Harvard College Observatory

Situated in cluster of red brick buildings to the east of Harvard, Harvard College Observatory (HCO) is an astrophysical institution managed by the Harvard University Department of Astronomy. Founded in 1839 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, HCO’s mission is to advance the knowledge of the universe through astronomical research and education. Harvard College Observatory contributed to astronomical research and both its research and premises are an example of the 19th and 2oth century achievements in the fields of science and architecture. HCO is a place of interest regarding the history of science, reflecting not only the history of astronomy and astrophotography but also the role of women in science.

Exterior of Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, 60 Garden Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts. The building houses the Plate Stacks (©Copyright Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Exterior of Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, 60 Garden Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts. The building houses the Plate Stacks (©Copyright Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, CC BY-SA 3.0)

The establishment of HCO is interwoven with the development of astronomy within higher education institutions in North America. There were two main reasons behind HCO’s foundation. The first reason was that in the late 19th century astronomy was beginning to be taught as a science subject and not as an extension of philosophy. The second motivation was that universities were starting to receive funds for astronomical research. Astronomy is a science based on observations and exact calculations, so there was a need for a place where researchers would have the means to conduct their research.

In 1973, HCO and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory formed the Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). The entrance is at the west of CfA’s premises, near Madison Street, in 60 Garden Street. The first building of today’s CfA complex is the mansion of the HCO. It is a building made of bricks that it was built to safeguard astronomical data. The establishment of this building as well as the arrival of Harvard’s first ‘Astronomical Observer’ in 1839, William Cranch Bond (a well-known Boston clockmaker), marked the foundation of HCO.  The first astronomical instruments were installed during the fall of the same year.

The mansion served as an office, when astronomer Edward Charles Pickering became director of HCO, in 1877. Pickering advanced HCO, by establishing a photographic program that covered both the northern and southern hemisphere, as well as opening the doors of astronomy to women. The new director recognised that the new technologies, such as telescopes and astrophotography, facilitated data collection and made possible to photograph light patterns around stars. Moreover, he acknowledged the women’s suffrage movement and the abilities of educated women. Pickering convinced the Harvard Corporation to hire women to work as ‘computers’, to catalogue and identify stars, a meticulous work originally performed by young men.

 Photograph of the Harvard Computers, a group of women who worked under Edward Charles Pickering at the Harvard College Observatory. The photograph was taken on 13 May 1913 in front of Building C, which was then the newest building at the Observatory. The image was discovered in an album which had once belonged to Annie Jump Cannon. Image courtesy of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Back row (L to R): Margaret Harwood (far left), Mollie O'Reilly, Edward C. Pickering, Edith Gill, Annie Jump Cannon, Evelyn Leland (behind Cannon), Florence Cushman, Marion Whyte (behind Cushman), Grace Brooks. Front row: Arville Walker, unknown (possibly Johanna Mackie), Alta Carpenter, Mabel Gill, Ida Woods (Source: Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. This media file is in the public domain because its copyright has expired).

Photograph of the Harvard Computers, a group of women who worked under Edward Charles Pickering at the Harvard College Observatory. The photograph was taken on 13 May 1913 in front of Building C, which was then the newest building at the Observatory. The image was discovered in an album which had once belonged to Annie Jump Cannon. Image courtesy of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Back row (L to R): Margaret Harwood (far left), Mollie O’Reilly, Edward C. Pickering, Edith Gill, Annie Jump Cannon, Evelyn Leland (behind Cannon), Florence Cushman, Marion Whyte (behind Cushman), Grace Brooks. Front row: Arville Walker, unknown (possibly Johanna Mackie), Alta Carpenter, Mabel Gill, Ida Woods (Source: Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. This media file is in the public domain because its copyright has expired).

Moving towards the top of the Observatory Hill there are a number of domes.

Grounds of Harvard College Observatory, circa 1899. (Source: Harvard College Observatory. This media file is in the public domain because its copyright has expired).

Grounds of Harvard College Observatory, circa 1899. (Source: Harvard College Observatory. This media file is in the public domain because its copyright has expired).

Since the late 19th century, the grounds of HCO have consisted of numerous domes surrounding the mansion, as well as laboratories, dormitories and a dance hall- today converted to laboratories, offices and meeting halls. Within these premises the women ‘computers’, who were college graduates, teachers and single mothers, known as ‘Pickering’s Women’ or ‘Pickering’s Harem’, implemented essential classification research on photographic images and identified around 400,000 stars. Their work allowed the determination of the composition and position of these stars. Pickering employed more than 80 women to photograph and catalogue the stars, effectively mapping the night sky. The work of many of those women at HCO advanced astronomical research: Annie Jump Cannon, for instance, catalogued over 350,000 stars and developed a classification system that it is still used today; Williamina Fleming worked on the first system to classify stars by spectrum; Henrietta Swan Leavitt generated a law to calculate stellar distances and Antonia Maury assisted in spotting for the first time a double star and formed her own classification system.

Women ‘computers’ at the Harvard College Observatory, circa 1890. The group included Harvard computer and astronomer Henrietta Swan Leavitt (1868–1921), Annie Jump Cannon (1863–1941), Williamina Fleming (1857– 1911), and Antonia Maury (1866–1952). Seated, third from left, with magnifying glass: Antonia Maury; standing, at center: Williamina Fleming. (Source: Harvard College Observatory. This work is in the public domain because its copyright has expired).

Women ‘computers’ at the Harvard College Observatory, circa 1890. The group included Harvard computer and
astronomer Henrietta Swan Leavitt (1868–1921), Annie Jump Cannon (1863–1941), Williamina Fleming (1857–
1911), and Antonia Maury (1866–1952). Seated, third from left, with magnifying glass: Antonia Maury;
standing, at center: Williamina Fleming. (Source: Harvard College Observatory. This work is in the public
domain because its copyright has expired).

The Sears Tower on Observatory Hill is part of the observatory’s Building A and is now considered a historic astronomical observatory, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Sears Tower-Harvard Observatory (Source: Daderot. The copyright holder of this work, release this work into the public domain).

Sears Tower-Harvard Observatory (Source: Daderot. The
copyright holder of this work, release this work into
the public domain).

This square brick building with a Greek Revival entrance is the oldest part of the complex and was built in 1843. In 1847, a visit from a comet became the stimulus to purchase the 15-inch Great Refractor from Munich. This, HCO’s first telescope, was placed in the Sears Tower and was active for nearly 75 years. It was the most important device for astronomical research in the United States for 20 years.  This telescope contributed to important achievements in astronomy: the discovery of the eighth satellite of Saturn in 1848; the first observation of Saturn’s inner ring in 1850; the first daguerreotype of the bright Vega, in 1850, as well as to take detailed images of the moon (1847 – 1852). In 1851, these first clear photographs of the moon were honoured with an award at the Great Exhibition in London. During the past 50 years, the Great Refractor has been used for public ‘Observatory Nights’ and special research projects. It is now being restored. The Sears Tower is now used as a laboratory, library and observatory.

