Earth and Planetary Sciences

Earth and Planetary Sciences

The Earth and Planetary Sciences concentration unites disciplines such as geology, climate science, environmental geoscience, geobiology, geochemistry, and geophysics, among many others, to study the planet’s so-called natural systems—the atmosphere, the oceans, the biosphere, and the earth. Interconnected with other concentrations such as Astrophysics, Chemistry, Physics, and the multiple engineerings, it is also deeply linked to Environmental Science due to its emphasis on resource extraction and preservation. Houghton has a wide variety of materials that can contextualize the multifarious aspects of the concentration and provide a historical background to students pursuing research. Those materials include foundational scientific works as well as volumes specifically linked to the study of Earth.

As with many other science concentrations, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Naturalist journal (MS Am 1280H [99], 008290191) provides an interesting perspective on some of the earth sciences and the state of their progress in the nineteenth century. Emerson studied conchology, geology, chemistry, geography, mineralogy, and astronomy, among other disciplines that are a key part of the Earth and Planetary Science concentration, and his observations, though maybe not new, are a good starting point for contextual and historical inquiries. A notebook belonging to John Ruskin (MS Eng 248.1, 009765710), probably the most important Victorian art critic, with his notes on mineralogy and the structure of crystals, can also be studied in conjunction with Emerson’s writings or with modern sources on the subject.

Houghton, however, is not all luminaries’ scientific notebooks. The library contains meteorological records of many cities and towns in Massachusetts covering the period 1754-1865 collected by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (MS Am 1360-1361, 000601772), which can become fascinating historical sources on climatology and climate change. It also holds Hydrologia Chymica (Med 1876.69*, 007005035), a seventeenth-century treatise on British spas, especially the one at Scarborough in Yorkshire, and the origins of hot springs, besides a “vindication of chemical physick.” A fascinating volume that can be paired up with that one is a Portuguese publication from 1749 discoursing about a lake in the mines of Sabará (Med 1877.49.10*, 006654569), in what today is southeastern Brazil, and its curative properties. These two tracts on water sources, though historical and perhaps inaccurate, demonstrate that the human interest on the earth and its resources is not a modern phenomenon, and they can be compared with modern sources not only about Earth and Planetary Sciences, but also related to Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology and Chemistry and Physics, among many others of the life and hard sciences.

On the slightly more modern side of the spectrum, students coming to Houghton can peruse the papers of William Morris Davis (MS Am 1798, 000601829), who taught geology at Harvard from 1876 to 1912 and developed the fields of geomorphology and physiography. The papers, mostly professional correspondence, contains both letters and academic papers on topics ranging from coral reefs to volcanoes and military geography. They cater, therefore, to the multiple fields which compose the Earth and Planetary Sciences concentration, and are sure to engross students interested in the field.

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