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Campbell, Eila Muriel Joicefree

  • Anita McConnell

Campbell, Eila Muriel Joice (1915–1994), university teacher and historian of cartography, was born on 31 December 1915 at Ropley, Hampshire, the eldest child of Walter Howard Claude Campbell (1894–1958), poultry farmer, and his wife, Lillian Muriel, née Locke (1884–1979). After military service Walter Campbell endeavoured to set up as a shopkeeper, with mixed success. A son, Peter, was born in 1926. From Bournemouth high school, Campbell studied at the diocesan teacher training college at Brighton from 1934 to 1936, and on qualifying taught at various girls' schools. Her lifelong association with Birkbeck College, which offered evening and weekend courses for people in employment, began in 1938 when she enrolled in the geography department under Professor Eva Taylor (1879–1966). On obtaining her BA in 1941, Campbell became a part-time assistant in the department while still a full-time schoolteacher, during the difficult wartime years. In 1945 she was appointed assistant lecturer, rising in 1948 to lecturer. She gained her MA with distinction in 1947.

During her time at Birkbeck, Campbell taught all aspects of human, regional, and physical geography, took her students on sometimes strenuous field trips, and introduced them to what had become her own enthusiasm: the histories of exploration and cartography. Her interest in the origins of settlement in wooded country, as she imagined Britain had been, led her to secure a research fellowship offered by the New Zealand Federation of University Women. In 1949 she sailed to New Zealand, where she held a visiting lectureship at Victoria University College, Wellington, and in the course of her research toured both islands, returning home via Fiji in 1950.

In her progress up the academic ladder at Birkbeck, then a college of the federal London University, Campbell followed in the wake of the much respected Eva Taylor, but none the less had to combat the hostility shown to intelligent and capable women. In 1963 she was appointed reader at London University, in respect of her Birkbeck post, but was unsuccessful when in 1965 she applied for a professorship at Bedford College, London. After spending the academic year 1965/6 as visiting professor in historical geography at Mickiewicz University, Posnan, Poland, she secured in 1970 the position of professor of geography and head of department at Birkbeck, which she held until 1981 when she became emeritus professor. She dealt competently—if on occasion undemocratically—with course planning, academic administration, and editorial work, and her participation in many societies carried her several times around the world and brought her a great many close friends. Campbell's beaming smile can be seen in many group photographs taken at congresses and other meetings over the years, often in the company of Helen Wallis (1924–1995), map librarian at the British Library, with whom she shared many interests.

Under Campbell's administration several undergraduate courses concerned with aspects of historical geography were introduced at Birkbeck. As an examiner in colleges of education she realized the need for teachers to be able to expand their geographical knowledge, and to this end she initiated taught masters' degrees, introducing the MSc in geography of the USA in 1966 and the MSc in historical geography in 1970.

Campbell was a co-editor, working under Henry Clifford Derby the series editor, for the Domesday Geography of South-East England (1962), which involved her in the analysis of the original folios, but her innovative work did not receive the acknowledgement it deserved. She contributed sixteen biographical articles to the fourteenth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1961–7). She also wrote school textbooks and spoke at numerous conferences, but published few scholarly articles, expending much of her time and effort on Imago Mundi, the leading international journal for the history of cartography, with which she was associated for forty-eight years. She was recruited to this by its editor, Leo Bagrow, who from his Amsterdam base expected Campbell to solicit and edit papers for this journal, while treating her very much as a hired help. Campbell endured this indignity, eventually took her place on the editorial board, and, on the retirement in 1972 of both editor and publisher, took over the editorship, which she held until her death.

Campbell joined most of the societies that covered her disciplines, where possible taking out life membership and generally serving on their councils, at which she was accustomed to dispense perceptive if acerbic comments and nuggets of wisdom. The Charles Close Society, concerned with the history of the Ordnance Survey, met in her department; she was a founder member in 1963 of the British Cartographic Society, a member of the Society of Women Geographers, of the Hakluyt Society (for the history of exploration), of the Society for Nautical Research, and of the Royal Geographical Society, receiving the Murchison award in 1979 for her distinguished service on its library and maps committee. She also served on numerous academic and administrative bodies. She served on the British National Committee for Geography and for six years chaired the Royal Society sub-committee for geography.

In addition to her extremely busy professional life, Campbell cared for her mother who lived with her from 1951 until her death at the age of ninety-five. She maintained a close relationship with her brother, and the three spent most holidays together. In the last decade of her life Campbell, a short and dumpy figure with poor sight, suffered various accidents and a mugging, each of which left her with cracked bones and other damage. She nevertheless continued travelling abroad and attending meetings until she was taken into a nursing home shortly before her death, in the Wellington Hospital, 27 Circus Road, St John's Wood, London, on 12 July 1994. At a celebration of her life, held at the Royal Geographic Society on 16 November 1994, those who had been her students recalled Campbell's concern for their academic progress, while those who knew her in the course of society or administrative business spoke warmly of her devotion and energy to each cause that she supported; all mentioned her indomitable character and her generous and friendly nature.


  • S. Tyacke, ed., A celebration of the life and work of Eila M. J. Campbell, 1915–1994 (privately issued, 1994)
  • C. D. Smith and P. Barber, Imago Mundi, 47 (1995), 7–12
  • Y. Hodson, Sheetlines, 41 (1994), 2
  • P. Lawrence, Cartographic Journal, 31 (1994), 141–2
  • W. R. Mead, ‘Professor Eila Campbell’, The Independent (26 July 1994), 11a
  • H. Wallis, ‘Eila Muriel Joice Campbell, 1915–1994’, GJ, 160 (1994), 361
  • private information (2004) [P. Cambell]
  • personal knowledge (2004)
  • d. cert.
  • b. cert.


  • BL

Wealth at Death

£350,230: probate, 5 Dec 1994, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

Geographical Journal
Calendars of the grants of probate … made in … HM court of probate [England and Wales]