 

Sketch of the 15-inch Great Refractor telescope at Harvard College Observatory (Source: Harvard College Observatory. This is a faithful photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional, public domain work of art. The work of art itself is in the public domain because its copyright has expired).

Sketch of the 15-inch Great Refractor
telescope at Harvard College Observatory
(Source: Harvard College Observatory. This
is a faithful photographic reproduction of a
two-dimensional, public domain work of
art. The work of art itself is in the public
domain because its copyright has expired).

In 1955, Donald Menzel, chair of the Department of Astronomy at Harvard University and Director of the HCO, supported the relocation of the the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) to Cambridge. George Field facilitated the interactions between HCO and SAO by creating the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, in 1973.  HCO is now part of the CfA that supports research in astronomy and astrophysics as well as sponsoring a variety of workshops, conferences and seminars. Additionally, CfA is a venue aimed at engaging the public with science by organising ‘Observatory Nights’- free of charge for the public- at the premises of the HCO, as well as by hosting lectures and events on astronomy throughout the year.

Harvard Observatory Photographic Plate, 1897. This telescopic image of the Large Magellanic Cloud was produced on a photographic plate by Harvard Observatory. Each individual notation made on the plate denotes a star, astronomical object or area of interest designated for possible further investigation (Source: Harvard College Observatory. This work is in the public domain because its copyright has expired).

Harvard Observatory Photographic Plate,
1897. This telescopic image of the Large
Magellanic Cloud was produced on a
photographic plate by Harvard Observatory.
Each individual notation made on the plate
denotes a star, astronomical object or area of
interest designated for possible further
investigation (Source: Harvard College
Observatory. This work is in the public
domain because its copyright has expired).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alison Doane, curator of a glass database, highlighted the contribution of HCO in astronomical research stressing that: ‘Besides being 25 percent of the world’s total of astronomical photographic plates, this is the only collection that covers both hemispheres,’ (The New York Times, July 10, 2007). HCO houses now a collection of historic significance which includes around 500,000 glass astronomical plates (mid 1880s – 1989) as well as Daguerreotypes and collodion plates of the planets, the moon, the sun and solar eclipses (1849 – 1885). Digital Access to a Sky Century @Harvard (DASCH) is a project in progress which aims at digitalising and archiving these glass plates that cover 100 years of temporal variations in the universe.

Plate Stacks at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (©Copyright Ashley P, 1 June, 2008, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Plate Stacks at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (©Copyright Ashley P, 1 June, 2008, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Address:

Further information

Books & Articles

Bailey, S. I., The History and work of Harvard Observatory, 1839 to 1927: an outline of the origin, development, and researches of the astronomical observatory of Harvard college together with a brief biographies of its leading members’ Published for the Observatory, (McGraw-Hill Book Company, INC: New York and London, 1931)

Bunch, B.H., & Hellemans, A., The History of Science and Technology: A browser’s guide to the great discoveries, inventions, and the people who made them, from the dawn of time to today, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004)

Hoffleit, D., Women in the History of Variable Star Astronomy, (The American Association of Variable Star Observers: Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1993)

Jones, B.Z., The Harvard College Observatory: The First Four Directorships, 1839-1919, (Harvard University Press:  Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1971)

Mack, P. E., ‘Strategies and Compromises – Women in Astronomy at Harvard College Observatory 1870-1920’, Journal for the History of Astronomy, 21:1, (1990): 65- 76

Websites

Harvard College Observatory, http://www.cfa.harvard.edu/hco/

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, http://www.cfa.harvard.edu/

Annals of the Astronomical Observatory of Harvard College, volume III http://ads.harvard.edu/books/hcoann/toc.html

Johnson G., ‘A Trip Back in Time and Space’, The New York Times, 10 July, 2007, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/10/science/10astro.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&

Digital Access to a Sky Century @ Harvard (DASCH),  http://dasch.rc.fas.harvard.edu/status.php

The ‘Harvard Computers’, http://www.womeninscience.org/story.php?storyID=108

The women who mapped the universe and still couldn’t get any respect, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-women-who-mapped-the-universe-and-still-couldnt-get-any-respect-9287444/?no-ist

World’s Tallest Buildings

The formation of tall buildings dates back to the days of the Great Pyramid, where three pyramids were built in the honor of the pharaohs. These pyramids remained the largest structures in the world and, controversially, some of the oddest shaped structures in the world. However, since the 1800’s skyscrapers were being built around the world. As one structure was built in a country, another was already trying to surpass it. In lieu of this, many towers have been built and have surpassed the Great Pyramids by exceptional rates.

World's Tallest BuildingsInfographic by Maxwell Systems

The Great Pyramid of Giza was built in 2550 B.C. in El Giza, Egypt in honor of the pharaoh Khufu and his three wives, which were all placed inside the pyramid. Sectioned out, the pyramid has a “King’s room” where the pharaoh was left to lie with his riches. There is also subsections for his wives, where they all have their own rooms known as the “Queen’s Room” which holds their remains and riches. The construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza took years of hard work and would accumulate approximately $5 billion worth of work today. The pyramid stands the tallest of the three, standing around 455 feet tall.

Pyramids of Giza Panorama

Pyramids of Giza Panorama, by Sebastian Schulz. Image licensed via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

Setting all new limits, America set all new standards for the tallest building in the world. The Empire State Building in New York City was constructed in 1931. The Empire State Building stands 1,451-feet tall as the tallest building in NYC right now, since the destruction of the twin towers in 2001. However, the construction of the One World Trade Center, the Empire State Building will once again be surpassed in New York City. The One World Trade Center will stand 1,792 feet tall from bottom to tip and will be opened in early 2014.

NYC - FiDi: One World Trade Center (under construction)

NYC – FiDi: One World Trade Center (under construction), by Wally Gobetz. Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 license.

The largest building in America until the One World Trade Center opens, however, is the Willis Tower, which was built in 1973, and stands 1,729 feet. The Willis Tower is located in Chicago, Illinois and remained the tallest building in the world until 2010 when it was surpassed by the Burj Khalifia in Dubai.

