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History & sociology of science collection development policy

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Program information

The history of science collections at Penn support programs in the Department of the History and Sociology of Science, which has a standing faculty of 12 and enrolls approximately 25 students for the Ph.D. Additionally, research in a range of other departments, including Classics, History, Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Sociology and Philosophy, as well as scholars in the physical and biological sciences, women's studies, and literary studies rely on the history of science collections for their research.

The research and curricular program of the Department of the History and Sociology of Science has a strong emphasis in applied science of the modern period (nineteenth and twentieth centuries), both U.S. and Europe (at present Britain and Russia), including especially the history of medicine, public health and health policy, psychiatry, social history, women in science, biochemistry, chemistry, technology, physics, and East Asian science. Science and technology in the third world are areas of developing interest, especially among graduate students. Working in the earlier periods of the history of science are faculty in the Classics, History and Philosophy departments.

Collection description

The Library's collections in this field comprise both works about the history of science and scientific works themselves. Our holdings in the former category are generally strong and include at least 9300 volumes, of which 25% are in the history of medicine and 10% are in the history of technology.

Scientific works published in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries comprise primary source material and are dispersed throughout the library system; many can be found in the Van Pelt collection as well as in the various science libraries on campus. The Library's greatest strength is in its collections of texts in science and the history of science published prior to the nineteenth century. Areas of particular strength include the history of chemistry, chemical engineering, and the chemical industry. The Edgar Fahs Smith Memorial Collection, one of the world's strongest collections in the history of chemistry contains over 15,000 volumes from the fifteenth century to the present. Others fields of strength are spiritualism and the occult (Henry Charles Lea Collection, the Seybert collection in Special Collections); alchemy, botany (including the Harshberger collection of herbal and pre-Linnean works, veterinary science, especially equine studies (the Fairman Rogers Library of Horsemanship at New Bolton Center has more than 700 volumes dating from the seventeenth century), agriculture (including the library of the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture, with over 600 volumes of eighteenth and early nineteenth century materials on agriculture and animal husbandry, and the history of dentistry, with special strength in eighteenth century treatises. The Elzevier Library has over 400 Leyden dissertations on medical and other scientific subjects.

Guidelines for Collection Development

A distinctive feature of publishing in the history of science is the relatively large amount of significant and interesting material published outside the established trade and academic market. Learned societies, scholarly organizations of all kinds, and trade and industrial organizations publish material which is basic to research in the history of science and technology and which the Library needs to acquire.

To the extent that the history of science connects with other disciplines such as the philosophy of science and intellectual history from the Classical period through the eighteenth century, collection development in these areas is undertaken in awareness of the programs in the history of science. Effective management of history of science collections also requires close cooperation with the science bibliographers, given the rapidity with which scientific texts are superseded and the resulting fluidity of the boundaries between collections in the sciences and the history of science. It is the policy of the Library to review titles being withdrawn from the various science libraries on campus for their potential value to the history of science and to incorporate them into the Van Pelt or other collections as appropriate.

1. Chronological

No restrictions.

2. Formats

Monographs and serials, in hardcopy and in microform. Exclusions: dissertations, unless published by a major publisher (e.g. Metzler) or on a topic in which there is special interest. Habilitationsschriften, however are generally acquired.

3. Geographical

Emphasis on U.S. and European imprints, with materials from other areas of the world, especially China, Russia, and the Middle East as needed.

4. Language

English and major European languages, as well as Chinese and Arabic.

5. Publication dates

Emphasis is of necessity on current materials, although selective retrospective purchasing is undertaken as circumstances require and/or funds allow.

Principal sources of supply and major selection tools

In addition to standard approval plans, bibliographical lists and form selection plans, the reviews listed in Isis, and the "Books Received" section of the Wellcome Institute's Current Work in the History of Medicine and of the Bulletin of the History of Medicine are important sources for non-trade publications.

  • Subjects collected and levels of collecting

    Subjects Collected Levels of Collecting
    Astronomy 3/3F
    Canada 3E/3E
    Biochemistry 3/3F
    Biology 3/3F
    Botany 3/3F
    Chemistry 4/4F
    Computer Science 3/3F
    Engineering 3/3F
    Genetics 3/3F
    Geology 3/3F
    Mathematics 3/3F
    Medicine 3/3W/4W
    Microbiology 3/3F
    Natural History 3/3F
    Physics 3/3F
    Technology 3/3F/4F
    Virology 3/3F
    Zoology 3/3F

Cooperative arrangements

The greater Philadelphia area is especially rich in collections in the history of science. Particularly distinguished are the libraries of the College of Physicians (history of medicine), the Academy of Natural Sciences, the American Philosophical Society (U.S. science, publications of learned societies), and the Hagley Library (history of technology and industrial history). The libraries of Johns Hopkins University and the Smithsonian Institution are major resources for the history of medicine and the history of science generally.

Related subject collections