APS Members were a who’s who of thinkers during the rise of natural philosophy and science, medical inquiry, and native ethnography; as politics boiled over into an Age of Revolutions across the Atlantic World, many Members put themselves at the heart of the Revolutions in Americas and Europe. Their ideas, explorations, experiments, and musings were the Enlightenment: scientific, philosophical, and political, put into print—into black and white—for all to see.
Thanks to support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, we were able to focus on constructing a database for all of the major print works—books, pamphlets, and other standalone texts—published by the one hundred and one men elected to the APS around the American Revolution. The final project spans the Society’s founding in 1743 to the Civil War in 1865, around 1,600 people, with about 800 elected before the year 1800.
Project Offerings & Accomplishments
The project provides extensive bibliographic information for the first edition of each text, a note enumerating the other extant editions printed before 1900, and an account of the text’s presence or absence in the APS library’s holdings.
This early access release of the publications of Members elected between the years of 1775 and 1785 illuminates the publication histories of over 600 discrete texts with more than 1,200 editions. This number includes smaller print runs and translations in numerous languages including French, Italian, German, Dutch, Spanish, and Welsh. The project now includes Members from 1743-1785, accounting for nearly 1,500 texts representing 4,000 editions. Because this is a digital database, we can include new discoveries as we, and outside scholars, unearth them. This work magnifies the earlier extant history of the APS, the history of science, and the intellectual cultures of early Philadelphia and the wider Atlantic World—Franklin’s world of the American Enlightenment.
In addition to the publication accomplishments, this project made great strides in processual development, too, in a simultaneously more expansive and also more selective inclusion of global catalog records, which enabled the discovery of surprising and rare texts.
Bibliographies and Biographies
Bibliography explores what is arguably one of the APS’s greatest assets—its priceless print collection—this bibliography, breaks new ground in the history of the American and Atlantic Worlds. By showing in full complexity the multivalent and entangled interests of Members, from botanical, agricultural, and medical science to religious, political, and revolutionary ideologies, the bibliography makes a signal contribution to the history of the Enlightenment in America. Such complexity necessitates contextualization.
The project offers readers a comprehensive list of major publications by APS members. It directs researchers to the library catalog records and further bibliographic references needed to interrogate the cultural life of a given text. In particular, these bibliography entries clarify the complicated publication histories of our Members’ texts by doing the valuable, deep research into their multiple editions, retitlings, reprintings, and translations.
The project’s inclusiveness—covering the full range of fields, disciplines, and genres in which APS’s early Members wrote—illustrates the diversity of their intellectual interests. Some of the Members elected in this cohort included Jean-François, Pilâtre de Rozier (APS 1775) whose achievements drew the attention of the Society long before he became one of the first two to achieve human flight—in a hot air balloon—in 1783; an intrepid attempt to cross the English Channel in the same two years later resulted in his death. Others, like William Brown (APS 1780) charted a more typical course: an M.D. from Edinburgh, service to the Continental Army (including the overwinter at Valley Forge), and research in sanitation improvements at military hospitals. Names more familiar pepper this generation, too: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Lafayette, Jay, and Madison.
Despite the imperial crisis and the Revolutionary War, this cohort’s publications extend well beyond their decade of election and shed new light on a variety of colonial, revolutionary, and early national concerns:
Institutions, networks, circles, families
Science, technology, and artisanal knowledge
Formal education and auto-didacticism
Empiricism and hands-on experience
The overlap between different intellectual disciplines and written genres in early America
Philadelphia, colonial, early national, and transatlantic print culture
Science and local, regional, imperial, and national political culture
Science and religion, economics, and law
Race, slavery, settler-indigenous relations, and early ethnography
Exploration, travel, and cartography
The APS and the American Revolution
Additionally, the project provides brief (150-400 words) capsule biographies outlining each member’s major achievements and role in the APS. Including the capsules alongside the member’s publications highlights the interrelations of their experiences and ideas. In addition, by joining a member's capsule biography with his (and eventually her) publications, the bibliography acts as a fuller reference work.
Process & Discoveries
We draw together records from the public catalog of major historical libraries to see what our Member authors published. By drawing together records from the British Library’s English Short Title Catalog, the American Antiquarian Society, the Library Company of Philadelphia, with APS holdings—and the vast foreign-language holdings cataloged in WorldCat—we aspire to comprehensive coverage.
We built a system for text comparison and correction in Microsoft Power BI, a system of queries to transform, format, and combine the records into our layout. Elements of style, such as punctuation—which vary from catalog to catalog—become uniform. Duplicates disappear. But for all this software-fueled automation we continue to stand on the shoulders of the bibliographers of early America: details we privilege, such as references to gold-standards like Sabin, Evans, and Shaw-Shoemaker, coalesce for easier verification.
Thanks to the NEH we expanded and enhanced our ability to deal with the many variants of texts which appear in OCLC WorldCat.
There was no shortage of famous Members elected between 1775 and 1785, but we’ve made new discoveries among old chestnuts.
A leading bibliography believed there were about 30 total editions of Washington’s Farewell Address, in which he stated he wouldn’t run for a third term, setting a precedent later made law. This project found 67 editions before 1800.
And Jefferson’s most famous work, Notes on the State of Virginia, appeared 20 times, of which the APS holds 10 copies. Written during Jefferson’s early 1780s time in Paris, its unguarded musings about race slavery, religious freedom, and individual liberty appeared in Paris, London, and Zurich, but also small-town America, with editions from Newark, Trenton, and Danbury—it is perhaps his most quoted work, besides the Declaration of Independence.
Less famous Members, such as Benjamin Moseley (APS 1775)—Notable for his anti-vaccine stance against Edward Jenner’s (APS 1804) use of cowpox to prevent human smallpox—demonstrate similar reach. Working from Jamaica, his publications spread across the Atlantic World.
The larger bibliography portends similar discoveries. We’ve caught glimpses of Poor Richard’s Almanac, in Welsh, in the suburbs of Cardiff:
And we’ve seen a Japanese translation of Franklin’s Autobiography, in the suburbs of Kyoto, the then capital of Imperial Japan:
The Members Bibliography & Biography Project is an ongoing, multi-year initiative. The Members Bibliography & Biography Team consists of Jeffery Appelhans (2019-current), Julie Fisher (2018-2020), and Alex Mazzaferro (2018-2019). The project is managed by David Gary (Associate Director of Collections). Technical assistance is provided by Richard Shrake (Project Consultant) and Bayard L. Miller (Head of Digital Scholarship & Technology).
This exhibit was written byJeffery Appelhans and developed by Bayard L. Miller.