The Burj Khalifia featured in Dubai, United Arab Emirates stands an impressive 2,717 feet tall and will remain the largest building until the Sky City, in China is completed in 2014. Opened in 2010, the original construction of the Burj Khalifia was not intended to stand as tall. However, as construction came to a closing, the architect did not feel as though the 2,300-foot tall building was shaped correctly at the top. Scientifically, structures are more unsound if they do not tip off at the top, which can cause the foundation to lose sturdiness. The overall structure was changed 400 feet to make a more “pointed” top opposed to a leveled, rounded top

These buildings remain some of the most iconic buildings in the world. However, not just due to their height, but also because of their structural designs which all differentiate greatly. Even so, they all contain one similar attribute – the peaks. From the triangle shape of the Great Pyramid to the updated structure of the Burj Khalifia, it is common for larger buildings to “tipoff” at the top. Structurally and scientifically, these buildings rely on their structural designs to avoid an unsteady foundation – which can be the cause of it falling from harsh winds to a natural disaster. The scientific aspect of architecture creates an elaborate design that even the Egyptians knew of many years before modern science identified it.

Prospected that taller buildings will be built throughout the upcoming years, after the completion of the Sky City in China, it is foreseeable that the tip of each building will premiere the same silhouette, favoring that of a triangle. Science has forged a way for us to make tall structures sound without much repercussions.

Other Resources for Further Reading

http://www.willistower.com/

http://www.esbnyc.com/

http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/05/business/china-sky-city-skyscraper-index/index.html

Bell Telephone Laboratories: Manhattan, NYC

Every day thousands of New Yorkers pass by 463 West Street in Manhattan – head down, texting their friends, bobbing their head to the latest One Direction album (God forbid), or just taking in the scenery of the Meatpacking District – while completely unaware that some of the greatest scientific and technological achievements of the twentieth century (indeed, much of the technology in those smart phones and the communications networks that connect them) were pioneered and/or developed here at this inconspicuous building.

463 West Street

463 West Street, Present Day
Courtesy: edenpictures

From 1898 to the mid 1940s this complex of buildings framed by West, Washington, Bank, and Bethune streets in Lower Manhattan housed the research department of the Western Electric Company (1898-1924), and later the Bell Telephone Laboratories (1925-1945) which was jointly owned by AT&T and Western Electric.

A straightforward list of the accomplishments of the researchers who worked here is impressive. Western Electric and Bell Labs researchers had a hand in developing everything from vacuum tubes, televisions, synchronized sound and motion pictures (‘talkies’), car telephones, and color television, as well as some of the first live video broadcasts, video telephones, encryption technologies during World War II, and, in 1939, one of the world’s first digital computers.

463 West Street, circa 1930

463 West Street, circa 1930
Courtesy: AT&T

Furthermore, handling nearly 73 million phone calls per day during 1939 required one of the largest networks of interconnected technology ever assembled up to that point. So large that two Bell Labs researchers John Pierce and Claude Shannon referred to it adoringly as the largest and most complex machine ever built.

Researchers at Bell Labs had the freedom to focus on more than just designing better telephones, however. Their remit included just about anything across the broad spectrum of scientific fields that might eventually prove useful in the transmission, distribution, or storage of information.

The Transistor:

One area where Bell Labs researchers made important advances was in the exploration of what would come to be known as solid-state physics. Throughout December 1947 John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley put the finishing touches on a device that utilized the properties of different metals to amplify and regulate the flow of electrical current. The ‘transistor’ as Shockley called it, was cheaper and more durable than vacuum tubes, and so thoroughly revolutionized electronics over the next few decades that it has been hailed as “the single most significant electronic invention of the era.”

early transistor


Courtesy: LSI and the Computer History Museum

Though their invention was finalized at the Bell Labs complex in Murray Hill, New Jersey, it was here at 463 West Street that Shockley first began contemplating a solid-state replacement for the vacuum tube, and it was here in the top-floor auditorium that the transistor was introduced to the world in June 1948.

Not only did the three share the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1956, but Bill Gates once quipped that in order to witness the momentous occasion, his “first stop on any time-travel expedition would be Bell Labs in December 1947.” High praise, indeed.

John Bardeen, William Shockley and Walter Brattain

From left to right: John Bardeen, William Shockley & Walter Brattain, circa 1948
Courtesy: Creative Commons

Information Theory:

In addition to physical devices, Bell Labs researchers also developed some of the most important theories on communication of the twentieth century. In particular, in July 1948 while working at Bell Labs Claude Shannon effectively launched the Information Age with his article “A Mathematical Theory of Communication” – later hailed as the “Magna Carta of the Information Age” by Scientific American. In it Shannon argued that communication should be thought of in terms of ‘bits’ of information – the zeros and ones which have since defined the technologies and electronics industries. As Toby Berger has stated, it was one of the rare moments in history, “where somebody founded a field, stated all the major results, and proved most of them all pretty much at once.”

Claude Shannon demonstrates Theseus Mouse, circa 1952

Claude Shannon demonstrates Theseus Mouse, circa 1952
Courtesy: Computer History Museum

Shannon spent nearly six years working at the Bell Labs complex in Lower Manhattan where he developed many of the ideas he would publish in 1948. During these years he also worked on more mainstream ventures as well. In 1950 he created one of the world’s first ‘learning’ computers known affectionately as ‘Theseus Mouse’. In this video from AT&T, Shannon explains the significance of Theseus Mouse himself.

The High Line:

If you fancy a pilgrimage to 463 West Street, be sure to walk around to the east side of the complex where you can see another bit of New York history carved into the building. In 1931, the New York Central Railroad Company was granted an easement along Washington Street for an elevated freight railway. In the years prior the railway had run at street level leading to so many injuries and collisions that local residents nicknamed Washington Street, “Death Ave”. In an effort decrease the number of accidents the railroad hired men on horseback known as West Side Cowboys to escort the trains throughout their journey.

A 'West Side Cowboy' escorts a train down 10th Ave near 17th Street, circa 1930

A ‘West Side Cowboy’ escorts a train down 10th Ave near 17th Street, circa 1930
Courtesy: Friends of the Highline

By the early 1930s railroad engineers had carved out the first floor of the building and run railroad tracks directly through the building. The increase in noise that accompanied the new railroad actually contributed to the relocation of Bell Labs to New Jersey. Apparently a de facto train depot does not a world-class laboratory make.

Photo showing the New York Central Railroad running up Washington Street through Bell Labs, circa 1936

Photo showing the New York Central Railroad running up Washington Street through Bell Labs, circa 1936
Courtesy: Creative Commons

In 2002 the city of New York reclaimed a 1.45-mile-long section of this track and turned it into one of the most unique and expertly crafted city parks you’ll ever visit. After visiting the lab feel free to walk north to Gansevoort Street to experience the High Line for yourself.

