Karl Polanyi papers, 1937-1963, bulk 1947-1963

Summary Information


The bulk of the papers of Hungarian economic sociologist Karl Polanyi (1886-1964) originate from Polanyi's time as an adjunct and emeritus professor at Columbia University (1947-1963) and include manuscripts written during that time, professional correspondence, Ford Foundation and faculty seminar memorandum, research notes and files, and lectures.

At a Glance

Call No.:
Bib ID:
4079228 View CLIO record
Polanyi, Karl, 1886-1964
Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Physical Description:
5.88 linear feet (15 document boxes)
English .
You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.This collection has no restrictions.

This collection has no restrictions.



This collection contains the professional correspondence, writings, Columbia University materials, and research files produced by Polanyi primarily from the late 1940s to the early 1960s, during which time he was associated with Columbia University. Because there was no discernable order to much of the collection, the material has been been consolidated into clear series and alphabetized, within series, according to folder title. In cases where the folder was titled by Polanyi himself, the original folder title has been retained. In cases of unlabeled folders, or folders labeled by others, folder names have been altered to more accurately reflect the contents therein.

  • Series I: Correspondence, 1951-1962

    This series contains Polanyi's professional correspondence from the early 1950s to the early 1960s, most of which appears to be related to his various research and writing projects, and the coordination of various academic seminars and research symposium. As such, most of the correspondents are Polanyi's professional colleagues, the major exception being correspondence with Polanyi's brother, Michael Polanyi.

    The correspondence in this series is arranged alphabetically. Correspondence directly relevant to Polanyi's written works has been kept with the appropriate topic in the Writing series. The Weekend Notes series also contains some correspondence between Polanyi and Abe Rotstein relevant to that work.

  • Series II: Writings, 1937-1963

    The Writings Series consists of material from many of Polanyi's major postwar works, including The Great Transformation, Dahomey and the Slave Trade, Trade and Markets in Early Empires, the posthumously published The Livelihood of Man, and the unpublished Freedom and Technology. Also included are the manuscripts of various essays, lectures, and other writings. The writings included herein contain drafts at various stages of completion, including simple outlines or synopses (The Great Transformation), multiple intermediate drafts and incomplete manuscripts, as well as the final and near-final drafts (Dahomey). The works placed under the heading "Non-Market Economies Writings are independent studies and essays that also reflect Polanyi's work in Trade and Markets in Early Empires. Much of Polanyi's research and scholarship was collaborative. Because of this collaborative relationship, the correspondence and notes of Rosemary Arnold on Dahomey, are included with the writings.

    Also included within this series are the chapters, preface, and introduction for Polanyi's unfinished and unpublished late work, Freedom and Technology. This work, according to Polanyi's wife Ilona Polanyi, was to have been written with Abe Rotstein, but was abandoned several years before Polanyi died.

    Several lectures, such as "Freedom and Technology" and "Present Age of Transformation" which are early articulations of ideas that Polanyi would later expand into book-length studies, are also found here.

    The material in this series is arranged alphabetically.

  • Series III: Columbia University Materials, 1940-1962

    This series contains material relating to Polanyi's tenure as professor of economics at Columbia University from 1947 to 1953. The material primarily consists of handwritten lecture notes and course outlines, as well as writings from university-supported and -centered faculty seminars and the Ford Foundation-funded research project. These latter writings are mostly in memo-form, but also include short write-ups on various topics. All of these materials, while distinct in form, have similar themes to Polanyi's other research and book projects. The material is arranged alphabetically.

  • Series IV: Research Materials, 1949-1959

    This series contains handwritten and typescript notes, short written sketches, correspondence, clippings, and other materials relating to Polanyi's research projects Those notes which were labeled or clearly identified as belonging with a project, course, or Columbia University-related project generally have been included with those materials. The files that cannot be identified have generally been left in their original folder, as many of these folders appear to have been marked by Polanyi himself.

    The material in this series is arranged alphabetically.

  • Series V: Weekend Notes, 1956-1958

    This series contains drafts of Abe Rotstein's unpublished Weekend Notes, in which he transcribed his conversations with Polanyi over a series of weekend visits and commutes (the two men lived in Canada and drove into New York City for their respective teaching appointments). The chapters of this manuscript, chronologically ordered by weekend from 1956-1958, were individually bound in 26 small notebooks, and have been kept in the original order. The bulk of this series consists of nearly final drafts of the manuscript. Also included are several early drafts, correspondence between Polanyi and Rotstein, as well as the Table of Contents and Introduction by Polanyi to his unfinished book Freedom and Technology.


This collection is arranged in five series.

Using the Collection

Restrictions on Access

You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.This collection has no restrictions.

This collection has no restrictions.

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Karl Polanyi papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.


Materials may have been added to the collection since this finding aid was prepared. Contact rbml@columbia.edu for more information.

