Ransom Center Receives $10,000 Grant To Catalog Collection of Science Materials

Jan. 20, 2011

AUSTIN, Texas — The Harry Ransom Center, a humanities research library and museum at The University of Texas at Austin, has received a $10,000 grant from the Friends of the Center for History of Physics at the American Institute of Physics to rehouse and rearrange its holdings of the Herschel family papers and to create an online finding aid.

A drawing of Halley's Comet by Caroline Herschel in 1835–1836.

A drawing of Halley's Comet by Caroline Herschel in 1835–1836.

The Herschel family papers, acquired in 1960 with subsequent smaller accessions of additional materials, largely represent the life and work of Sir John F. W. Herschel (1792-1871), the English mathematician, astronomer, chemist and experimental photographer/inventor. John Herschel has been called Britain's first modern physical scientist, and his correspondence has been noted as one of the most valuable archives for 19th-century science.

The papers also contain manuscripts and correspondence by and about other members of the Herschel family, most notably John's father Sir William Herschel (1738-1822), discoverer of the planet Uranus and stellar astronomy pioneer; his aunt Caroline Lucretia Herschel (1750-1848), another noted astronomer; and to a lesser extent, his son Sir William James Herschel (1833-1917), who first introduced the use of fingerprints as a means of official identification; as well as other Herschel family members, scientific colleagues and friends.

The one-year project will allow the Center to arrange and describe the papers according to current archival practices and enhance access to the materials. The papers will be re-housed to better protect and preserve the materials long-term. The creation of an online finding aid will raise awareness and enhance access to the papers and represents the first complete and searchable description of the collection, making it readily available to users.

The Ransom Center's collection of the Herschels is exceeded in size only by the collection at the Royal Society in London. The Herschel family papers at the Ransom Center form a significant resource for the study of the history of science in general and also for studies in several individual fields, such as astronomy, chemistry, physics and mathematics. The lives of the Herschels, their pioneering achievements, their interactions with other leading scientists of their time and their influence on their colleagues' work are topics scholars may pursue in the papers.

Papers for Sir John F. W. Herschel span 1809-1871 and comprise correspondence, essays, drawings, notes, calculations, reports, notebooks, charts, documents, memoranda books, diaries and travel journals. Manuscript works include his writings on actinometry, astronomy, the barometer, biology, chemistry, geology, music, photography, physical optics, physics and other subjects.

Materials representing Sir William Herschel date from 1758 to 1822 and include correspondence, essays, notes and tables. Holdings for Caroline Lucretia Herschel span 1787-1846 and consist of correspondence, biographical memoranda, documents, tables and diaries.

The Herschel family papers will be closed to scholars during the duration of the grant, which runs through Dec. 31, 2011.

High-resolution press images relating to the Herschel papers are available.

For more information, contact: Alicia Dietrich, Harry Huntt Ransom Humanities Research Center, 512 232 3667;  Jennifer Tisdale, Harry Huntt Ransom Humanities Research Center, 512-471-8949.