The High Line looking south across 20th Street, Present Day

The High Line looking south across 20th Street, Present Day
Courtesy: Creative Commons

After Bell Labs:

AT&T ceased use of its complex at 463 West Street in December 1966. In 1967 Roger L. Stevens, first chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts proposed turning the buildings into affordable artist housing. Now known as Westbeth Artists Housing, the buildings offer affordable housing and work spaces for artists, as well as exhibition and performance spaces. Visitors are welcome to enter on 55 Bethune Street and look around to their heart’s content.

Westbeth Artists Housing, central courtyard

Westbeth Artists Housing, central courtyard
Courtesy: Reading Tom

If on your journey to the building you should find yourself checking the score of the North London Derby, chatting with a friend halfway around the world, or frustratedly searching for directions, take a moment to contemplate the technology behind such a feat and the role researchers at 463 West Street played in making it all possible.

Jared Robert Keller

Further Information: The Idea Factory, Jon Gertner

The battlefields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Black and white photograph of Town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, about the time of the Civil War battle. The point of view is about where the Eleventh Corps was positioned.

Black and white photograph of Town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, about the time of the Civil War battle. The point of view is about where the Eleventh Corps was positioned. Image available in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania is perhaps best known as the site of the bloodiest battles in the American Civil War which took place in early July 1863.  The battle between the Union and Confederate forces lasted three days and marked a turning point in the overall conflict.  Six months after the battle, President Lincoln used the occasion of the Gettysburg National Cemetery dedication ceremony to deliver the historic Gettysburg Address, redefining the aims of the war and honouring the fallen Union soldiers.  Gettysburg is now home to a number of different events and buildings commemorating and explaining the battle as well as the civil war itself.

The origins of the American Civil War lie in the mid-nineteenth century and increased tensions centred about the issues of slavery and the self-determination of states versus the power of the federal government.  By 1860, the United States of America was divided and in December of the year, South Carolina became the first state to secede from United States, nominally in protest at the perceived laws of the over-reaching government.  A year later, eleven states gad seceded from the United States to form the Confederacy and war between the Confederacy and the Union (what remained of the United States) had begun.

For the first two years of the conflict, both sides were evenly matched: the Confederacy, under the direction of General Robert E. Lee, would decisively win one battle while the Union would dominate the next. It was not until the Battle of Gettysburg in early July 1863 that the war truly turned in favour of one side, the Union.  Plans for the battle were developed in late June (29 June), however the battle itself did not begin until 1 July with the initial skirmish taking place at Herr Ridge.

For three days, rivers were overflowing with blood and the skies were filled with clouds of smoke. This single battle was the bloodiest moment in American history, with around 57,000 casualties being reported over the three-day period.  Although it was the Confederate forces’ retreat on 4 July that marked the end of the battle, there has been much debate over whether there was a decisive victory. Nonetheless, the Battle of Gettysburg is considered the turning point of the Civil War. The Union thrived after it was able to stand its ground at Gettysburg while the Confederacy never truly regained their former strength. The Confederacy officially surrendered at Appomattox, Virginia in April of 1865, a feat that many believe would not have been accomplished without the Battle of Gettysburg.

Gettysburg Cemetery

Gettysburg Cemetery. by Jack Keene. Image licensed via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 license.

To be truly immersed in the history of Gettysburg, the ideal time to visit is the beginning of July in order to witness the re-enactment of the battle. Civil War enthusiasts from around the country join together, some dressed in Union blue with others dressed in Confederate grey, in order to bring history to life. In the summer of 2013, the town celebrated the 150th anniversary of the battle, which turned out its largest re-enactment in recent memory.  The re-enactment package includes tours of the battlefield and scheduled viewings of different events that occurred during the three-day period of the battle in July 1863.

The historic town of Gettysburg is also a wonderful place to visit and is a little less crowded than the site of the battlefield.  While it is not the site of the battlefield itself, there are still a number of different ways to tour the battlefield in a number of ways. Personally, I have walked myself through the field using nothing but a local map, I have sat on a tour bus listening to an educated driver, and have sat in my parents’ minivan listening to an older gentleman telling me the story of the battle through the radio speakers. All options are a great and interesting experience that allows a unique perspective on the battle. Make your decision on how much you want to control your time in history. There are also a number of museums in the town that give insight to different events that occurred during the battle as well as a visitor centre right on the battlefield.

Map of the Gettysburg Campaign (up to July 3, 1863) of the American Civil War.

Map of the Gettysburg Campaign (up to July 3, 1863) of the American Civil War. Drawn by Hal Jespersen in Adobe Illustrator CS5. Graphic source file is available at http://www.posix.com/CWmaps/Gettysburg_Campaign.ai.

With a battle comes much death and despair as well as bone-chilling tales of ghosts and ghouls and this is especially true of Gettysburg, the site of the bloodiest battle in the American Civil War. After spending the day visiting monuments and landmarks in the battlefield, the evening can be spent hearing ghostly tales of Devil’s Den and the field of Pickett’s Charge. There are numerous companies along the streets of Gettysburg that offer ghosts tours, each offering a similar experience.  Ghost tours are led through the historic town by a guide who is dressed as if it were still the 1860s, most of them carrying a candle-filled lantern. Visitors are guided to destinations that seem extremely ordinary but are, according to the tour guides, home to visitors from beyond the grave.  From a historic battlefield once littered with the corpses of over 50,000 dead, this is a very effective and distinctive way of engaging with the history and memory of the town and the battlefield.

Visiting the town during the fall season offers other benefits as well, including the Annual Apple Harvest Festival. From apple cider slushies and pancakes to arts and knick knacks, the Apple Festival is a great way to welcome in the autumn season. Open the first two weekends of October, the festival is held just outside Gettysburg in the town of Biglersville and is a great way to spend the day, there is even a petting zoo for the kids and a tractor square dance!

Gettysburg is a quaint, small little town filled with local shops and friendly local folks. Just walking through the streets brings back a time long forgotten. From the Majestic Theater, to Gettysburg College, to the Lincoln Diner, visitors are surrounded by another world.  Gettysburg, Pennsylvania is home to a site of immense historic and national importance but also offers a friendly place to unplug and relax.

Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Eastern State Penitentiary, 1829-1971

After the last prisoners left Eastern State Penitentiary in 1971, the cats moved in. In the early years after its closure the complex was used as storage by the city of Philadelphia, but as the prison walls cracked and crumbled around them, eventually the stray cats became its primary residents.

Eastern State Penitentiary Main Entrance

Eastern State Penitentiary. Photo by Sebastian Weigand and licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.

