CRC Cataloguing Interns

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.

2 thoughts on “CRC Cataloguing Interns

  1. sylvia elliott

    please add this to Gladys Isabel MacKenzie Harper’s PhD thesis….
    Dr Harper was one of my physics lecturers at Queen Elizabeth College in London from 1971-1974. She was a contemporary of Ernest Rutherford at Cambridge (1926-1929), and wrote papers with Barkla (who was a 1917/18 Nobel Laureate). She annually invited students to her amazingly furnished house in Wimbledon. I have further information on her should any future biographers be reading this.

  2. Colin Harper

    I was just looking for some information on the internet and found this great piece of work on my mother. If it is of interest I can fill you in in a lot of details on her life. I was born in 1938 and was her only surviving child. I have some pictures of her early years including one of the staff of Cavendish where she was the only women among many famous physicists. I have always felt that her life , and its challenges deserved better recognition. My daughter (also PhD) could help with this.
    Let me know if there is an interest. and who to contact.
    I live in Canada where my mother spent her last years but with the internet I can work with you if you want to build on your bio.
    Best wishes,
    Colin Harper


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