Department of Natural Philosophy

Scope and Content

Student records 1846-1943 consisting of student entrance books which record student's name, father's name and profession, birthplace and remarks, and also class catalogues which record the results of classes taken.

Administrative / Biographical History

The teaching and study of Natural Philosophy in Glasgow University dates back to 1577  , when the University's new charter, the Nova Erectio, laid down the four subjects qualifying for the Master of Arts (Physics, Greek, Logic, Ethics). At that time, the scope of Physics also included pure mathematics, astronomy and geography. Under the Nova Erectio the teaching of Moral Philosophy, Logic, and Natural Philosophy was shared among the Regents. When the Regenting System was discontinued in 1727  , Robert Dick ( 1727-1751  ) became the first Professor of Natural Philosophy. His administration was the starting point for serious scientific achievement, exemplified by the acquisition of a complete apparatus for electrical experiments in 1749  . The new opportunities attracted scientists such as James Watt , who perfected his steam engine in a room of the Natural Philosophy Department.

Other notable occupants of the Chair of Natural Philosophy included John Anderson ( 1757-1796  ) and William Thomson , later Lord Kelvin ( 1846-1899  ). A full list of the University's professors from 1451  to 2001  can be found at  . Anderson's public lectures and publications led to further expansion. The subjects of study in the Natural Philosophy class of this period were mechanics, hydrostatics, pneumatics, optics, astronomy and natural history. The half century of stagnation following Anderson's death was terminated by the dominating figure of Lord Kelvin who transformed the department into an internationally renowned institution. He established a large scale experimental laboratory, creating an ideal environment for both teaching and research, especially in thermodynamics, magnetism/electricity and telegraphy. In 1893  the Chair of Natural Philosophy was transferred to the new Faculty of Science, and in 1906  , a new modern building was constructed under Kelvin's successor Andrew Gray .

In 1920  an independent Department of Applied Physics was created with the founding of the Cargill Chair of Applied Physics, endowed by the gift of Sir John Cargill , Director of the Burmah Oil Company . James Gordon Gray ( 1920-1935  ) was the first Professor of Applied Physics. Two lecturers transferred to the new department, and shortly afterwards both departments expanded to five members of staff each. By 1925  both departments were operating independently of each other and with little interaction, despite occupying the same building. In 1945  the Cargill Chair of Applied Physics was renamed the Cargill Chair of Natural Philosophy, and in 1948  the Department of Applied Physics was discontinued, with the University Court assigning it to Theoretical Physics within the Natural Philosophy Department. The first appointment to the Cargill Chair of Natural Philosophy under these new conditions was Sir John Currie Gunn ( 1949-1982  ).

In 1961  the Kelvin Chair of Natural Philosophy was founded with George Robert Bishop ( 1964-1990  ) as its first professor. In 1984  a Chair of Astrophysics was established by the University Court on condition that the Departments of Natural Philosophy and Astronomy amalgamated. The first professor was John Campbell Brown ( 1984-1990  ). The two departments merged in 1986  to form the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

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Additional Information

University of Glasgow

Subfonds level description compiled by Natalie Milne, archives assistant, January 2002  and John O'Brien, archives assistant, October 2002  .