Yet when it opened almost a century and a half earlier in 1829, Eastern State was billed as one of the largest and most expensive buildings of its time. Built at the top of a hill overlooking Philadelphia, the penitentiary was designed to look from the outside like a European castle. The turreted watch towers and arrow slits, however, were just for show — the original towers were never tall enough for a man to stand in, and the arrow slits don’t extend all of the way through the walls. The immediate work of the penitentiary was performed by its more modern technologies.

The State Penitentiary for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Lithograph by P.S: Duval and Co., 1855

The State Penitentiary for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Lithograph by P.S: Duval and Co., 1855. Photo by Mike Graham and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Eastern State was designed by John Haviland (the architect of a number of Pennsylvania civic institutions, asylums, hospitals, and jails) as a radial “hub-and-spoke,” with cell blocks fanning out from a central point. In theory, this design allowed a single person standing at the central point to see any activity occurring on the blocks. Each cell was planned to house only one inmate — this was the basis of the famous “Pennsylvania System” of solitary confinement, designed for Eastern State by prison activists and reformers. These reformers believed that the hours spent alone in their cells would provide inmates with the opportunity for contemplation and penance, and the isolation and surveillance provided by the building’s architecture would structurally enforce this penance.

Cells at the penitentiary were themselves technologically advanced for the time; tour guides love telling shocked visitors that penitents had access to a centralized heating system and indoor plumbing before those luxuries were available at the White House. But even these technologies, which today we view merely as modern conveniences, were seen by reformers as part of the technology of control and reform. Having private toilets and sinks in each cell enabled a more total solitary confinement, eliminating reasons for prisoners to leave them. What prison designers didn’t count on, however, was the way that the users of these technologies would alter their meaning — quite quickly, prisoners realized that they could use the pipes in their cells to communicate with each other, tapping out messages that would echo through the walls.

Reopening Eastern State as a Historic Site

By the late twentieth century, Eastern State’s outer walls had become enclosed on all sides by Philadelphia’s expanding population, and many of its internal structures were collapsing. At the time the prison closed, the Pennsylvania System had long been abandoned; in the twentieth century the prison population expanded too rapidly for prisoners to continue occupying solitary cells, and even earlier additional cell blocks were constructed that destroyed the radial surveillance plan. What remained at the end of its life as a prison was a more complicated — and more crowded — complex than originally intended.

Eastern State languished for decades as plans for its future use occasionally cropped up and then disappeared. It was saved from demolition by its designation as a National Historic Landmark (as well as the massive cost of tearing down those iconic stone walls), and eventually a task force proposed a plan to preserve and reopen Eastern State as a historic site. Rather than take on the enormous project of restoring Eastern State to some chosen point in its history, organizers decided on a more dynamic version of historic preservation and public education: a model of “preserved ruin.”

Preserving the site as a ruin serves both practical and pedagogical functions. Not only did it save the impossible expense of a complete renovation, but it has allowed visitors to imagine its history at multiple chronological points. Tour guides and signs describe century-spanning events: walking visitors through the first prisoner admittance in 1829; describing its international reputation and status as a nineteenth-century tourist attraction; recounting Al Capone’s sensational tenure as an inmate between 1929 and 1930; and pointing out locations used in movie shoots in the 1990s. Furthermore, it recognizes the power of the ruin itself to tell its historical narrative. As the Historic Structures Report describes,

The building complex remains supremely expressive, focusing attention on its central meanings dramatically, and as inescapably as it once confined its residents…it demonstrates the power of architecture as a socially ordering mechanism as almost no other building can; rarely is the public so aware of the penal policies that have been devised on its behalf…one vividly encounters issues specific to its past: the role of philanthropic action; the sequence of accommodations to other tides in Pennsylvania’s penal history, the evidence of emerging advances in building systems over time…insights into Philadelphia’s urban growth and diversification, into the changing state of medical knowledge, theories of social dysfunction, the treatment of minorities, and ultimately into human nature as exemplified in these populations under control and stress.

“Prisons make awkward landmarks”

Cabinet from "Specimens" Exhibition

Cabinet from “Specimens” Exhibition, which highlights and expands upon the amateur entomology collection of an inmate. Photo by Deanna Day.

As Herbert Muschamp observed, “prisons make awkward landmarks.” While other historic Philadelphia sites have more obvious narratives that they embody (such as freedom and self-governance at Independence Hall) Eastern State finds itself contending with far more troubling questions about the ways society deals with transgressors, how we engineer technologies to act on our bodies, and how we enable — and resist — certain kinds of expertise and power.

One of the ways that Eastern State tackles these questions is with a continuous series of art installations. By inviting contemporary artists to comment on what they find evocative about the prison, Eastern State encourages historical, political, and personal engagement from artists and visitors alike. Julie Courtney and Todd Gilens co-curated the exhibition “Prison Sentences: The Prison as Site/The Prison as Subject,” asking, “How are objects, places, and stories imbued with history? What is the relationship between imagination, human experience, and the objective world… Our working hypothesis for this project is that artworks make connections that are both objectively valid and emotionally resonant.”

Ghost Cat

Ghost Cat. Photo by Flickr user e_monk and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

One of Eastern State’s longest-running installations is a tribute to those emotionally resonant creatures who colonized Eastern State in the absence of other inhabitants. Amid the wild growth that took over the site, a colony of feral cats made Eastern State their home between 1971 and 1991. They were looked after by Philadelphia city caretaker Dan McCloud, who visited and fed the animals three times a week for nearly thirty years. McCloud and his cats were memorialized by Linda Brenner’s “Ghost Cats” exhibition, for which she placed 39 sculptures throughout the cell blocks and grounds. Designed to crumble away over time, as buildings and memories do, the ghost cats were a reminder of the necessity of intervention; neither cat colonies nor castles survive without someone’s choice to maintain or remember them.

Brenner described her exhibition as “a testimony to survival.” The last ghost cat faded away in 2011.

Location: 2027 Fairmount Avenue, Philadelphia, PA
Website: easternstate.org
Don’t Miss: “The Voices of Eastern State” audio tour narrated by actor Steve Buscemi; Al Capone’s jail cell; a series of History Exhibits and Artist Installations
Events: Bastille Day; The Searchlight Series; “Terror Behind the Walls”
Further Reading:
Eastern State Penitentiary Learning Resources
Julie Courtney and Todd Gilens (ed.), Prison sentences: the prison as site, the prison as subject, Philadelphia: Moore College of Art and Design, 1995.
Charles Dickens, American Notes, New York: The Modern Library, 1996.
Norman Johnston (ed.), Eastern State Penitentiary: Crucible of Good Intentions, Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1994
Marianna Thomas (ed.), “Eastern State Penitentiary: Historic Structures Report,” Philadelphia: Philadelphia Historical Commission, 2 vol., 1994.

