Papers of Dr James Harrison Renwick, 1926-1994, geneticist, University of Glasgow, Scotland

Scope and Content

The material presented here chiefly dates from the period of Renwick's human genetics research from the mid 1950s to the early 1970s and includes:  

  • Biographical material, including obituaries, curricula vitae and lists of publications;
  • University of Glasgow material, mostly relating to the preparation of examination questions in genetics;
  • Research material, bringing together pedigree charts and associated family information on patients from all over the UK, the US and elsewhere, offprints frequently annotated by Renwick, covering letters from doctors, correspondence with colleagues, and associated medical, laboratory and computing data, filed by project;
  • Publications, includes drafts for some of Renwick's published papers 1961-1990, though the majority of the material dates from the early 1970s;
  • Material relating to lectures and conferences attended by Renwick;
  • Material relating to societies and organisations, documents Renwick's involvement with fourteen UK, overseas and international bodies;
  • Correspondence files, which are not very extensive as Renwick kept the bulk of his scientific correspondence with the research to which it related, and it is consequently to be found in the main research section above.

Administrative / Biographical History

James Harrison Renwick was born in Otley, Yorkshire on 4 February 1926. He was educated at Sedburgh School winning a Harkness Scholarship to the University of St Andrews in 1943. He studied medicine, graduating MB, ChB in 1948. After various hospital appointments, 1948 to 1951, Renwick did his national service in the Royal Army Medical Corps 1951-1953, serving in Korea and seconded part-time to the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission, Japan (final rank of Captain). In 1953 Renwick was awarded a Medical Research Council grant to train in Human Genetics. He undertook this work in the Galton Laboratory of University College London, studying under Lionel Sharples Penrose and John Burdon Sanderson Haldane (PhD 1956).

Renwick spent a period 1958-1959 working under Professor Victor Almon McKusick at the Johns Hopkins Hospital Department of Human Genetics (appointment as Physician). On his return to the UK in 1959 he took up a post as Research Fellow in Guido Pontecorvo's Department of Genetics at Glasgow University. He was appointed Senior Lecturer in 1960, Reader in 1966 and Titular Professor in 1967. In 1968 Renwick moved to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine as Reader in Human Genetics in the Department of Community Health and Head of the Preventive Teratology Unit. In 1978 he was appointed Professor of Human Genetics and Teratology, and also became Honorary Consultant Counsellor in Human Genetics at St George's Hospital, London. He retired in 1991.

Renwick made a fundamental contribution to modern genetics, in particular to the development of human gene mapping that paved the way for the Human Genome Project. Working initially at the Galton Laboratory, University College London, with Lionel Sharples Penrose, then at the University of Glasgow, and latterly at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, for a period of nearly 20 years up to the early 1970s, he pioneered the use of genetic markers to map disease genes on human chromosomes, seeing this field develop from its infancy at a time when there was virtually no information on mapping human genes to a major international scientific endeavour. His Independent obituarist notes that, "His work linking the ABO blood groups and the nail-patella syndrome was seminal and is still cited as a classic in human linkage analysis" and he was behind the first generalised computer program for calculating LODs (Logarithm of Odds) for large human pedigrees. He also was involved in a major ongoing transatlantic collaboration on gene mapping with Victor Almon McKusick, making many visits to Johns Hopkins as a consultant on the application of computer techniques to genetical linkage, building on mathematical work initiated by Cedric Austen Bardell Smith at the Galton Laboratory. Renwick's key role in this work was due to his expertise in three essential areas: the clinical assessment of the families with specific genetic disorders, the laboratory analysis of the genetic markers and the mathematical and computing approaches to the data obtained.

In 1972 he radically changed direction, following what he described as a "unilateral termination of computer facilities" at Johns Hopkins and his consequent "ejection from the field". The subsequent years of his career at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine were mainly spent on analysis of causative factors in human malformations, studying in particular birth defects with an early study on the possible relation between toxins in potatoes and anencephaly and spina bifida (ASB).

Renwick was active in a number of genetical societies, including the Genetical (later Genetics) Society, which he served as Honorary Treasurer 1960-1965 and then auditor 1965-1972. He was a founder of the Developmental Pathology Society, serving as its President. He was also active in social activities at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Renwick was made a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Glasgow (1970) and the Royal College of Physicians of London (1974) and a Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists (1982). He was awarded the University of London DSc in 1970. He died on 29 September 1994.


The archive has been divided into the following sub-fonds:  

  • UGC 155/1: Biographical material;
  • UGC 155/2: University of Glasgow material;
  • UGC 155/3: Research material;
  • UGC 155/4: Publications;
  • UGC 155/5: Lectures and conferences;
  • UGC 155/6: Societies and organisations;
  • UGC 155/7: Correspondence files.

Access Information

Some files in this collection are subject to Data Protection legislation as they identify patients and contain sensitive information. These records will not be fully accessible to the public until 100 years from the date on each file. However, they may be accessible to bona fide researchers and academics. Please contact the Duty Archivist for advice on how to apply for access to these files. Contact details are as follows: Duty Archivist, Archive Services, University of Glasgow, 13 Thurso Street, Glasgow, G11 6PE.

Acquisition Information

Deposit : Timothy E Powell : 2006 : ACCN 2971

Other Finding Aids

Paper catalogue with index of correspondents available in the searchroom.

Alternative Form Available

No known copies

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

None which affect the use of this material

Conditions Governing Use

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the Archivist.

Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use and condition of documents

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with standard GB 248 procedures

Custodial History

The James Harrison Renwick archive was deposited in the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists, University of Bath, via Professor Sue Povey, Haldane Professor of Human Genetics, University College London, in February 2005. It was then deposited in Glasgow University Archives in 2006.


None expected

Related Material

Material held in this archive:  

  • GB 248 GEN, University of Glasgow, Institute of Genetics, including correspondence about the new building for the Institute of Genetics, student records, lectures, teaching slides, and Department guestbook.
  • GB 248 UGC 188, correspondence between Renwick and Malcolm Ferguson-Smith.
Information on the genetics collections held at Glasgow University Archive Services can be found  here.

Material held in other archives: Papers relating to Renwick's service as secretary of the Senior Common Room and the Dining Club of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have been placed in the Archives of the London School of Health and Tropical Medicine.

Location of Originals

This material is original


No known publications using this material

Additional Information

Description compiled in line with the following international standards: International Council on Archives,ISAD(G) Second Edition, September 1999 and National Council on Archives,Rules for the construction of personal, place and corporate names

Scotland is the location of all place names in the administrative/biographical history element, unless otherwise stated.

Fonds and lower level descriptions originally compiled by Timothy E Powell and Peter Harper from the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists, University of Bath, in 2006 and later edited by Gemma Tougher, Assistant Archivist (Cataloguing), Glasgow University Archive Services in November 2010.