History of Science Collections

As one of the leading history of science repositories in the country, researchers at the Library can study science from A to Z, from astronomy to zoology, from genetics to quantum mechanics, from calculus to modern computing.

From the time of Franklin, the American Philosophical Society has documented the history of science; you might say the history of science is in its DNA. Franklin willed the APS his scientific books, and his papers (acquired later) show his wide-ranging interests. 

Early science in America and the Atlantic world is a major focus of the collection. Natural history is well-represented, with major collections of Benjamin Smith Barton, William Bartram, and the Peale family. There are dozens of accounts of early exploration and travel that have natural history aspects, most notably the journals of Lewis and Clark.

The Society continues to collect in the sciences, holding the papers of seven past Nobel Laureates. Of this recent collecting, the life sciences form the single largest component of the collection. The Library has the papers of five Nobelists in physiology or medicine: Peyton Rous, Salvador Luria, Barbara McClintock, Carleton Gajdusek, and Baruch Blumberg. 

There are also outstanding collections in the mathematical and physical sciences. Physics collections include the papers of William F. G. Swann, Edward U. Condon, John A. Wheeler, and those of two Nobel Laureates, Val L. Fitch and Sheldon Glashow. An important set of three collectionsSamuel Wilks, John Tukey, and Frederick Mostellerdocument the development of statistics in the 20th century.

A few of the collections are highlighted below.