Wagner Free Institute of Science, Philadelphia

Wagner Free Institute of Science, from 'Manufacturer and Builder' (1874)

Wagner Free Institute of Science, from 'Manufacturer and Builder' (1874). Image available in the public domain.

The Wagner Free Institute of Science has its origins in the adult education movement which had started in 1821 in Great Britain with the foundation of the Edinburgh School of Arts, a similar movement developing only very slightly later in the United States. Philadelphia was a thriving commercial city by the first half of the nineteenth century; culturally some institutions, including the Library Company (1721), the University of Pennsylvania (1740) and the American Philosophical Society (1743) had been established pre-Independence. These catered for the middle, educated classes. The Franklin Institute for the Promotion of the Mechanic Arts, founded 1824, was more in the nature of a British mechanics institute. William Wagner (1796-1885), a Philadelphian of German descent, felt that there was a need to provide more educational opportunities for working people. He had become wealthy as a merchant in the lumber trade and he had a passion for natural history. In 1840 he sold his business, which provided him with sufficient capital to live the remainder of his life as a gentleman and philanthropist.

In 1843, Wagner purchased an estate to the north-west of Philadelphia and his embryo institute and museum were initially to develop there for “the free dispersion of scientific knowledge among the citizens of his native city.” In 1847 he offered a “Course of Lectures on Mineralogy, treated Chemically & Metallurgically… Illustrated by Specimens” and he later developed further courses on geology, mineralogy, and conchology. All the while, he was creating large collections. In 1855 he handed these over to trustees, teaching resources which by this stage also included “a library, philosophical apparatus, extensive assortments of diagrams illustrating geological phenomena, maps and cabinet cases.”

From 1859 to 1865, a fine purpose-built institute was constructed in neo-classical style, and it survives to this day. It originally included a library, classrooms, a lecture theatre and a large museum hall for natural history on the upper level. Following Wagner’s death in 1885, the building was somewhat remodelled and the museum was revised under the supervision of Joseph Leidy (1823-1891), professor of anatomy at the University of Pennsylvania. It is this reorganised display which is the basis of today’s museum and it is a remarkable survival: very few of today’s museum presentations can be seen to follow the organisation of a nineteenth-century display so closely. Most specimens are presented in cherry wood cases constructed in the 1880s and many retain the original handwritten curators’ labels. A particular strength is the collection of fossils from American sites, many of them collected by Wagner himself (see Earle E Spamer and Catherine A Forster A Collection of Type Fossils in the Wagner Free Institute… with a History of Paleontology at the Institute (Philadelphia 1988)). Sadly, the philosophical instrument collection, used for teaching by demonstration, is much diminished. The ground floor of the building, which includes the library and lecture theatre, has a splendid varnished-wood, Victorian quality about it. Lecture courses on scientific subjects continue to the present day, though they are now organised at a number of sites around the city as well as in the original building. The serial Transactions of the Wagner Free Institute of Science commenced publication in 1887, though it appeared irregularly.

The Wagner Free Institute survives in a somewhat run-down part of the city and is best visited by taxi.

Address: The Wagner Free Institute of Science, 1700 West Montgomery Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19121, USA
Website: http://www.wagnerfreeinstitute.org
Tel: (001) 215-763-6529

Chemical Heritage Foundation Museum, Philadelphia

Chemical Heritage Foundation Museum, opened 2008

Chemical Heritage Foundation Museum, opened 2008

The Chemical Heritage Foundation has evolved from the Center for the History of Chemistry which was established in 1982 as a joint project of the University of Pennsylvania and the American Chemical Society. It has developed independently since 1987 and it assumed its present name in 1992. The guiding force of the organisation up to 2007 was the historian of chemistry, Arnold Thackray; the current President is Tom Tritton. The CHF occupies a substantial former bank and adjacent buildings in the historical area of Philadelphia (contiguous to the site of Benjamin Franklin’s house, which was destroyed in 1812). The CHF offers resources to science historians, and it awards a number of fellowships annually. It has a massive library of more than 100,000 volumes (the catalogue can be accessed on-line), archival and graphic collections and a major resource of historical chemical instruments. A group which conducts research into contemporary chemical science policy oversees the production of oral histories, of which there are now more than 425. The CHF issues a magazine three times a year, Chemical Heritage, and it publishes monographs in

There are few really significant displays of the history of chemistry to be seen anywhere in the world. The CHF’s Masao Horiba Gallery is one of the few, and it is amongst the most recent. Its importance is based on a coherent and systematic collecting policy, and intelligent displays which are addressed primarily to thinking adults. As the development of the CHF’s museum activity only started rather recently, the strength of the collection lies in the period since the Second World War. Expert advice to the CHF has been provided by a group of distinguished chemists, meeting twice a year, who themselves were involved in the development and use of analytical instrumentation. Dedicated curators on the staff arrange to collect, conserve and store items which are identified as being desirable for the collection. It was they who developed the current permanent gallery, opened in 2008, named ‘Making Modernity’. There is additionally a small gallery for changing exhibitions.

The displays are strongly object-based and deal with challenging topics. The main hall includes islands of objects which are concerned with instrumentation and how measurements are used to illuminate chemical problems. Around the edge of this gallery are displays showing earlier techniques and some of the novel products developed by chemists, such as dyes and synthetic materials. Dominating the space is the very large Video Column which is an innovative and thrilling form of presenting the chemical elements, indicating what their properties are by means of short film clips. Above the main hall, and adjacent to an excellent modern conference centre, runs a gallery with cases presenting displays about chemists and themes. The CHF possesses a collection of portraits, including particularly fine examples of Robert Boyle, Joseph Priestley (who spent the last ten years of his life in Pennsylvania) and Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac. One of the themes concerns young people’s chemistry sets and teaching more generally. The display was developed with the design input of the well-known New York firm of Ralph Appelbaum Associates, and for those who know about such things, the presentation bears their strong signature. An extremely important group of seventeenth and eighteenth century paintings which are displayed (but not in the area to which the general public is admitted) offer representations of alchemists in their laboratories (see Lawrence M Principe and Lloyd DeWitt Transmutations: Alchemy in Art (CHF: Philadelphia, 2002)).

