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Biography of Eila M.J. Campbell

Eila Campbell's connection to Birkbeck spanned more than 50 years, starting when she did her undergraduate degree in geography from 1938-1941, while supporting herself as a secondary schoolteacher in Middlesex. This degree proved only the start of her educational ambitions: she subsequently graduated from Birkbeck with an MA in the History of Cartography, with distinction.

Throughout her Master's degree, Eila supported herself by working at Birkbeck as a part-time teacher. She became, successively, a demonstrator, a lecturer, assistant lecturer and then full lecturer from 1941-63. In 1970, she became a full Professor of Geography and Head of Department and then remained an Emeritus Professor until she died in 1994. It is with some justification therefore Eila felt 'there was no job in the entire Department that she had not tackled'.1

According to Eila's former colleague, John Wells: 'One can truthfully say that she devoted her life to geography and to her students...She always had time for students.' He continues, 'I can remember her walking down the corridor on many occasions carrying the globe without which she would never teach that aspect of geography. Her great interest was, of course, historical geography and the linked fields of the linked fields of the history of exploration and the history of cartography.'

Author of a 'tremendous outflow of articles and books', Eila found in cartography a subject where she could apply her abiding interest in people, or as Carole Kinsey states, 'her appreciation of the complex network of human relationships which accompany any endeavour. She knew that maps are among the most deceptive of human productions: ostensibly benign and seemingly objective, they are only a thin veneered surface covering the turbulent worlds of politics, commerce, scientific ambitions, with the full range of human virtues and vices underpinning their production. She herself refused to be locked into a single point of view or frame of reference.' And  her tremendous drive and willingness to innovate led directly to the introduction of at least two taught master's degrees, designed to provide relevant qualifications to staff who wanted to move further in their roles in tertiary education.

Her scholarship and passion for geography extended beyond Birkbeck. A long-term member of the British Federation of University Women and London Association, she also made numerous contributions to the Domesday Book and was instrumental in the set-up and editing of Imago Mundi, the international journal for the history of cartography. In addition, she was research Fellow of the New Zealand Federation of University Women. Moreover, she received official recognition through the Murchison Award from the Royal Geographical Society and the International Map Collectors Society Award.

Eila wore her undoubted scholarship lightly, and it was her down-to-earth approach and sense of adventure that friends, colleagues and students alike remember her for. 'She had a  particular skill of relating to all types of people whatever their station in life...She often said one could discover more about university departments from porters, cleaners and secretaries than from professors, senior lecturers and other academic staff.'

The Department of Geography is proud to continue its connection with Eila Cambell through our Eila Campbell lecture series which was generously endowed by her brother Professor Peter Campbell in her memory

1All quotes taken from A Celebration of the Life and Work of Eila M.J. Campbell, 1915-1994.

February 2020
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