Oral history of British science
Thomson, Janet (Part 3 of 8). An Oral History of British Science.
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Interviewee’s home, North Yorkshire
Thomson, Janet, 1942- (speaker, female)
Merchant, Paul (speaker, male)
Part 3: Comments on mother’s political engagement. Mentions uncle’s reading of News Chronicle, work as Church Warden. Comments on mother’s involvement in Mother’s Union, commitments to teaching and home, church attendance. Comments on own church attendance as child. Mentions confirmation; lack of church attendance at university and after. [05:13] Detailed comments on mother’s keenness that her children should not cry. Comments on lack of interest in boys, including mother’s disappointment at this. Story of boy asking JT to Valentine’s Day dance via sister and mother; being made to attend grammar school dance wearing lipstick. [10:24] Story of decisions in applying to read geology at university; entrance examination for geology and physics, Bedford College [BC], University of London; interview BC, including interviewer describing field geology as a male pursuit. [16:31] Comments on best friend Barbara at Didcot school. Story of visit to France after A-Levels. Comments on Barbara’s career/life; impression that JT and friend were unusual in applying for scientific degree; smallness of sixth form; own and friend’s quietness, reading habits. [21:45] Comments on response to being told by BC interviewer, Charles Holland [CH], that field geology was limited to male geologists; significance of own ‘matriarch’ background/home life. Mentions geography paper taken for BC application. [24:22] Description of Geography Department, BC; Geology Department [GD], BC, including positive comments on its small homeliness; CH. Comments on need to specialise in palaeontology (fossils in rocks) or petrology (minerals in rock). Further description of GD, including numbers of lecturers, research students, undergraduates of various kinds. [30:09] Story of change to physical chemistry subsidiary; first practical chemistry class. Comments on laboratory work in physical chemistry. Mentions familiarity with chemicals through Uncle Sid, the chemistry teacher WGS. [36:31] Mentions female lecturers in chemistry; mostly male lecturers in geology. Brief descriptions of geology lecturers, including specialisms. [40:57] Positive comments on map work, crystallography. Mentions geography subsidiaries’ negative view of crystallography. Mentions Saturday field excursions, annual weekend field trip and summer month’s map work. Comments on reading, practical sessions; contrast to essay demands of historian. [45:19] Comments on contemporary concerns of geology, including ‘ring complexes’. Story of attending Geological Society of London [GS] lectures. [48:22] Comments on lack of discussion of plate tectonics during degree. Description of mapping work involving drawing of three dimensional forms from two dimensional lines and symbols. [52:30] Description of crystallography practical work, involving models, sketching, identification of minerals from crystal shape, hardness, colour; observation of thin sections through microscope. [55:39] Description of first year field excursions. Comments on possible safety reasons for reluctance of geological survey organisations to send women into the field. Comments on BC GD fieldwork, including staff, level of exertion, equipment carried, maps used. [1:03:06] Story of first year Easter vacation field excursion, Edinburgh. [1:06:30] Comments on differences in interests of geology and geography undergraduates; use of Box Brownie camera; writing-up notes in evening; final report. Comments on own and friends’ commitment; geographer’s view of geology. [1:10:27] Story of involvement in BC rowing club. Mentions rowing male only sport at WGS. Story of meeting former teacher on way home from regatta, involving reflection on self as ‘bookish’ at school. Comments on membership of BC Geological Club [GC]. Story of application to BAS (British Antarctic Survey) through lecture to GC by Ray Adie [RA] in JT’s third year, BC. Comments on RA’s keenness to employ a specifically female geology graduate; contents of RA’s lecture. Description of RA’s appearance, character, including preference for working relations with female staff. [1:19:55] Description of BC halls of residence, next to Regents Park; formal meals. Comments on dislike of formal meals, including ‘small talk’; relations with historian friend in halls, Jann. [1:27:09] Mentions lack of boyfriends at university. Comments on lives, careers of BC friends; BC rules concerning absence from halls, including curfew, passes, telephone duty; extent of evening studying/reading. [1:31:32] Mentions significant contemporary published geologists: Wager and Deer on layered extrusions, Professor King (BC). Comments on orderliness and studiousness of life in halls. Mentions greater freedom of arts students.
Life story interview with geologist Janet Thomson