Catalogue description Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of JOHN STODART KENNEDY FRS; (1912 - 1993)

This record is held by Imperial College Archives and Corporate Records Unit

Details of NCUACS 49.5.94
Reference: NCUACS 49.5.94
Title: Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of JOHN STODART KENNEDY FRS; (1912 - 1993)

The material is presented as shown in the List of Contents. Additional explanatory notes, information and cross-references are appended where appropriate to the separate sections, sub-sections and individual entries in the body of the catalogue. The following paragraphs are intended only to draw attention to items of particular interest.


Section A, Biographical and autobiographical, documents most stages of Kennedy's scientific career from the 1930s, including his wartime service, his period at Cambridge and subsequent moves to Imperial College and Oxford. There is virtually no personal material about Kennedy himself, but there are a few items relating to his parents and to his father's 'Vertical Lifter Aircraft' which Kennedy attempted to promote at the very end of his life. This section also includes Kennedy's own autobiographical notes, which have been drawn on in compiling this account.


Section B, Research, presents the material alphabetically by topic. It includes notebooks, notes, diagrams and drafts and, for some topics, considerable correspondence. The timespan is wide, ranging from photographs and observations in Albania in 1939 to the drafts and exchanges of ideas leading up to his 1992 book The new anthropomorphism. Kennedy had a well-deserved reputation for devising experimental techniques and apparatus such as windtunnels and carousels. These are not documented other than by the photographs in Section J.


Section C, Imperial College London, includes material relating to Kennedy's move to the College and as a senior ARC staff member. See the introductory note to the section. There is also material on several collaborative research projects.


Section D, Lectures, papers, broadcasts, covers a considerable time-span, 1936-1987, and addresses a very wide spectrum of audience from informal college or departmental talks to specialist conferences. Kennedy gave several radio talks on locusts and aphids, though he does not seem to have been a natural broadcaster.


Section E, Publications. Kennedy's bibliography included at A.2 lists 110 publications. Few of them are documented in this short section, which does however include a few items not listed there. The publication history of The new anthropomorphism is recorded here.


Section F, Societies and organisations. Kennedy's involvement with professional organisations was kept deliberately restricted in order not to interfere with research time, though he had a long-standing connection with the Anti-Locust Research Centre and, after 1965, participated in the affairs of the Royal Society.


Section G, Correspondence, is the most substantial of the collection, of interest both for the intensity of the scientific exchanges and also for some of the long-term sequences with friends and colleagues such as D.L. Gunn and V.B. Wigglesworth as well as with many overseas correspondents. The introductory note to the section describes in more detail the content and 2interest of the material.


Section H, References and recommendations, is another substantial section. In addition to many grant applications which Kennedy refereed for UK and overseas institutions, there is an extensive section (with an introductory note) relating to his work for journals and publishing houses in careful comments and assessments of work submitted.


Section J, Photographs. Of special interest are the many photographs taken 1942-1944 of the work of the Middle East Anti-Locust Unit. There are also photographs of windtunnels, and several group photographs of meetings and symposia.


It will be seen that the collection well reflects Kennedy's unbroken commitment to research, which he insisted was for him the only worthwhile activity. Teaching and administration were avoided or kept to the minimum acceptable. Participation in the activities of learned or professional groups, including editorial boards, was similarly restricted. There is for example no section on conferences in the collection, though Kennedy did attend such gatherings from time to time and gave several of the lectures in Section D at them; his own preference, however, was for small congenial meetings at the Cambridge 'Bun Shop' (a pub near the Department) or practical small-scale discussions in the laboratory. He was insistent on the publication of new findings when he was satisfied that they were scientifically adequate, and held colleagues and research students to the same course, expressing disappointment when work was delayed. From earliest days his avowed aims, which he thought he had found in Marxism, were accuracy and objectivity. They made him a fearsome antagonist in oral or written argument where he could be disconcertingly clinical in exposing unsound work, or could press for clarification with logic-chopping rationalism. On more than one occasion he described himself as a 'cold fish' and claimed to have difficulty in expressing emotion.


Yet this is a partial, indeed a misleading view. His temperament was in many ways that of an enthusiast. His quest for 'truth' in his chosen field of animal behaviour was a lifelong passion which could lead him to overstate a case - which he would quickly acknowledge and withdraw if contrary evidence were forthcoming. His letters often pour out his ideas and ask for reciprocity with an almost endearing frankness. He went to great trouble with visitors and students. He and his wife Claudette extended warm friendly hospitality in their home to innumerable colleagues.


In his autobiographical notes Kennedy quotes V.B. Wigglesworth's description of him: 'a disinterested soul'. This enigmatic statement is perhaps the wisest conclusion.


Compiled by Jeannine Alton and Peter Harper


The work of the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists, and the production of this catalogue, are made possible by the support of the following societies and organisations:


The Institute of Physics


The Royal Society


The Wellcome Trust


Thanks are due to Mrs Claudette Kennedy for making the papers available, and to Dr. Catherine Kennedy for help in identifying some of the photographs.

