Papers and correspondence of Edmund Brisco Ford, 1901-1988

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The papers provide records of Ford's research, lectures, publications and scientific correspondence. There are records of early research with J.S. Huxley and of work on the genetics of primroses, including correspondence and papers from W.F. Bodmer. However, the most extensively documented research is that undertaken by Ford over many years on the Meadow Brown butterfly Maniola jurtina and the Scarlet Tiger moth Panaxia dominula. There are records of Ford's Oxford University lectures on zoology and genetics over thirty years, and of his books Moths and Ecological Genetics. Apart from the lectures there is very little Oxford University material but this does include documentation of Ford's opposition to the admission of women as Fellows of All Souls College. Ford did not keep correspondence systematically, with the result that there are few extended exchanges with colleagues, but there are carbons of outgoing letters, 1963-1974, preserved by a former secretary, which provide a record of his activities during this period.

Administrative / Biographical History

Ford was born in Papcastle, Cumbria. His career was based entirely at Oxford University. He was educated at Wadham College, graduating in zoology in 1924. He then undertook joint research in the Zoology and Entomology Departments and was appointed University Demonstrator in Zoology in 1927 and Lecturer at University College in 1933. Increasingly specialising in genetics, he was appointed University Reader in Genetics in 1939 and was the Director of the Genetics Laboratory, 1952-1969, and Professor of Ecological Genetics, 1963-1969. Ford was one of the first scientists to be elected a Fellow of All Souls College since the seventeenth century.

Ford made many outstanding contributions to genetics. His work on the wild populations of butterflies and moths was the first to show that the predictions made by R.A. Fisher in his theoretical work on evolution were correct, and he was thus the founder of ecological genetics. He was the first to describe and define genetic polymorphism, and suggested that the human blood group polymorphisms might have importance in the susceptibility to disease. He also showed that the success of the industrial melanic peppered moth was the result of physiological advances as well as colour changes. He refined the technique of mark-release recapture and this helped greatly to estimate the force of selections in wild populations. His investigation of the pigment of Lepidoptera was one of the most successful attempts to relate classification to chemistry.

Ford was elected FRS in 1946 (Darwin Medal 1954).


By section as follows: Biographical, Oxford, Research, Lectures and publications, Visits and conferences, Correspondence. Index of correspondents.

Conditions Governing Access

Entry permitted only on presentation of a valid reader's card or an Oxford University Card displaying the Bodleian logo. All applicants for new or replacement cards must apply in person, with a recommendation and payment if required, and with proof of their identity.

Some items are not available for 30 or 40 years from date of writing.

Other Finding Aids

Printed Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of Edmund Brisco Ford (1901-1988) by P. Harper and T.E. Powell, NCUACS catalogue no. 14/7/89, 64 pp. Copies available from NCUACS, University of Bath.

Separated Material

Ford's personal copies of his own books, annotated by him with revisions, Ford's reprint collection, and a large number of specimens of Maniola jurtina which originated from collaborative work between Ford and Placito are held by The Hope Collections, University Museum, Oxford. The correspondence and papers of Ford's sometime collaborator on research on Meadow Brown butterfly Maniola jurtina and the Scarlet Tiger moth Panaxia dominula, W.H. Dowdeswell are held by Bath University Library.

Custodial History

Received for cataloguing in 1988 by the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists through the good offices of Mr P.J. Placito. Additionally Sir Cyril Clarke, Professor D.A. Jones and Mr Placito made available their own correspondence with Ford. Placed in Bodleian Library (gift) in 1989.