Fonds Bronowski - Jacob Bronowski

Bronowski in uniform standing on a damaged building/structure [in Japan] Bronowski with 5 others, all wearing uniform and standing on a ship Photograph of Francis Walley and others on a train "arriving in North Island Nov 1945" ...

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JCPP/Bronowski

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Jacob Bronowski

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(1908-1974)

Biographical history

Jacob Bronowski was born in Lódz, Poland, in 1908, the first of 3 children of Abram Bronowski, haberdasher, and his wife, Celia Flatto. The family moved to Germany, and then to London in 1920 where Bronowski attended the Central Foundation Boys' School. In 1927 Bronowski began studying mathematics at Jesus College on a Scholarship. He gained a first in Part I of the Tripos examination in 1928 and two years later was a Wrangler in Part II. Bronowski continued to study mathematics at Cambridge, and was awarded a PhD in 1933.

From 1934 to 1942 Bronowski lectured on mathematics at University College Hull (later the University of Hull). In 1942 he joined the Military Research Unit of the Home Office and the Joint Target Group in Washington D C. In 1945 Bronowski travelled to Japan to report on the effects of the atomic bombs at Nagasaki and Hiroshima as part of the British Mission.

After the Second World War Bronowski worked for the British Government on research into applying statistical methods to economics in industry (1946-1950), was on loan to UNESCO as head of their projects division (1948), worked for the National Coal Board as Director of Research then Director General of Process Development (1950-1963) where he contributed to the development of smokeless fuels.

In 1964 Bronowski and his family moved to La Jolla in California as Bronowski became one of the founding fellows of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. There he was Director of the Council for Biology in Human Affairs from its establishment in 1970. Bronowski's work at the Salk Institute focused on what makes humans unique amongst animals, particularly language.

Bronowski's radio and television broadcasting career began in 1946 with discussing the effects of the atomic bombs in Japan in a radio programme entitled 'Mankind at the Crossroads'. He was a regular panellist on the 'Brains Trust' television series, wrote and starred in 'Insight' television series which explained key scientific ideas, and his lecture series in the United States were recorded for radio broadcast. The culmination of his broadcasting career was 'The Ascent of Man' television series which aired in 1973 (United Kingdom) and in 1974-1975 (United States).

Bronowski gave several high profile lecture series in the United States which were later published. These include: 'Science and Human Values' at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology in 1953 (published in 1956); 'The Identity of Man' at the American Museum of Natural History in New York in 1965 (published 1965); 'The Origins of Knowledge and Imagination' for the Silliman Memorial Lectures at Yale University in 1967 (published in 1978); 'Art as a Mode of Knowledge' for the Mellon lecture series at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D C in 1969 (published in 'The Visionary Eye' in 1978); and 'Magic, Science and Civilisation' for the Bampton Lectures at Columbia University in New York in 1969 (published in 1978).

Much of Bronowski's work, from 'Science and Human Values' onwards, explored art and science as twin expressions of the human imagination. As well as scientific papers and lectures he wrote poems, plays, and studies of poets and poetry. His published work in this area includes 'The Poet's Defence: The Concept of Poetry from Sidney to Yeats' (1939), 'William Blake, 1757-1827: a Man Without a Mask' (1944) and revised as 'William Blake and the Age of Revolution' (1965); 'The Western Intellectual Tradition: From Leonardo to Hegel' written with Bruce Mazlish (1960) and 'The Face of Violence: an essay with a play' (1954).

Bronowski married Rita Coblentz (the sculptor Rita Colin) in 1941. They had 4 daughters: Lisa, Judith, Nicole and Clare. Bronowski died of a heart attack in August 1974.

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