The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Category: Collections in Focus
For historians of science, the name “Sarton” resonates like a deep-throated bell. Isis, the international journal that chemist and mathematician George Sarton (1884-1956) founded in Belgium in 1913, is now the premier publication of the History of Science Society. The field he envisioned is flourishing as well as continually responding to changes in science and its social context.
The German invasion of Belgium in 1914 had threatened to upend Sarton’s life and career, yet the indomitable scientist and editor persevered, eventually reestablishing the journal in the United States. And by 1921, Sarton had gained a reputation for insightful and occasionally acerbic critiques, never shying from commenting on contemporary politics, science, and literature, including the type of popularization being initiated by Science Service. When one of Edwin Emery Slosson’s essays came across Sarton’s desk, the fellow editor responded, therefore, with a typical sprightly letter commenting on the tendency to pander to (rather than challenge) audiences.
“I have read your paper with great pleasure,” Sarton wrote on January 20, 1921, and “I heartily agree with you on most of what you say – not on everything however. For inst., you are distressed ‘to see so much good copy going to waste all the time’ etc. – This does not distress me at all – for the main trouble with the American reader is that he has to read too much anyhow. You remark that the weeklies and monthlies of fifty years ago contained more science than those of today. I am not surprised at all. For these magazines were read more slowly, more sedately than those of today. The despote [despot] of American literature is the ‘tired business man’ – who wants to understand everything without spending any amount of intellectual energy. Now believe me, the law of conservation of energy holds good in the intellectual sphere as well as in the material one: The returns are proportional to the expenditure. No effort, no results.”
“The tired business man is not satisfied with a clear and elegant explanation,” Sarton observed contemptuously, “he wants ‘pep’ – it is necessary to nudge him in the ribs or to kick him to keep him awake. Clearness is not sufficient, the facts must be distorted to keep his attention; a portrait of reality will never do – a caricature is needed ... You say that the American editors are looking for stuff in the style of [John] Tyndall, of [Charles] Darwin or of [Jean Henri] Fabre. I seriously doubt it. I believe that if fragments of these men were sent to the editors over my signature (or yours) they would be politely refused. The editor would not or could not give the reason – but I can give it: he would feel that these articles are too plain, too dull for his reader – His majesty, the tired businessman.”
“But forget all that,” Sarton consoled Slosson in closing, and “just remember that your paper gave me great pleasure and that I would gladly sign a great deal of it with both hands!”
By January 1924, Sarton and a group of influential historians, scientists, and intellectuals had founded the History of Science Society, and established a permanent connection between Isis and the society. Sarton also continued to pay attention to the fledgling news organization and on February 10, 1924, he sent a handwritten note to Watson Davis, saying “Allow me to congratulate you for the success of Science Service. I was skeptical at first but was wrong.” Later that spring, both Slosson and Davis expressed their support for Sarton's work by ordering the first five volumes of Isis for the Science Service library and joining the History of Science Society.
In November of 1925, Davis captured Sarton’s panache and lively intellect in two memorable photographs. As the historian I. Bernard Cohen summarized after Sarton’s death in March 1956, “In the intensity of the passion with which he addressed himself to each topic, one could almost see the ‘light that comes from the eyes.’”
History of Science Society, HSS Online
This spring Field Book Project began cataloging in the Division of Invertebrate Zoology, which holds the field notes of Horton H. Hobbs Jr. His materials are particularly appropriate to discuss for Father’s Day. While processing his field notes and data sheets, and cataloging the materials for the Field Book Project, the references found offer tantalizing glimpses into his life and relationships.
Hobbs not only studied crayfish, he was the leading authority in freshwater crayfishes of North America. This and other qualities earned him the nickname “crawdaddy.” An article by Karen Reed and Raymond B. Manning at the Department of Invertebrate Zoology described him as “the quintessential southern Gentleman” with a mischievous side. The article also includes a wonderful story about a retirement gift that hints at his sense of humor.
…his expression, a mixture of embarrassment and delight, when he was presented with a pair of boxer shorts with two flies at his retirement party-the idea being that having studied entocytherid ostracods so long he might have developed hemipenes.
Hobbs’ career spanned six decades; nearly every year he went into the field, sometimes with his wife Georgia and son Horton Hobbs III. There are numerous references to family field work in his field notes and his publications.
Hobbs’ may not be unique in taking his family into the field, but he is one of only a few to document it clearly in his notes. Hobbs often recorded his observations on preprinted field data sheets and consistently listed the presence and work of his wife and son.
In a Father’s Day piece posted by Springfield News Sun, Horton III, said of his father, “he was one that would let you stumble and not walk you through everything…but he would be there to pick you up.” Horton Hobbs III followed close to his father’s footsteps, studying limnology, and is now a professor in the Department of Biology of Wittenberg University.
To learn more about Horton Hobbs Jr., and his work, we encourage you to check out the following resources, and search his field book records on Collections Search Center that will be available later this summer.
Horton H. Hobbs, Jr. (29 March 1914 – 22 March 1994). Biographical Notes, Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington
Dr. Horton H. Hobbs III, Department of Biology, Wittenberg University
Horton Hobbs’ daddy was ‘Crawdaddy’, Springfield News Sun