Volume 8, The Smithsonian Years: January 1850-December 1853 (Washington, 1998: ISBN 1-56098-891-6) reveals a difficult period in Henry’s life. During these years, he suffered constant personal and financial woes, clashed with subordinates, and faced significant public criticism of his leadership. When Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois attacked the Smithsonian for its preoccupation with research of “no practical bearing,” such as studies of “sea weeds and such trash,” Henry mounted a vigorous and eloquent defense of basic research. To ensure the Smithsonian’s adherence to what Henry saw as its central mission, he remained at the institution despite the criticism and despite offers of prestigious positions at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Virginia, and the College of New Jersey at Princeton.
The volume records several milestones in the Smithsonian’s history. The first was Henry’s hiring of assistant secretary Spencer Baird, who energetically expanded the institution’s collections of animal, plant, mineral, and fossil specimens. Also during this period, Henry established a system with institutions abroad for the exchange of publications in the biological and physical sciences, ethnology, archaeology, and paleontology. The international exchange program became a fundamental Smithsonian enterprise for more than a century. In addition, Henry began to campaign to place scientific research, publishing, and a meteorological observation network ahead of museum and library collections in terms of funding priorities.
Douglas, engraving by A. B. Walter. Smithsonian Archives.
Also of Interest
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