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

Renwick, James (James Harrison), 1926-1994
UGC 155
  • Archives and manuscripts
  • Online

About this work


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.
  • A digitised copy is held by the Wellcome Library as part of Codebreakers: Makers of Modern Genetics. Only the front page of publications have been digitised. Items restricted in accordance with Data Protection legislation have not been digitised. Items not digitised may be viewed in the searchroom at Archive Services, University of Glasgow. Please visit the Glasgow University Archive Services website or see the complete catalogue for full details.



    Physical description

    6.56 metres


    The archive has been divided into the following sub-fonds which each have a separate description:
  • UGC 155/1, biographical material
  • UGC 155/2, University of Glasgow material
  • UGC 155/3, research material
  • UGC 155/4, publications
  • UGC 155/5, material relating to lectures and conferences
  • UGC 155/6, material relating to societies and organisations
  • UGC 155/7, correspondence files
  • Acquisition note

    Deposit : Timothy E Powell : 2006 : ACCN 2971

    Biographical note

    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.

    Related material

    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 LSHTM.

    See biographical entry on University of Glasgow Story website

    Copyright note

    Applications for permission to quote should be sent to: Duty Archivist, Archive Services, University of Glasgow, 13 Thurso Street, Glasgow, G11 6PE, or email

    Appraisal note

    This material was appraised by the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists, University of Bath

    Location of duplicates

    A digitised copy is held by the Wellcome Library as part of Codebreakers: Makers of Modern Genetics. Material restricted in accordance with Data Protection legislation has not been digitised. Only the title page of publications have been digitised.

    Accruals note

    None expected


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