Chemistry displays in museums are particularly difficult to develop. Conceptually, the subject is difficult for most visitors. The objects themselves may be important, but that does not make them visually compelling. It is all too easy to end up with a ‘book on a wall’ type of display which offers verbal explanation, but little else. The CHF has been aware of the problems and the dangers which lurk. A visit for science historians is highly recommended (it has to be admitted that the author of this piece was involved in the establishment of ‘Making Modernity’), in part to act as a focus for discussion of the public presentation of recent science history. A particularly interesting comparison is with the Museum of the Royal Institution, London, which was developed at more or less the same time.

Address: Chemical Heritage Foundation Museum, 315 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106, USA
Website: http://www.chemheritage.org
Tel: (001) 215-925-2222

The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia

Albert C Barnes (1874-1951), chemist and art collector

Albert C Barnes (1874-1951), chemist and art collector. Image available in the public domain.

The Barnes Foundation was established in 1922 by Albert C Barnes (1872-1951), an eccentric chemist whose successful development of an anti-venereal disease drug made him a fortune. With this he acquired ethnographic art and paintings, particularly of the French impressionist and post-impressionist schools, and early modern art. He had a purpose-built gallery constructed, designed by Paul Philippe Cret, and it included highly original decoration including cubist bas-reliefs by Jacques Lipchitz. In this he displayed the ethnography alongside the fine art, understanding well how African artefacts had influenced many of the artists whose work he collected. His remarkably rich collection includes 181 Renoirs, 69 Cézannes (‘The Card Players’ is particularly well-known), 59 Matisses, 46 Picassos, etc.

Barnes was constantly at war with the Philadelphia establishment whom he despised and his gallery had been deliberately constructed in an unfashionable suburb of the city, Merion, away from the centre. Control was in the hands of Lincoln University, an establishment for black students. In the 1990s, the Barnes Foundation ran into financial difficulties and, in violation of Barnes’ will, controversial plans were devised by the city to transfer the collection much closer to the centre of Philadelphia. The legal challenge against the move was ultimately unsuccessful and the collection will now move into a new, and probably largely sympathetic, building near to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Rodin Museum and a number of other cultural institutions lined along the Ben Franklin Parkway. It will open in May 2012. The original building will remain accessible to the extent that it will retain a horticulture programme associated with Barnes’ arboretum, and will house the Foundation’s archives.

A strongly critical, polemical, film about background to the proposed move, ‘The Art of the Steal’, was made in 2009; it is well worth watching.

Website: http://www.barnesfoundation.org
Address: The Barnes Foundation, 2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, PA 19130, USA
Telephone: (001) 215-640-0171

McMillan Sand Filtration Site, Washington, D.C.

Are you looking for something off the tourist track?  What about something that at first sight makes little sense?  Then the McMillan Sand Filtration Site is for you!  Unfortunately, it is closed to visitors but you can the site is bounded by (and you can get good views of it from) North Capitol Street, Channing Street NW, 1st Street NW, and Michigan Avenue NW.  Today, one can glimpse the two paved courts that are lined by regulator houses, tower-like sand bins, sand washers and the gated entrances to the underground filter cells.  Below grade at the twenty-five acre site, there are twenty catacomb-like cells, each an acre in extent, where sand was used to filter water from the Potomac River by way of the Washington Aqueduct.  The treatment was a slow sand filter – a biological treatment system that provided a slow, steady flow of clean water.  For large-scale municipal purposes, the slow sand filter is inefficient and it was replaced in 1985 with a rapid sand filter (which is located across First Street at the McMillan Reservoir.

Diagram of the Washington City Tunnel by the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Before water can be purified, it must get to the McMillan complex and it has always arrived the same way, via the Washington Aqueduct.  The aqueduct was commissioned by Congress in 1852 and construction began in 1853 under the auspices of the US Army Corps of Engineers (who still own and operate the system).  It gradually opened starting on 3 January 1859, was fully open in 1864, and has been in continuous use since.  Water travels through the pipeline from Great Falls to the Dalecarlia Reservoir, and then to the Georgetown Reservoir.  From Georgetown, the water leaves via the “castle” on McArthur Boulevard NW, through an arrow-straight tunnel to the pumping house on 4th Street at the McMillan Reservoir.  The aqueduct is listed as a National Historic Landmark, and the Union Arch Bridge within the system is listed as a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.

McMillan sand filtration site under construction. Photo by the US Army Corps of Engineers.

The McMillan reservoir, which still holds untreated water for D.C., opened in 1902 and is a dammed stream valley.  The water that flowed through the valley became Tiber Creek and flowed into the Potomac following what is now Constitution Avenue. To clean the water before it was distributed to residents, a filtering plant also had to be constructed as part of the McMillan complex.  At the turn of the 20th century, there was a debate regarding the best practice to purify water – chemical (e.g. chlorine) versus biological (e.g. slow sand).  In D.C., slow sand filtration won out and Congress provided the Army Corp of Engineers with money to build the McMillan Sand Filtration Site.

Photo of Sand Pit being filled with sand. Photo from the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Sand filtration is pretty simple.  Dirty water enters the pit, which contains a two-foot layer of sand, percolates through the sand and is clean when it reaches the bottom, where it is drawn off by a pipe.  While the operation of the filter is simple, the process by which it cleans the water is not.  A slow sand filter works because of the formation of a gelatinous layer called the hypogeal layer or Schmutzdecke in the top few millimetres of the fine sand layer.  It forms in the first couple weeks of operation and consists of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, rotifera, and aquatic insect larvae.  As the Schmutzdecke ages, more algae develops and larger aquatic organisms appear, including bryozoa, snails and Annelid worms.  The Schmutzdecke provides effective purification in potable water treatment, while the underlying sand provides a support medium for this biological treatment layer.  The water produced from a well-managed slow sand filter can be of exceptionally good quality with 90-99% bacterial reduction.  Slow sand filters slowly lose their throughput volume as the Schmutzdecke grows, and it necessary to refurbish the filter to maintain volume (which means removing/disturbing the Schmutzdecke and allowing it to regrow).

The overgrown Clean Sand Silos.

Today, the most visible sign of the site’s history are the overgrown clean sand silos and regulator houses.  The rest of the site is covered in grass, as it was when it was designated the McMillan Reservoir Park in 1906 by Secretary of War William Howard Taft.  It was a memorial to to Senator James McMillan (R-Michigan) for his work as chairman of the Senate Commission on the Improvement of the Park System and his efforts in shaping the development of the city of Washington at turn of the century (aka the McMillan Plan).  After Taft became President, the site was officially designated a park by Congress in 1911.  Originally conceived as part of the “necklace of emeralds” that would ring the city in permanent open green space and restore much of L’Enfant’s original city plans.   In total, the forward-looking plans made by the McMillan Commission called for: re-landscaping the ceremonial core, consisting of the Capitol Grounds and Mall, including new extensions west and south of the Washington Monument; consolidating city railways and alleviating at-grade crossings; clearing slums; designing a coordinated municipal office complex in the triangle formed by Pennsylvanian Avenue, 15th Street, and the Mall, and establishing a comprehensive recreation and park system that would preserve the ring of Civil War fortifications around the city.  The implementation of the McMillan Plan involved the leading civil engineers, urban planners, artists, architects, and designers of the time and at the Reservoir alone, landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., engineer Allen Hazen, sculptor Herbert Adams and architect Charles Platt were involved.  While the engineering work was paid for by the Army Corps, the landscaping work was paid for by the family of Senator McMillan.

