In this final volume of The Papers of Joseph Henry, Henry emerges as the unrivaled leader of American science and the nation’s foremost proponent of funding for basic scientific research.
Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution since its founding in 1846, Henry guides its recovery from the Civil War while reshaping it by reducing or eliminating programs that he felt detracted from the institution’s core mission of original scientific research. To free up funds for research and publication, he convinces Congress to let the institution transfer a portion of its library to the Library of Congress, its herbarium to the Department of Agriculture, and its art gallery to the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Henry also mounts strong arguments for divesting the Smithsonian of custody of the National Museum, which represented not just a financial burden to the Smithsonian but also a threat to its independence. The decision to send collections from the centennial exhibition in Philadelphia to the Smithsonian, however, made it virtually impossible for Henry to press the case.
During this period, Henry also guides the fortunes of the fledgling National Academy of Sciences, becoming president of the academy in 1868 and sustaining it during a time of few resources and tepid support from the scientific community. During his ten years as president, he carves out a role for the academy as adviser to the government on scientific and technological matters. He tries to make it an influential voice in the development of a national science policy, while at the same time maintaining the academy’s independence and preventing it from relying on federal appropriations.
On a broader front, Henry takes a leading role among scientists in encouraging Gilded Age men of wealth to endow original research as well as education. He exerts influence on the leaders of such emerging institutions as the Peabody Institute, Johns Hopkins University, and the University of California. To further his goal, he arranges to bring British scientist John Tyndall to America for a multi-city lecture tour Henry conceived for the purpose of advocating “the importance of abstract science in its relation to the advance of civilization and the importance of making provision for original research.”
Nearing his mid-seventies, Henry agrees out of a sense of duty to chair the Light-House Board, an agency whose operating budget reached nearly $2 million in the 1870s. The first civilian chair of the board, he struggles to harmonize the competing interests of the naval officers and army engineers serving with him. Remaining at the same time chair of the board’s committee on experiments, he conducts experiments on lamp fuels and fog signals to reduce costs to government and to make navigation safer, in the process pioneering the field of atmospheric acoustics.
The volume concludes with Henry’s death in 1878, bringing to a close an eleven-volume documentary edition that traces Joseph Henry’s rise from humble origins in upstate New York to a position of such prominence in the nation’s capital that, as General William Tecumseh Sherman remarked, the President, Congress, and the Supreme Court “ceased their labors” to attend his funeral and “pay a just respect to his memory.”
A cumulative index, volume 12, was published in 2008. 320 pp., $49.95.
All other volumes in the series are still available. Click here for contents, prices and description information. Additional information is available from The Joseph Henry Papers Project: http://www.siarchives.si.edu/history/jhp/jhenry.html
“…As with all the previous volumes, the editorial work on these final two has been exemplary. The wealth of detailed information contained in the footnotes is truly phenomenal. Every reference, however obscure, has been checked and clarified. Reading the Henry Papers is the best way of finding out about American science in the nineteenth century…”—Annals of Science
“…As the Henry Papers project comes to an end, it is good to consider what has been accomplished. It has, of course, produced eleven volumes of exemplary scholarship, set a very high standard for all those who would undertake such work, and made a substantial body of research material, collected from archives and libraries around the world, available at the Smithsonian…The production of the edition spanned the divide between print-microform and the delivery of documentation on the internet. What these monumental volumes prove, however, is that print still matters, for they offer the welcome opportunity to sit and read (or browse) and to access documents by subject through the very thorough indexing (the separate cumulative index ‘volume 12’ will greatly facilitate such usage…it is also imperative that historians interested in nineteenth century science and culture peruse the volumes, both for the documents and for the fine annotations that offer invaluable ancillary information and commentary on a vast array of topics.”—Isis v.99/3