Papers and correspondence of George William Series, 1920-1995

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

On his retirement from Reading in 1982, Series appears to have discarded much material. Although he remained in touch with physics, continuing to lecture and to attend conferences, he and his wife spent much of their time at their Cornish home, where research and administrative facilities were of necessity limited. These factors have resulted in gaps in the record at all levels.

There is some biographical and personal material including several autobiographical notes and narratives, some quite lengthy, on his career and scientific interests, written at various dates from 1963 to 1994. There is unfortunately virtually no documentation for Series's early life, Oxford University and college days at St John's and St Edmund Hall, or of his connection with Reading School as pupil and Governor. His appointment, career and retirement at Reading University are more fully recorded, as are his later honours. The surviving research papers represent Series's own selection of topics of special interest to him: some, such as 'Spontaneous emission of light' cover a long time-span 1964-1977, while others such as 'Optogalvanic spectroscopy' was his last research at Reading 1981-1983. Series seems to have conducted a later revision of some of the material, perhaps in 1990, adding brief explanatory notes on its interest.

There is a substantial record of Series's achievement as a popular and prolific lecturer to research groups or conferences, over an extended period, 1959-1988. Publications and editorial papers form only a partial record of Series's considerable editorial commitments, though it does include material on the founding of the European Journal of Physics with which he was closely involved, serving as its first editor. Visits and conferences material is similarly scanty in view of the many conferences and lecture engagements undertaken by Series. It includes several of his visits under the Royal Society Exchange Programme, and also documents the major world tour 1982-1983 following his retirement from Reading. The surviving correspondence dates in large part but not exclusively from Series's retirement years. Many of the letters are therefore incoming only, but Series frequently jotted down notes of his replies, or of calculations and ideas arising from the correspondence. He might also, at a later date, add a note on writers' names, careers and connections.

Administrative / Biographical History

Series was born, in modest circumstances, in 1920 and spent his early years in rural surroundings on the estate of Stratfield Saye House, Berkshire. Helped by scholarships, he was educated at St Mary's School Basingstoke and, from 1934-1938, at Reading School. In 1938 he entered St. John's College Oxford as an Open Scholar, reading mathematics and physics for the Shortened Finals in Physics in the wartime arrangements then operating. As a pacifist, he worked in London on air raid relief and later became a member of the Friends Ambulance Unit; with them he served in the Middle East, Italy and Yugoslavia. On his return to Oxford he took his Full Finals and D.Phil., and began research in optical spectroscopy under H.G. Kuhn, becoming a University Lecturer in Physics 1951; from 1953 to 1968 he was Tutorial Fellow at St Edmund Hall (Emeritus Fellow 1969). In 1968 he accepted a Professorship of Physics at the University of Reading, remaining there until taking early retirement in 1982. His principal research interests - all in the field of optical spectroscopy - were the structure of atomic hydrogen, double resonance, spontaneous emission and optogalvanic spectroscopy.

Series was elected FRS in 1971. He died in 1995.

See B. Bleaney, 'George William Series', Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, 42 (1996), 387-397.


By section as follows: Biographical and personal, Research, Lectures and papers, Publications and editorial, Visits and conferences, Correspondence. Index of correspondents.

Conditions Governing Access

No special conditions of access.

Other Finding Aids

Printed catalogue of the papers and correspondence of George William Series (1920-1995), NCUACS catalogue no. 61/4/96, 42 pp. Copies available from NCUACS, University of Bath.

Custodial History

Received for cataloguing in 1996 by the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists from Mrs Annette Series, widow. Deposited in Reading University Library in 1996.