Catalogue description Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of RODNEY ROBERT PORTER CH,FRS (1917-1985)

This record is held by Oxford University: Bodleian Library, Special Collections

Details of CSAC119.1.87
Reference: CSAC119.1.87
Title: Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of RODNEY ROBERT PORTER CH,FRS (1917-1985)



The papers are presented in the order shown in the List of Contents. Additional explanatory notes accompany many of the sections, sub-sections and individual entries in the body of the catalogue. The following paragraphs aim only at drawing attention to matters of particular substance or interest.


Porter spent much of his time in the summer of 1985 preparing for his retirement from the Whitley Chair of Biochemistry and transfer to full -time research at the MRC Immunochemistry Unit. This, unfortunately, seems to have involved wholesale destruction of unwanted or outdated files and the retention only of material which he considered to be of immediate relevance.


The collection is in consequence thin in certain respects and skewed towards the later stages of Porter's career. This applies especially to Sections E (Visits and Conferences) and F (Journals and Publications); the surviving correspondence in Section G has also suffered. Of special personal interest is the sequence of Porter's letters home during his army service (CSAC 119.1.87/A.9-A.16) and some of the recollections of Porter by colleagues and friends (CSAC 119.1.87/A.3, CSAC 119.1.87/A.4). Section B is of the greatest scientific interest; it preserves a complete sequence of research notebooks covering almost half a century (1936 - 1985) and providing not only a record of experiments and observations but a direct insight into Porter's methods of work and especially his tenacity over long periods of trial and disappointment. The books document the early (CSAC 119.1.87/B.5, CSAC 119.1.87/B.15) and later successful stages (CSAC 119.1.87/B.21, CSAC 119.1.87/B.23) of the work on crystalline papain, the work on complement, and Porter's last research ideas (CSAC 119.1.87/B.37) which continue to form the basis of ongoing experiments. Section D (Organisations and Consultancies), though confined to material of recent date, is also of interest in documenting Porter's continuing service to academic and industrial medical research and his interest in the history of British immunology as shown in his work for the Jenner Trust.

LIST OF CONTENTS; INTRODUCTION; SECTION A BIOGRAPHICAL CSAC 119.1.87/A.1 - CSAC 119.1.87/A.52; SECTION B RESEARCH NOTEBOOKS CSAC 119.1.87/B.1 - CSAC 119.1.87/B.38; With an introductory note; SECTION C OXFORD CSAC 119.1.87/C.1 - CSAC 119.1.87/C.27; SECTION D ORGANISATIONS & CONSULTANCIES CSAC 119.1.87/D.1 - CSAC 119.1.87/D.60; List of contents; SECTION E VISITS & CONFERENCES CSAC 119.1.87/E.1 - CSAC 119.1.87/E.39; SECTION F JOURNALS & PUBLICATIONS CSAC 119.1.87/F.1 - CSAC 119.1.87/F.13; SECTION G CORRESPONDENCE CSAC 119.1.87/G.1 - CSAC 119.1.87/G.75; With an introductory note.

Compiled by Jeannine Alton and Peter Harper


The work of the Contemporary Scientific Archives Centre, and the production of this catalogue, are made possible by the support of the following societies and institutions:


The Biochemical Society


The Charles Babbage Foundation for the History of Information Processing


The Institute of Physics


The Institution of Electrical Engineers


The Institution of Mechanical Engineers


The Nuffield Foundation


The Rhodes Trustees


The Royal Society of London


The Wolfson Foundation




We are grateful to all those who made material available, to Mr. A. Dodds for information, and in particular to Dr. K.B.M. Reid and Dr. Lisa Steiner for advice and encouragement.

Date: 1933-1986
Held by: Oxford University: Bodleian Library, Special Collections, not available at The National Archives
Language: English

Porter, Rodney Robert, 1917-1985, chemist

Access conditions:




Immediate source of acquisition:

The bulk of the material was received through the courtesy of Dr. K.B.M. Reid from the MRC Immunochemistry Unit at the Department of Biochemistry, Oxford.


The wartime letters at CSAC 119.1.87/A.9-A.16, and a little biographical material, were received from Mrs. Julia Porter, who retains some additional documents, principally relating to the award of the Nobel Prize, photographs and memorabilia.


The tributes and recollections at CSAC 119.1.87/A.3-A.7 were assembled and made available by Dr. Lisa Steiner.

Administrative / biographical background:



Porter, one of the most distinguished protein chemists and immunologists in Britain, was born and educated in Lancashire, graduating from Liverpool University in 1939; the outbreak of World War II interrupted the doctoral research he began there and Porter served in the Royal Engineers until December 1945, rising to the rank of major. He returned to research at Cambridge as the first graduate student of F. Sanger. He obtained his doctorate in 1948 and the following year joined the scientific staff of the National Institute for Medical Research, Mill Hill, London, collaborating with A.J.P. Martin; this was the period of his first crucial research on antibodies.


In 1960 Porter became the first holder of the Pfeizer Professorship of Immunology at St. Mary's Hospital - the first Chair of Immunology to be created in Britain. His continuing research on antibody structure at this time was helped by funding from the Medical Research Council and in large part from the American National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. When the Whitley Chair of Biochemistry at Oxford became vacant on the retirement of Sir Hans Krebs, Porter was invited to accept the appointment, which he held from 1967 until his death. During the Oxford period Porter's research interests moved to the components of complement, particularly CSAC 119.1.87/C1 and CSAC 119.1.87/C4, in the MRC Immunochemistry Unit which he founded and directed. His career was as active and productive as it had ever been when, three weeks before his retirement from the Whitley Chair and the start of full-time commitment to research as the Director of the Immunochemistry Unit, he was killed in a road accident on 6 September 1985.


Porter received many honours and distinctions, nationally and internationally. He was elected to the Royal Society (1964) and to Honorary membership of the National Academy of Sciences (197 he received the Ciba Medal of the Biochemical Society and a Royal Medal of the Royal Society (1973). In 1972 he received the highest scientific honour when he shared with G. Edelman the Nobel Prize for Medicine, and in 1985 became a Companion of Honour in the Birthday Honours.

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