Rare Book Monthly

Articles - March - 2018 Issue

The Science History Institute Posts Its Collection Online

The Wilson College Chemistry Club (courtesy of Science History Institute).

A collection of images from the Science History Institute, primarily related to chemistry, is now available for viewing online, with many free for the download. There are currently just over 5,000 such images, with the number growing. They cover various types of items such as books, photographs, letters, advertisements, and objects. In the case of books, not the entire book is available but key parts, such as the title page or cover. Numerous subjects are covered, such as health & medicine, alchemy, education, instruments, and portraits.

 

While much of this is serious material, some of it is pure fun, like the old advertising. "What is a home without a clean bed," asks Mexican Insect Fluid. Dow Chemical describes "The 'Romance' of Dry Cleaning." Or, how about "At last, a girdle that controls so effortlessly – you feel like size 10 again!" More likely, you feel squashed. JBI Jogbra presents a bra with "less bounce to the ounce!" For the men, there was the "Bub" Duribilknit Supporter. Here's one for Rachel Carson – "DDT is good for me-e-e!" Thank you, Pennsalt. Continuing that theme, Trimz DDT offers to "protect your children against disease-carrying insects" with wallpaper laced with DDT. Playing on fear, Tanglefoot Spray asks, "do roaches spread cancer?" Or, another fear from wartime America – Goodyear says, "go ahead on synthetic rubber... the Japs might take Malaya some day." Tasteful.

 

While the name Science History Institute may not imply most items are related to chemistry, the organization's history reveals why. They only recently changed their name from the Chemical Heritage Foundation to the Science History Institute. A few weeks ago, the Philadelphia based Chemical Heritage Foundation merged with the Life Sciences Foundation of San Francisco. The two organizations found much overlap in their missions and determined it was logical to merge them. The new name better describes their joint mission, but the digital collection remains concentrated in items related to chemistry.

 

Digital library director Michelle DiMeo explained, "Users will see culturally and intellectually significant items related to the history of science from the Roman Empire through the 21st century. For the first time ever, select items from our museum, library, and archival collections appear together in one database, so one could view a pH meter instruction manual held in our archives alongside the actual pH meter object in our museum."

 

The digital collection is still a small part of the material held by the Science History Institute. They have many more books, journals, oral histories, archives, art, photographs and objects. These are available to researchers by appointment. Others are available to the public in the museum's permanent exhibition along with featured temporary exhibits.

 

You may search their digital collection at the following link: digital.sciencehistory.org

Rare Book Monthly

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