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The Clarendon Laboratory Archive

Spring, 1997

A RECENT project to locate sources for the history of science in Oxford has uncovered a large quantity of manuscripts, printed books, photographs, instruments and other material that was previously little known. The results of the survey were published in Katherine D. Watson, Sources for the History of Science in Oxford (Oxford: Faculty of Modern History, 1994) – a slim volume that has come to be known as the ‘Green Book’.

Most of the information contained in this publication concerns the Clarendon Laboratory, which was found to have a rich collection of source materials for the history of Oxford physics; these have now been gathered together in a dedicated archive room within the Laboratory.

Formally inaugurated in December 1996, the Archive Room holds most of the apparatus, photographs and documents that have been preserved. Most date from the period 1840-1980, with an emphasis on the modern era (particularly wartime work on radar, as well as low temperature physics and magnetism). There is a certain amount of overspill, located mainly in the display cabinets in the second floor corridor, in the Moseley Room, and in the ground floor corridor near the entrance.

The main feature of the Archive Room is the arrangement of display cabinets showing the more interesting exhibits; detailed labels have been provided where possible. Display Cabinet 1, for example, holds two current balances, one with a certificate dated 1889 signed by Sir William Thomson, the other with a certificate dated 1904 and signed by him as Lord Kelvin.

Cupboards beneath the cabinets house duplicate and less notable items. Filing cabinets contain documents, photographs, and a number of audio tapes. All are held in labelled files relating to individuals or subjects, or in box files.

Highlights include a set of copies of photographs taken by R. B. Clifton of the interior of the Old Clarendon Laboratory (founded in 1872). Bookshelves hold videotapes of interviews with retired members of the Laboratory, some books of historic interest, and a selection of records concerning staff, student numbers, finances, examinations and so forth.

All of the items held in the Archive Room have been entered into a database, which gives the location and a description of the item, its date and provenance (when known), comments on it, and a cross reference to the Green Book (where relevant). In addition, each entry has a set of keywords to assist in database searches. There are at present some 850 entries on the database, which may be accessed through the computer in the Archive Room. It is expected that in due course the database will also be available in the laboratory.

Those wishing to view the Clarendon Laboratory Archive should write to the Librarian, Clarendon Laboratory, Parks Road, Oxford, who can also be contacted by E-mail at library@physics.ox.ac.uk. Copies of the Green Book are available from Professor Robert Fox, at the Faculty of Modern History.

Cassie Watson and John Sanders