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Papers of Geoffrey Ostergaard

Archive reference: Cwl GO

This Commonweal Archive was created by an academic and activist who admired and studied the ideas of Gandhi and his followers in India.

Geoffrey Ostergaard

Geoffrey Ostergaard joined the University of Birmingham in 1953, where he remained as lecturer and then senior lecturer in the Department of Political Science for the rest of his academic career. A Rockefeller Foundation grant took him to the University of California in 1958-1959, where he studied “latter-day anarchists”, the Beat Generation. He later credited his interest in non-violence to the activities of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the mass civil disobedience of the Committee of 100.

This interest led him to Gandhi and those who followed him “in accepting non-violence as the central tenet of their philosophy of political action”: the Sarvodaya “welfare for all” movement. Dr Ostergaard was sympathetic to the “vanguard” of the movement, inspired by Vinoba Bhave, which campaigned for bhoodan (voluntary land gifts from landowners to the landless) and gramdan (surrender of individual ownership of land to village communities) as steps leading to the establishment of a new social order in India. Dr Ostergaard studied the movement when, in 1962-1965, under the Commonwealth Educational Co-operation Scheme, he was seconded to Osmania University, Hyderabad, as Visiting Professor of Political Science. In 1965, he and Dr Melville Currell surveyed Sarvodaya leaders, publishing their findings in “The Gentle Anarchists” (1971). Dr Ostergaard told the later story of the Sarvodaya movement, from 1969 to Vinoba’s death in 1982, in “Nonviolent Revolution in India” (1985). This work, based partly on interviews with activists and on visits to India in 1975 and 1978, covered JP Narayan’s call for “Total revolution”, Mrs Gandhi’s imposition of Emergency in 1975, and how the Sarvodaya movement responded.

He also published extensively in academic publications and pacifist and anarchist journals, notably “Peace News” and “Freedom”. He used the pseudonym “Gaston Gerard” for anarchist writing and commentaries on University matters. He was active in UK peace movements, as a member of the Peace Pledge Union and chair of the Peace News Trustees. He was a Trustee of Commonweal Library, the independent library devoted to Gandhian ideas.

The Archive

The Archive was donated to Commonweal Library in 1990. It includes:

  • Typescripts and notes of articles and lectures.
  • Transcripts of interviews with leaders and activists, including two with JP Narayan.
  • Survey responses, data analysis, notes, and related correspondence from the Sarvodaya questionnaire of 1965.
  • Papers, correspondence and articles, mainly from the 1970s, on aspects of sarvodaya and Indian politics.
  • Press cuttings from Indian and British newspapers, mainly 1970s.

The Archive was catalogued as part of the PaxCat Project, with support from the National Cataloguing Grants Programme for Archives.

Papers of Geoffrey Ostergaard description

Collection description of the Papers of Geoffrey Ostergaard, academic and activist who studied the ideas of Gandhi.

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