Regulator houses such as this one contained valves for controlling the flow of water through each cell.

While it was a functional piece of real estate because of the sand filter, it was topped by “an imaginative combination of landscaped park … personally supervised by Olmsted.”  In a racially segregated D.C., the park was open to all and residents from the ethnically diverse local neighborhoods were delighted to use the park’s amenities.  Courting couples promenaded, families picnicked, and boy played ball games on top of the vaults full of white sand.  Unfortunately, because of security concerns about the safety of Washington’s water supply, the site was closed to the public during World War 2, when a fence was erected around the site; today, it is only open to special visitors and on specially arranged biannual tours.

From its’ completion in 1905 until the Army Corps sold the Sand Filtration Site in 1987, the site was protected from development.  In 1986, the Army Corp declared the land as surplus and the General Services Administration arranged to sale it.  The The District of Columbia government purchased the site in 1987 for $9.3M, in order to facilitate development. Since the time of purchase, the property has been vacant and has deteriorated severely due to lack of maintenance.  Today, the McMillan Park Committee is fighting to maintain it openness and historic character, while the D.C. government is  considering site for dense commercial and residential development. The following video provides an overview of the planning arguments surrounding the site and some great historic images of the area.

American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia

West side of the American Philosophical Society

West side of the American Philosophical Society, by Ben Franske. Image licensed by Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license via Wikimedia.

The full official name of the Society is the American Philosophical Society, Held at Philadelphia for Promoting Useful Knowledge. The name dates to 1769, when two scientific societies merged, but the APS traces its origins to 1743, when Benjamin Franklin and others formed the organization to provide a way for its members to get together to discuss “philosophical” matters. For Franklin, “philosophical” meant natural philosophy, the study of the natural world, science, and practical knowledge.

The APS is still a membership organization, with about 1,000 elected members accomplished in a broad range of fields, from science to civic and cultural affairs to social sciences and the humanities. It is the first learned society in the United States and meets semi-annually in interdisciplinary, intellectual fellowship. The APS also has a number of core programs. Research grants support a wide range of activities, including one of the oldest grant funds for ethnographic and linguistic field work. The Publications Department publishes monographs and journals, including the oldest learned journal in the country. The Museum, whose antecedent is Charles Willson Peale’s museum of the eighteenth century, puts on exhibits that reflect the interests of the Society and its collections.

While it is an organization separate from the APS, the Philadelphia Area Center for the History of Science (PACHS), which offers fellowships, colloquia, and a federated on-line search tools, has its offices in one of the APS’ buildings.

The Museum has a changing program of temporary exhibitions, on interrelated themes of science, art and history; many – in fact most – of them are of direct interest to historians of science. See http://www.apsmuseum.org/. The Museum is located in Philosophical Hall, right next to Independence Hall, which is itself across the street from the Liberty Bell. You can visit the Liberty Bell for free any time it is open (the APS Museum, too, though donations are welcome), but you need timed tickets to see Independence Hall; tickets are free and available at the Visitors Center.

The Library has exhibits in its foyer, which is open to the public weekdays. During the summer tourist season there is an exhibit of treasures of the APS. Almost always on display is one of the original journals of Lewis and Clark, most of which were deposited in the Library by Thomas Jefferson in 1817.

Representation of waterspout accompanying "Water-spouts and Whirlwinds" by Benjamin Franklin c. 1750

Representation of waterspout accompanying "Water-spouts and Whirlwinds" by Benjamin Franklin c. 1750. Image available in the public domain via Wikipedia.

Library Hall, located across the street from Philosophical Hall, is home to one of the great independent research libraries in the country. Using the Library requires registration and making an appointment (see http://www.amphilsoc.org/library/research), but should you have an interest in one of the library’s collection strengths, there are rich holdings to explore. The three main collection areas are American history before 1860 (including the papers of Benjamin Franklin and Charles Willson Peale and his family), Native American ethnography and linguistics (including the papers of Franz Boas), and, of course, the history of science.

Early natural history is represented in such collections as the Benjamin Smith Barton Papers, the papers of John LeConte, and the journals of André Michaux. The papers of ornithologist Robert Cushman Murphy are in the collection. Many other disciplines are represented: evolutionary biology (Charles Darwin, George Gaylord Simpson), physics (Edward U. Condon, John Wheeler); biochemistry (Carl Neuberg, Erwin Chargaff), computer science (John W. Tukey), bacteriology (Salvador Luria), neuroscience (Warren McCulloch), microbiology (Herbert Jennings), pathology (Peyton Rous, Simon Flexner), plant genetics (Barbara McClintock). Indeed, the genetics collection is among the best in the world and includes the papers of Theodosius Dobzhansky, L. C. Dunn, Sewall Wright, P. M. Sheppard and Curt Stern, to name a only a few. In addition, the APS is one of the largest repositories of eugenics collections in the world, holding records of such organizations as the Eugenics Records Office and the American Eugenics Society as well as the papers of Charles Davenport.

The Library also has a large collection of printed material, including some 275,000 bound volumes, thousands of maps, and tens of thousands of prints and photographs. Among the special printed collections are the Richard Gimbel Thomas Paine Collection, the Samuel Vaughan Collection (a rare, intact late 18th-early 19th century private library), and the James Valentine Charles Darwin Collection, containing works by Darwin in 25 languages.

Complete information about the American Philosophical Society can be found on its website, www.amphilsoc.org.

A Map of Lewis and Clark's Track, Across the Western Portion of North America From the Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean; By Order of the Executive of the United States, in 1804, 5 & 6. Copied by Samuel Lewis from the Original Drawing of Wm. Clark.

A Map of Lewis and Clark's Track, Across the Western Portion of North America From the Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean; By Order of the Executive of the United States, in 1804, 5 & 6. Copied by Samuel Lewis from the Original Drawing of Wm. Clark. Image available in the public domain via Wikipedia. The APS is home to one of the original journals of Lewis and Clark, most of which were deposited in the Library by Thomas Jefferson in 1817.