Chemistry and Physics

Much like for the Chemistry and the Physics concentrations, it is difficult to provide a list of Houghton materials for Chemistry and Physics research that does not involve historical considerations. Many of those materials, in fact, overlap with items that help the two parent concentrations. However, Houghton does contain a large collection of books and manuscripts that display the intimate connection between the chemistry and the physics disciplines—the reason why this concentration is offered to undergraduates at Harvard.

As they explore Houghton’s archive, Chemistry and Physics concentrators can begin with Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Naturalist journal (MS Am 1280H [99], 008290191), which includes the celebrated writer’s observations about chemistry, optics, mineralogy, and astronomy, among many others. They also have access to the papers of Edwin Herbert Hall (MS Am 1734, 000601801), a Harvard physics professor who was responsible for the discovery of the Hall effect, a key electromagnetic phenomenon, but who also researched chemical topics such as atomic structure and ionization.

Hall is just one of the myriad items that amalgamate chemistry and physics, demonstrating the subjects’ deep connection and overlap. The list is virtually endless, including, for instance, Antoine Laurent Lavoisier’s Essays Physical and Chemical in both English (Chem 400.2.2*, 001705165) and French (Chem 400.3*, 005943499); Jean Baptiste Lamarck’s Memoires (Chem 410.4, 003247924), another tract involving both subjects; and Sämmtliche Physische und Chemische Werke (Chem 373.1.2, 006524362), and eighteenth-century German treatise. The materials described above also display the possibility of pairing scientific studies with language studies involving Harvard’s language departments.

Houghton also possesses items that, instead of providing a broad overview of the two disciplines, focus on certain aspects of the chemical and physical sciences. Works such as La Pyrotechnie, ov Art dv Fev (Chem 7205.56*, 004460244) and Essay sur les Feux d’Artifice pour le Spectacle et Pour la Guerre (Chem 7527.45, 002969778), for instance, are treatises about the physics and chemistry of fireworks—the second one even specifies its scenic and strategic purpose. The library, however, also contains tracts specific to the science behind gold alloys (Chem 7320.16, 003087760) and iron and its use in cannons (Chem 7237.75, 003024726).

The library also contains some more original volumes, such as Hydrologia Chymica, about the chemical and physical properties of the hot springs in Scarborough, Yorkshire (Med 1876.69*, 007005035), and Phoebe Jane Easton’s collection on marbled paper (MS Typ 1155, 013333828), a form of art that appears in many of Houghton’s books and that is a real-world application of the chemistry of pigments and of physico-chemical properties such as adhesion. Finally, Houghton owns a fascinating eighteenth-century tract titled A Compleat History of Drugs (Med 266.20.3*, 001777206), a remarkably thorough compendium of plants, roots, minerals, and even animals, with accompanying explanations and illustrations about “their use in physick, chymistry, pharmacy, and several other arts.”