Obituary: Professor J. R. Harris

J. R. Harris devoted most of his academic life to the study and teaching of industrial history bringing to it unbounded enthusiasm and a respect for clarity and rigour.

A history graduate of Manchester University, John Harris had long shared with his schoolfriend Theo Barker an interest in the industrial development of his home town St Helen's, in south-west Lancashire. First degree studies were interrupted by active war service with the Royal Corps of Signals and the Indian army after which Harris returned to Manchester to complete his degree in 1948.

Shortly afterwards he collaborated with Barker to complete their study A Merseyside Town in the Industrial Revolution: St Helen's 1750-1900. Published in 1954, it was reprinted twice, latterly in 1993. The book drew upon Harris's doctoral work on the copper industry, an interest which found later expression in The Copper King (1964), a study of the entrepreneur Thomas Williams of Llanidan.

Many of the themes which were subsequently to inform his broader studies or technological and industrial history were developed at Liverpool University from 1953. It was there that he displayed his capacity for hard work, combining painstaking research with a raft of administrative duties and an unfailing concern for the welfare of his students. He was instrumental in launching the journal Business History which is currently ranked a leader in its field.

In 1970 Harris moved from a Readership in Liverpool to Birmingham as successor to W.H.B. Court in the Chair of Economic and Social History. His inaugural lecture on industrial technology in France and England reflected a developing interest in the transfer of labour, skills and ideas between the two countries during the formative period of industrialisation. Subsequent articles on these and accompanying themes were collected in Essays in Industry and Technology in the 18th Century: England and France (1992).

The complex economic and political factors underlying the industrial progress of the two countries was the theme of his latest book, Industrial Espionage and the Transfer of Technology: Britain and France in the 18th century (1997, due to come out in a few months' time), a product of almost 30 years study which he read in final draft before suffering a heart attack.

It was typical of Harris's devotion to academic life that he spent so much of his time encouraging the development of economic and social history in the widest sense. He was an active member of the Economic History Society, serving for many years as a Council Member and Chairman of its Publications Committee. In addition to undertaking a considerable range of managerial responsibilities in Birmingham (including a period as Dean of the Faculty of Commerce and Social Science) he worked ceaselessly from 1990 to establish and sustain on behalf of Birmingham University the Ironbridge Institute in Shropshire as a pioneering centre for postgraduate studies in industrial archaeology and heritage management.

From 1981 to 1984 he was chairman of the International Committee for the Conservation of the Industrial Heritage, a reflection of his standing in the field and his active participation in scholarly activity in France and North America in particular. His intensive work on French industial archives was recognised in 1990 when he was appointed Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

John Harris was a kind man who detested pomposity and disloyalty. He openly displayed the characteristics of his Lancashire upbringing: diligence, integrity, but above all respect for those around him. With a raised eyebrow and a sly smile, he could distance himself from the worst manifestations of academic sensitivity, but when called upon to be tough and uncompromising in defence of matters of principle, not least when they affected students and staff, he was formidable and utterly dependable.

A devoted family man, he was especially proud of the achievements of his two sons. He was rarely seen at conferences at home or abroad save in the presence of his wife Thelma whose untimely death from a brain tumour in February 1994 proved a devastating blow. As Emeritus Professor he continued none the less to be active in Birmingham and overseas dispensing that blend of cheerfulness, common sense and devotion to scholarship that was so much part of the man.

John Raymond Harris, economic historian: born St Helen's, Lancashire 14 May 1923; Professor of Economic History, Birmingham University 1970- 90 (Emeritus); married 1953 Thelma Knockton (died 1994; two sons); died Birmingham 5 March 1997.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick