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Larmor, Sir Joseph (1857-1942)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0117 MS 603-609
Held at: Royal Society
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Full title: Larmor, Sir Joseph (1857-1942)
Date(s): 1881-1939
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 7 volumes
Name of creator(s): Larmor | Sir | Joseph | 1857-1942 | Knight | physicist


Administrative/Biographical history:

Born 11 July 1857 in Magheragall, County Antrim, Ireland, Larmor attended the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, then Queen's University Belfast, where he received his BA and MA, and entered St John's College, Cambridge University, in 1877. He was Senior Wrangler in the mathematical tripos in 1880, was awarded a Smith's Prize and elected Fellow of St John's. He was Professor of Natural History at Queen's College Galway, 1880-1885, then returned as a lecturer to St John's. He became Lucasian Professor in 1903 after Sir George Gabriel Stokes, retiring in 1932. He was concerned with geometrical and physical aspects of a problem rather than the analytical, described in his 'Address on the Geometrical Method' of 1896. The researches for which he is chiefly remembered took place mainly between 1892-1901, a transition period in physics by the end of which X-rays, electrons and radio-activity had again set experimental physics in feverish progress, followed by revolutionary changes in the foundations of physical theory. Of those who brought classical physics to the point where new methods became inevitable, H A Lorentz and Larmor were the most prominent, preparing the old physics for the advent of the new. Larmor's major contribution to this was his book Aether and Matter, published in 1900, which began as a memoir published initially in the Philosophical Transactions between 1894-1897 and which to the student of the period was the gateway to new thought. He was concerned with numerous other subjects, such as the bending of radio waves round the earth (1924), with E H Hills producing a new kind of analysis of the irregular motion of the earth's axis of rotation as given by the determinations of latitude variation at the chain of International Latitude Observatories (1906 and 1915), protection from lightening (1914), and geomagnetism, on which he was a leading authority. His intense feelings over the Irish Question led him to enter Parliament, representing Cambridge University as a unionist from 1911 to 1922. His most important work outside the university was in the responsible and influential post of secretary of the Royal Society, 1901-1912.


Scope and content/abstract:

Extensive correspondence of Sir Joseph Larmor relating to his work on electromagnetic theory, optics, analytical mechanics, and geodynamics.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

In bound volumes, alphabetically by name of correspondent.

Conditions governing access:


Conditions governing reproduction:

No publication without written permission. Apply to Archivist in the first instance.

Finding aids:

Alphabetical list of correspondents. Detailed catalogue available at

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Bequeathed by Sir Joseph Larmor in 1942.

Allied Materials

Related material:

St John's College Library, Cambridge University, holds correspondence and papers; Department of Manuscripts and University Archives, Cambridge University, holds correspondence and papers (Ref. Add. 7656), correspondence with Lord Kelvin, 1893-1908 (Ref. Add. 7342, 7656), correspondence with Lord Rutherford, 1903-1919 (Ref. Add. 7342, 7656); Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratories holds 17 letters to Lord Rayleigh, 1896-1917; Imperial College Library, London University, holds letters to Silvanus Thompson, 1902-1916 (Ref. B/Thompson); University College London Special Collections holds correspondence with Sir Oliver Lodge, 1885-1936 (Ref. MS ADD 89), letters to Karl Pearson, 1888-1911 (Ref. Pearson); Royal Geographical Society holds 11 letters to Sir David Gill, 1908-1913.

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Description produced by the Royal Society and revised by Rachel Kemsley as part of the RSLP AIM25 project.

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
Created 6/03/2002, modified 27/05/2002, revised Sep 2002

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