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Archive of Sir James Gowans


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The archive mainly comprises professional and scientific correspondence, and related papers such as briefing papers and reports, relating to all stages of Gowans’s career, as well as general (personal) correspondence, papers relating to awards, honours and memberships, conferences and visits, publications, and selected photographs.

Not deposited were lab notebooks and other papers relating to his scientific research in Oxford, 1948-1977, which Gowans destroyed when he moved to the Medical Research Council in 1977.


  • Creation: 1910-2015


9.6 Linear metres (64 boxes)

Language of Materials

  • English

English, with occasional use of French, German, Russian.

Conditions Governing Access

Some material is closed.

Preferred Citation

Oxford, Bodleian Libraries (followed by shelfmark and folder number, e.g. MS. Gowans 1, Folder 1)

Please see our help page for further guidance on citing archives and manuscripts.

Full range of shelfmarks:

MSS. Gowans 1-64

Collection ID (for staff)

CMD ID 9664


Archive of the immunologist, and Secretary of the Medical Research Council, Sir James Learmonth Gowans (b. 1924)

Biographical / Historical

James Learmonth Gowans was born in Sheffield in 1924, the only child of a Swedish mother and British father. His father, John Gowans, worked as a lab technician. He attended Whitgift Middle School in Croydon, and obtained his medical degree from King’s College Hospital, London, in 1947.

In the same year he came to Oxford on a Medical Research Council Studentship to work under Howard Florey who insisted that he take a one-year taught course first. He gained his BA Hons Physiology in 1948, and continued his research afterwards being awarded a DPhil in 1953. He was Staines Medical Research Fellow at Exeter College, Oxford, 1955-1960. During the 1950s he did pioneering work on the life cycle of the lymphocyte, establishing that the small lymphocyte continuously recirculated from the blood to the lymph and back again, and that this cell was at the centre of immunological responses. He became a fellow of St Catherine’s College, Oxford (1961-1987), and Henry Dale Research Professor of the Royal Society at the Dunn School of Pathology, University of Oxford (1962-1977). From 1963 he was also Director of the Medical Research Council’s Cellular Immunology Research Unit at the Dunn School of Pathology, University of Oxford.

In 1977 Gowans left his research career to become the Secretary of the Medical Research Council and during 10 years in office oversaw, or was involved with, a number of major projects and initiatives, notably the establishment of Celltech as a company to develop biotechnology research into commercial opportunities, folic acid trials to prevent the development of neural tube defects, the Rothschild proposals for the reorganisation of medical research funding in the UK, the setup of the Voluntary Licensing Authority for Human in-vitro Fertilization and Embryology, and MRC AIDS Directed Programme.

From 1989-1993 Gowans was the Secretary-General of the Human Frontier Science Program, Strasbourg.

Alongside his posts at the Medical Research Council and the Human Frontier Science Program, and after his retirement, Gowans was a consultant and advisor, non-executive director or trustee for a number of companies, organisations and charities, including the World Health Organization Programme on AIDS, 3i – Investment in Industries, the Tavistock Trust, the Charing Cross Sunley Research Centre, Synaptica, EICOS – European Initiative for Communicators of Science, St. Christopher’s Hospice, General Motors Cancer Research Foundation.

Amongst many awards he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1963, and knighted in 1982.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated to the Bodleian Library by Sir James Gowans in several tranches between July 2013 and June 2016.

Related Materials

A biographical interview with Sir James Gowans (videos recorded 1997-1998) is available at the the Medical Sciences Video Archive at Oxford Brookes University.

Catalogue of the Archive of Sir James Gowans
Finding aid prepared by Svenja Kunze
Language of description
Script of description
Catalogued with the generous support of Sir James Gowans

Repository Details

Part of the Bodleian Libraries Repository

Weston Library
Broad Street
Oxford OX1 3BG United Kingdom