Beth and Fiona have recently started as cataloguing interns in the CRC, and tell us about their first experiences…
Thesis cataloguing comes with its perils, for a start, until the beginning of February we were both blissfully unaware of the horror of the unnumbered page. Few sights can strike fear into the heart of the intrepid rare books cataloguer quite like erratic pagination!
However, we are glad to report that this internship is not exclusively page counting, and every now and again something, or someone, truly exceptional comes along.
Among the hidden gems of the past couple of weeks, we found a 1930’s PhD thesis in physics that was submitted by a woman named Gladys Isabel Harper. A woman submitting a thesis in 1930 may not be particularly unusual, especially thanks to the progressive thinking in Edinburgh at that time, but this woman’s career certainly took an exceptional trajectory and one that even by today’s standards would appear highly impressive.
Born Gladys MacKenzie, she was the daughter of an iron founder and teacher from Edinburgh and was educated at Craigmount School in the city. She graduated with an MA in 1924, with a first in Mathematics and Natural Philosophy (now known as the physics department). As part of her PhD on J-phenomenon in x-radiation, Gladys submitted an article co-written with E. Salaman during her time at Newnham College in Cambridge where she was appointed a lectureship in 1926. In 1929 she resigned her post at Cambridge and married Wallace Russell Harper (PhD) who was a fellow physicist and published two books in the subject in 1961 and 1966.
Gladys’ PhD was granted in 1930, after she was married and while she was working in the natural philosophy department at Edinburgh University with Charles Glover Barkla, who won a Nobel prize for his work in a the field of x-radiation. Together, they wrote two articles published in Philosophical Magazine in 1926. The final leaf of Gladys’ PhD is a letter from her to the librarian at Edinburgh University stating her address in Bristol University where she was a lecturer in the department of Physics until 1947.
As we continue our quest to organize the intellectual heritage of EU, we may get shudder at the thought of chemistry PhD students who apparently had only a loose idea of how page numbers work (hint: they generally go up, one at a time), but it’s all worth it to make the work of people like Gladys Isabel Harper visible to more students today.