Reproduction Note

Letters are: Type of reproduction--microfilm

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Source of acquisition--Polanyi, Mrs. Karl. Method of acquisition--Gift; Date of acquisition--1965. Accession number--M-65.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Processing Information

Cataloged Christina Hilton Fenn 08/--/89.

Papers reprocessed by Aaron Winslow (GSAS, 2014) Summer, 2009.

Revision Description

2009-09-12 File created.

2009-10-02 xml document instance created by Carolyn Smith

2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.

Biographical / Historical

Born in Vienna on 21 October, 1886, Karl Polanyi was the son of a Hungarian engineer and entrepreneur, Michael Pollacsek, and a Russian mother, Cecile Wohl, who was a figure in Hungarian intellectual and political society. His brother was the philosopher and chemist Michael Polanyi.

Raised in Budapest, Polanyi attended the University at Budapest and Kolozsvar, earning a doctorate of law in 1909. He was called to the bar in 1912. It was at University, in 1908, that Polanyi became engaged in Hungarian politics, helping to found the left-liberal Galilei Circle, a radical political movement that put Polanyi in touch with key figures of Hungarian politics. He would later edit the Circle's journal Szabadgondolat until its suppression in 1919. In 1914, he helped to form the Hungarian Radical Party.

During the First World War, Polanyi served as a cavalry officer in the Austro-Hungarian army on the Russian front until severe illness necessitated his hospitalization first in Budapest, and later in Vienna, where he met, Ilona Duczynska, whom he married in 1923. After the war, in 1921, Polanyi worked for the Hungarian weekly Becsi Magyar Ujsag.

In 1924, Polanyi began work in Vienna as a writer and editor for Der Oesterreichische Vokswirt, the leading economic and financial weekly of Central Europe, specializing in international affairs. During this time, Polanyi hosted a seminar in his home on the topic of 'a democratic associational socialist economy.' The rise of fascism in Austria forced him to resign from the journal and, in 1933, to flee to London.

In England, Polanyi was active in the Christian Left Group, producing pamphlets and circulars, and later edited Christianity and the Social Revolution with John MacMurray and Joseph Needham. In 1935 Polanyi began a series of lecture tours in the United States. Additionally, he worked as a tutor at the Workers Educational Association adult education program at the Universities of Oxford and London, where his lectures on English social and economic history and international affairs laid the groundwork for his classic work The Great Transformation. This latter work was written in the United States, during a period as a visiting scholar at Bennington College in Vermont from 1940-1943. During this time, Ilona taught mathematics at Bennington.

Returning to London, Polanyi resumed teaching at the Workers Educational Association, and resumed political work in the Hungarian Club of London and, later, the Hungarian Council, both of which were Hungarian émigré organizations.

In 1947 Polanyi accepted a position in Columbia University's Department of Sociology. Ilona, however, was denied a visa to the United States because of her association with the Hungarian Communist Party, and her prominent part in the failed Hungarian Revolution of 1919. As a result, the Polanyi's took up residence outside Toronto, and for the rest of his career Polanyi commuted between Toronto and New York City.

At Columbia, Polanyi taught, primarily, a course entitled General Economic History, which he described as dealing with "the origins of economic institutions." At the same time, Polanyi also led a faculty seminar and research project on the same topic, called the University Seminar on the Institutionalization of the Economic Process. Though he retired in 1953, Polanyi was retained by Columbia as an emeritus professor, and received a Ford Foundation grant to lead an Interdisciplinary Project on Economic Aspects of Institutional Growth. This project ultimately resulted in the publication of the collaborative work Trade and Market in the Early Empires.

In 1963 Polanyi and Ilona co-edited The Plough and the Pen: Writings from Hungary 1930-1956, a collection of English translations of Soviet Hungarian literature and political writings. Also during that year, Polanyi visited Hungary for the first time since 1919, and gave a series of lectures at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Later that year, and shortly before his death, Polanyi founded the journal Co-Existence. He died on 23 April, 1964, in Pickering, Ontario.

A number of Polanyi's works have been published posthumously, including Dahomey and the Slave Trade, and, in 1977, The Livelihood of Man, edited by Harry Pearson.

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches for other collections at Columbia University, through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, and through ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.

Columbia University -- Faculty CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Ford Foundation. Interdisciplinary Project CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Polanyi, Karl, 1886-1964 -- Great transformation CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Benin -- Commerce -- History CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Benin -- Economic conditions CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Europe, Eastern -- Economic conditions CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
College teachers CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Economic anthropology CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Economic history CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Economic history -- 1750-1918 CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Economic history -- Study and teaching CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Economics -- History CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Economics -- Moral and ethical aspects CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Economists CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Historians CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
History, Ancient CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
International trade CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Slave trade -- Benin CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Slavery CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Social history CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID