitchels. PhD thesis submitted to the University of Bradford, 2003.
Testimonies to Adam Curle : 4th July 1916 - 28th September 2006 / [edited by] Deborah Curle. Norwich : Watershed Publications, [2007] ISBN 9780952871323.

Personal Names