The Joseph Henry Papers

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Researchers who wish to visit the Joseph Henry Papers Project will find three unique resources that we have used in the course of producing The Papers of Joseph Henry: 1) a database of documents located by the project; 2) a rare book library; 3) subject files compiled over the years.

These resources have proved invaluable to many scholars and have led to some significant publications, including Meteorology in America, 1800-1870, by James Rodger Fleming; Patronage, Practice, and the Culture of American Science: Alexander Dallas Bache and the U.S. Coast Survey, by Hugh Richard Slotten; The Smithsonian and the American Indian: Making a Moral Anthropology in Victorian America, by Curtis M. Hinsley.

"The worth and importance of the Institution is not to be estimated by what it accumulates within the walls of its building, but by what it sends forth to the world. Its great mission is to facilitate the use of implements of research...." --Joseph Henry, Smithsonian Annual Report, 1852, p. 20.

Henry Papers Database

As the result of a world-wide search, the Joseph Henry Papers Project now has copies of an estimated 130,000 Henry documents from some 300 repositories in 17 nations.

These documents, including correspondence between Henry and such figures as Alexander Dallas Bache and Michael Faraday, provide a wealth of information on the nineteenth-century scientific community. They also shed light on science as a broad social and cultural phenomenon in American life.

Because Henry was Secretary of the Smithsonian from its founding in 1846 until his death in 1878, the documents are also a rich resource for understanding the early history of the institution and its influence on the development of a variety of disciplines.

To access this material, the staff has developed a database that allows researchers to conduct searches by subject, name, and date. Information on more than 110,000 documents has been entered into the database thus far. Historical documentation is available for the following disciplines, among others:

anthropology                 ethnology
archaeology                  geology 
architecture                 meteorology
art history                  natural history
astronomy                    paleontology
botany                       physics
chemistry                    zoology

More than 15,000 names have been entered into the database. Some of the more prominent cultural, political, and scientific figures include Louis Agassiz, Alexander Dallas Bache, Spencer F. Baird, George Bancroft, Alexander Graham Bell, Jefferson Davis, Dorothea L. Dix, James A. Garfield, Asa Gray, Henry James, Sr., Matthew F. Maury, Maria Mitchell, Lewis Henry Morgan, Samuel F. B. Morse, Titian Ramsey Peale, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, William Tecumseh Sherman, Benjamin Silliman, Sr., John Torrey, and Thomas U. Walter.

Bell-Henry Library

The Joseph Henry Papers Project curates the Bell-Henry Library, which contains the scientific library of Alexander Graham Bell and the personal library of Henry.

Bell's library consists of some 2,000 books and pamphlets, along with photocopies of his scientific diaries and research notebooks. Henry's library consists of some 3,000 books and pamphlets, of which more than 160 contain his annotations.

In 1883, after both Henry and his wife had died, Bell purchased Henry's library from his daughters. The library was later given to the Smithsonian by the descendants of Bell, who was a long-time member of the Smithsonian Board of Regents and its executive committee. (For an article on the relationship between Henry and Bell, see Joseph Henry and the Telephone.)

A guide is available at the office of the Joseph Henry Papers Project.

Research Files

In addition to developing the Henry Papers database, the project over the years has generated scores of research files on Henry and his contemporaries.

We have bibliographic, biographical, iconographic, and topical files, as well as a reprint file containing articles on the history of science.

Some of the files were prepared to address thematic issues important to the development of our volumes, such as the image of the Smithsonian in the antebellum press, or the role scientists played in western explorations.

Researchers may make appointments to consult with the staff about any of the above resources. The office is open on weekdays from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, except for federal holidays. Please contact Marc Rothenberg to make an appointment or for further information.

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