Zuckerman Archive: Birmingham University

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Solly Zuckerman's appointment to the Sands Cox Chair in Anatomy at Birmingham University was a protracted business. He was offered the post in 1938, but with his research productivity ... at a peak and his contribution to reproductive physiology recognized [P.L. Krohn: Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, volume 41, 1995 ] he hesitated, finally accepting the offer in 1940. By that time he was fully absorbed in his war work and did not move to Birmingham and take up the reins there until 1946. Professor Charles Smout took care of the Anatomy Department in the interim.

At Birmingham Zuckerman set about making a desert bloom in the Anatomy Department [S. Zuckerman: Men, monkeys and missiles, Collins, 1988 ]. The premises were generous but ill-equipped, and Zuckerman perceived an urgent need for new blood in the Faculty. This was largely provided by his recruitment of former colleagues and students. He began with a staff of six; twenty years later there were 125. Research personnel there were none when he arrived; he set about building a number of research groups.

The pre-clinical medical curriculum was thoroughly overhauled and the teaching of anatomy radically revised. Zuckerman's approach was holistic; students spent less time in the dissecting room, and more time studying the subject in a broader context, and they were provided with a new textbook to suit the revised course [S. Zuckerman: A New System of Anatomy, Oxford University Press, 1961, revised 1981 ]. Most innovative was the research-based BSc that Zuckerman devised for which some half-dozen of the brightest students were selected annually. He also established a clean breeding line of laboratory monkeys in the Department, dispersed several years after his retirement, and a large collection of primate skulls and other skeletal material, which were donated to the Natural History Museum in 1980.

Most of the contents of this series are concentrated in files SZ/BU/8 and SZ/BU/9. Complementary correspondence and papers relating to Zuckerman's scientific research is to be found in series SZ/SC, SZ/PUB, and SZ/GEN.

File SZ/BU/1 SZ's appointment to the Chair of Anatomy, 1938-1940, 1945, consists chiefly of correspondence relating to Zuckerman's application for the Sands Cox Chair of Anatomy in the Faculty of Medicine, his appointment, and arrangements for his deferred move to Birmingham at the end of the war.

File SZ/BU/8 Department of Anatomy Correspondence and References, 1941-1993, contains 151 sub-files, arranged alphabetically by correspondent. The contents are chiefly concerned with requests for, and provision of, references. The file title is misleading in that the correspondents, who are also the subjects of correspondence, are not exclusively associated with the Department of Anatomy, nor even with Birmingham University. They include Zuckerman's former colleagues and students in the Department of Anatomy at Oxford and personnel of the various units to which he was attached during World War II.

There is a quantity of correspondence with people other than those named in the title. In most instances Zuckerman is asked to supply academic references for colleagues or former students seeking posts, fellowships and bursaries elsewhere, or candidates for promotion, but the file also covers secretarial and technician staff and speculative enquiries as to the availability of work in the Department. Other requests are from landlords seeking assurance that prospective tenants are of sound character, academic associates wanting Zuckerman's opinion of papers being submitted for publication, and prospective students seeking postgraduate places. In a couple of instances the correspondence relates to work carried out for Zuckerman in a personal capacity; Mr Pardoe repaired a lamp for him, and John Powell installed some bookcases at his Edgbaston home,and sorted out a problem with a swollen cellar door there.

File SZ/BU/9 University Correspondence, 1938-1982, contains 45 sub-files arranged alphabetically by correspondent. There is considerable overlap between the contents and character of this file and File SZ/BU/8, but this file extends to general university business. Where a correspondent's office is not indicated, the correspondent or subject of correspondence listed was at some time a member of Birmingham Medical School or one of Zuckerman's former students. As in File SZ/BU/8 there is a quantity of correspondence other than with those named. As well as dealing with the academic careers of correspondents, the contents of this file include correspondence of a personal or social nature, or relate to other aspects of Zuckerman's life - such as his membership of government advisory committees and to government contracts on which he was engaged, for example research on the ability of dogs to detect land-mines, or the biological effects of blast from nuclear weapons. Zuckerman frequently picked the brains of his university colleagues; Professor Maskell was approached for information on alginates, Pon d'Abreu for advice on medical treatment for Lady Wimborne, and P.C. Hordern for data for Zuckerman's surveys of scientific and technical manpower (dealt with more fully in Series SZ/ACSP).

File SZ/BU/10 Ford Foundation Research Grant, 1960-65, contains drafts, working notes and correspondence relating to Zuckerman's submission to the Ford Foundation of a proposal to expand the use of primates in laboratory work on reproductive physiology at Birmingham University. The project, which the Ford Foundation agreed to fund, involved the development of a colony of fertile breeding monkeys, the introduction of new species of monkey, such as the Talapoin, for laboratory work, and the construction of a new monkey house.

File SZ/BU/11 Proposed University Press and Bookshop, 1949, is a slim file relating to a proposal to establish a Birmingham University Press and a University Bookshop. The content is complementary to material on academic publishing in Series SZ/SE and File SZ/RS/10.


  • SZ/BU/1 SZ's appointment to the Chair of Anatomy, 1938-1940, 1945
  • SZ/BU/2 Memos left by Professor Lockhart, 1938
  • SZ/BU/3 Finance documents, 1945-49
  • SZ/BU/4 Examination questions (old terminals), 1931-1945
  • SZ/BU/5 Departmental social functions, 1956-59
  • SZ/BU/6 Elections to Chairs, 1941-1967
  • SZ/BU/7 Miscellaneous appointments, 1946-47, 1950, 1954
  • SZ/BU/8 Department of Anatomy correspondence and references, 1941-1993
  • SZ/BU/9 University correspondence, 1938-1982
  • SZ/BU/10 Ford Foundation Research Grant, 1960-65
  • SZ/BU/11 Proposed University press and bookshop, 1949

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