Archive for University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire

Old-School Physics

Posted in Education, History, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on July 27, 2019 by telescoper

The recent circulation to his staff of daft (and in some cases erroneous) rules to be used when writing documents has led to much hilarity on the media we call social. Among the obvious errors are that the correct abbreviation for `Member of Parliament’ is `MP’ not ‘M.P.’ and that `full stop’ is actually two words (not `fullstop’). On top of those his insistence that civil servants use Imperial units for everything actually may be unlawful as the official system of units for the United Kingdom is the metric system.

The latter exhortation has caused a particular outcry among people under the age of about 50 (who have never been taught Imperial units), and especially scientists (who understand the obvious superiority of the SI system).

Anyway, all this reminded me that many years ago when at Cardiff there came into my possession a book of very old school and university physics examinations, which are of interest because I’ve been posting slightly less ancient examples in recent weeks. These examinations were set by the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire, which was founded in 1883,  an institution which eventually became Cardiff University. I find them absolutely fascinating.

The papers are rather fragile, as is the book containing them, so I daren’t risk trying to scan them systematically in case flattening them out causes damage. Here instead are a few random examples that I photographed on my desk, in the manner of an old-fashioned secret agent. Sorry they’re not all that clear, but you can see them blown up if you click on them.

The collection is fairly complete, covering most of classical physics, at all examination levels from university entry to final Honours. Of course there are no questions on relativity or quantum physics appear (which had yet to be invented) but other than that – and the units! – they’re not too different from what you might find in the examinations for the early stages of contemporary physics programmes.

Mathematics, Astronomy and the National Secular Society

Posted in Biographical, History, Politics with tags , , , , on January 17, 2015 by telescoper

I imagine that a  great many people have been thinking hard recently about democracy, free speech and religious belief in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris. There’s also been a great deal of stuff in the print media covering these issues. I just want to mention one thing that I have decided to do, namely to join the National Secular Society an organization that campaigns against religious privilege.

Let me reproduce a statement from their webpage here:

The National Secular Society works towards a society in which all citizens, regardless of religious belief, or lack of religious belief, can live together fairly and cohesively. We campaign for a secular democracy with a separation of religion and state, where everyone’s Human Rights are respected equally.

We work in the UK and Europe to challenge the disproportionate influence of religion on governments and in public life. We provide a secular voice in the media, defending freedom and equality as a counterbalance to the powerful religious lobby and some of the more destructive religious impulses that can threaten human rights worldwide.

The National Secular Society is a non-party-political organisation with members from across the social and political spectrum. Our Honorary Associates include MPs and peers, as well as leading figures from politics, journalism, law and the arts.

The NSS is a democratic and independent non-profit organisation which receives no funding from government or other public bodies. Our campaigning is wholly supported by our members and supporters, people like you who share our belief in the urgent need to keep religion and politics separate.

One of the National Secular Society’s very active current campaings is against the egregious Local Government (Religious etc Observances) Bill, which includes a provision that would require local councillors to attend sessions that involve prayers. This bill is wholly unacceptable to me, as it is perfectly possible for councillors of a religious persuasion to pray whenever they like, either before during or after a meeting, without requiring non-believers to be present.

I respect the right of others to whatever religious belief they choose and would not interrupt or disrupt an act of religious observance, but imposing such actions on others is simply unacceptable. I don’t think religious services should be imposed in schools and colleges, and I don’t see why this is any different.

Anyway, the general point is that I firmly believe that the only way we will ever develop a society that allows people of all cultures and beliefs to live in peace with each other and in atmosphere of mutual respect is to remove any reference to religion from our political and legal establishment. It’s a ridiculous anachronism that Bishops of the Church of England sit in the House of Lords, for example.

You’ll all no doubt be glad to know that I’m not going to “preach” about this at length here, although I may from time to time post on matters related to the National Secular Society (NSS), though hopefully in such a way as it doesn’t get confused with that other NSS the National Student Survey. I will however include a little story as a kind of postscript.

When I tweeted about the National Secular Society recently a friend of mine pointed out a curious connection between it, astronomy, and my former employer, Cardiff University. The first ever Professor of Mathematics and Astronomy at the University College of South Wales and Monmouthsire (which eventually became Cardiff University) was a distinguished chap by the name of Henry William Lloyd Tanner, who was appointed to his position in 1883. In November 1883 there was a vigorous campaign by religious types to have him removed because of his connections with the National Secular Society (which was founded way back in 1866); you can read about it here. The campagign did not succeed, and H.W. Lloyd Tanner remained in post until 1909.

We have at least made some progress since 1883, in that nowadays a Professor would not be threatened with the sack on the basis of his religious beliefs or lack of them, but there’s a long way to go before our nation is a truly secular society.

University Physics Examinations, Vintage 1892

Posted in Education, History with tags , , on September 7, 2011 by telescoper

There recently came into my possession a book of very old school and university physics examinations, which are of interest because I’ve been posting slightly less ancient examples in recent weeks. These examinations were set by the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire, which was founded in 1883,  an institution which eventually became Cardiff University. I find them absolutely fascinating.

The papers are rather fragile, as is the book containing them, so I daren’t risk trying to scan them systematically in case flattening them out causes damage. Here instead are a few random examples that I photographed on my desk, in the manner of an old-fashioned secret agent. Sorry they’re not all that clear, but you can see them blown up if you click on them.

The collection is fairly complete, covering most of classical physics, at all examination levels from university entry to final honours. For some reason, however, the papers on relativity and quantum physics appear to be missing….