Date: 1915 - 1993



A.1, A.2 Autobiographical


A.3-A.22 Career


A.23-A.34 Family and personal


A.35-A.47 Diaries






C.1, C.2 Kennedy's career at Imperial College


C.3-C.6 ARC and Insect Physiology Group


C.7-C.16 Research


C.17 Lectures and teaching




D.1-D.41 Lectures and papers


D.42-D.50 Broadcasts








G.1-G.213 Scientific and general correspondence


G.214-G.239 Shorter scientific correspondence


G.240-G.245 Unindexed correspondence




H.1, H.2 Theses and higher degrees


H.3-H.39 UK research grants and fellowships


H.40-H.51 Overseas research and travel grants


H.52-H.81 UK appointments, promotions, awards


H.82-H.97 Overseas appointments, promotions, awards


H.98-H.136 Editorial and advisory



Held by: Imperial College Archives and Corporate Records Unit, not available at The National Archives
Language: English

Kennedy, John Stodart, 1912-1993, scientist and zoologist

Physical description: 41 Boxes
Access conditions:








Immediate source of acquisition:

The papers were received from Kennedy's room at the Department of Zoology Oxford, and from his home in Oxford.

  • Zoology
Administrative / biographical background:

Kennedy was born in 1912 at Titusville, Pennsylvania. His father, an Anglo-Scottish engineer, had met his American mother in Bangkok where he was tramways manager and she was visiting her aunt and missionary uncle. The family settled back in England after the First World War, and Kennedy was conventionally educated at preparatory schools followed by Westminster School 1925-1928 where his developing interest in biology was encouraged. At University College London 1929-1933 several important steps were taken: he chose Animal Behaviour as his special subject in the Zoology course, became acquainted through lectures with the Mechanist/Vitalist controversy in the interpretation of animal behaviour, was increasingly active in left-wing politics (he was a member of the Communist Party) and virtually ceased all contact with his conservative and establishment home and family. From this time, Kennedy seems to have supported himself by savings, scholarships and grants.


After working for an M.Sc. at UCL under G.S. Fraenkel, Kennedy obtained, via B.P. Uvarov, a three-year grant to work for a Ph.D. (awarded 1938) on locusts under the supervision of D.L. Gunn at Birmingham University; this also brought him his first experience of field-work for a few months in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. A longer spell of field-work abroad seemed likely when Kennedy (by now married) accepted a post at the Rockefeller Foundation Malaria Research Laboratory at Tirana, Albania in 1938, but this proved short-lived when the laboratory was closed down in the wake of the unpredicted invasion of Albania by Italy on Good Friday 1939. After various short-term appointments, he was again posted abroad as Research Officer in the Colonial Office's Middle East Anti-Locust Unit; he served 1942-1944, travelling widely and organising both Soviet and RAF crop-dusting aircraft. He later described the work as 'frustrating' and indeed the results, obtained in the conditions of the time, were of limited value; Kennedy himself became seriously debilitated and needed a period of recovery on his return.


During his Middle East travels, he had received an invitation from V.B. Wigglesworth to join his new Agricultural Research Council Insect Physiology Unit at the Department of Zoology Cambridge, and took up the appointment in 1946, working at the Field Station and University Farm. He also made a new family life there. His first marriage ended in divorce in 1946, and in 1950 he married Claudette, widow of a victim of Auschwitz where she herself had been imprisoned. They had two children and the marriage was very happy.


Kennedy remained at Cambridge for twenty-one years, working continuously on aphids, concentrating - as he preferred to do - on research, keeping teaching and administration to a minimum, but producing a steady flow of published work which brought him an international reputation and, in 1965, election to the Fellowship of the Royal Society. With the looming retirement of Wigglesworth and the consequent disbandment of the ARC Unit, Kennedy spent two worrying years 1965-1967 uncertain about the future location of his work. His ideal solution would no doubt have been to remain in Cambridge where family ties were by then strong, but this was not to be, and in 1967 he accepted an invitation from Imperial College London to move with a small group to the Field Station at Silwood Park. Here, with the rank of Deputy Chief Scientific Officer from the ARC and the title of Professor of Animal Behaviour from London University (later Emeritus Professor and Senior Research Fellow of Imperial College), he continued to work on aphids, moths and pheromones until 1983.


He then accepted an invitation from Professor Sir Richard Southwood (formerly Head of the Department of Zoology and Applied Entomology at Imperial College) of accommodation in the Department of Zoology Oxford. With the help of grants from the Royal Society he continued research and publications on insect flight patterns, but towards the end of the 1980s concentrated his activities on what he called in his autobiographical notes 'anthropomorphic misinterpretation of insect behaviour in various contexts'. This came to preoccupy him in his own writings and in his comments on those of others; he finally published his views in his only book The new anthropomorphism in 1992.


In 1984 Kennedy received the Gold Medal (Zoology) of the Linnean Society of London. In 1985 he received the Wigglesworth Medal of the Royal Entomological Society of London.


Although Kennedy's health was not strong - he had undergone major surgery in 1979 - he maintained a serious involvement in research and in the activities of the Department, where his sudden death occurred on 4 February 1993.

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