In 1854 the Smithsonian faced a crisis that threatened to tear the eight-year-old institution apart when Secretary Joseph Henry and Assistant Secretary Charles C. Jewett publicly clashed over its future direction. Before their dispute was settled, battles had been fought at regents’ meetings, in newspapers and literary journals in New York, Boston, and Washington, and in the halls of Congress. As the controversy took on national dimensions, it became entangled in partisan politics and broader issues of the decade, particularly the ever-deepening sectional conflict and the problem of cultural elitism in a democracy. Volume 9 of The Papers of Joseph Henry documents this struggle to define the purpose of the Smithsonian Institution, one that would recur periodically throughout the institution’s history.
“It is now thirty-two years since the first volume of Henry’s papers was published. In the intervening years they have become a key resource for understanding the development of science not only in the United States but also elsewhere and particularly in Britain because of the close contacts Henry maintained there. The volumes have traced Henry’s active career in teaching and scientific research (especially in electricity) from his beginnings in Albany through to his time at Princeton. Then in 1846 Henry abandoned both teaching and research to become an administrator when he was appointed the first secretary of the newly established Smithsonian Institution. The early battles that Henry had to fight in order to shape the Smithsonian into the sort of institution he wanted and to determine the place it would occupy in American scientific and intellectual life were recounted in the previous two volumes. This ninth volume, which covers the middle four years of the 1850s, also charts another sustained period of struggle for Henry as he sought to maintain the Smithsonian in his chosen form- Towards the end of the period covered by this volume Henry became an advisor to the Dudley observatory in Albany, which was to result in considerable unhappiness. That, the editors promise, will be covered in the next and penultimate volume.” BJHS, March 2005
“The years covered by this volume coincide with Joseph Henry’s tenth anniversary as secretary of the Smithsonian (1846), and the selected documents demonstrate how completely the man and the institution were one during these formative years…The great battle, and Henry’s victory, came in this period as he vanquished the advocates of the Smithsonian as a library, in favor of what were called “active operations”…The published volume is a research source in itself, but it is more. It is pleasurable reading, while demonstrating with special poignancy the importance of ongoing access to original documents—inevitably they touch upon the mundane as well as the transcendent and remind us that history really happened.” Isis
“…Volume nine continues the editors’ exemplary job of applying modern, intelligible standards of documentary editing to correspondence that brings a small but crucial slice of Washingtoniana to life.”
Washington History, vol.15, no.1
“A superb primary source and reference to one man’s unique relationship to the Smithsonian Institution, quite literally in his own words, and featuring extensive annotation to place references into context for the modern-day reader. The Papers of Joseph Henry, Volume 9 continues to be an invaluable contribution to the history of science in general, and a testament to the work and contributions of the consummate 19th Century American scientist Joseph Henry in particular.”
The Midwest Book Review
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