skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

ESHS 2018: 19th century scientific correspondence networks

Sunday 16 September, 16:00-18.00, Institute of Education, Room 802


Session chair: Paul White (Darwin Correspondence Project); Discussion chair: Francis Neary (Darwin Correspondence Project)

This session marks the formal launch of Ɛpsilon (, the first public release of a collaborative digital framework designed to recreate the 19th century network of scientific correspondence. Alison Pearn (Darwin Correspondence Project) will discuss its aims, current format, and potential for future development.


Speakers and abstracts

Laura Brassington, ‘Constructing working-class lives through correspondence networks’

Abstract: Editing projects tend to focus not just on one figure but one scientific area, whereas working-class figures' interests often don't match modern boundaries. Searching across different correspondences can reveal a fuller picture of the different ways working-class figures engaged in the production of knowledge and help us appreciate these contributions in their own terms.

Laura Brassington is a first-year PhD candidate in HPS at Cambridge. In her PhD, she explores Charles Darwin’s correspondence with working-class naturalists. She is interested in recovering the ways in which working-class people challenged borders and boundaries, including those of modern scientific disciplines.


Louisiane Ferlier, ‘Correspondence networks: the view from the archives’

Abstract: The Royal Society was a central node in the networks of communication of 19th century science and its archives have become the repository of correspondences to and from many illustrious scientists of the period. As part of this session on 19th century scientific correspondence networks, this contribution will highlight the complex relation of letters with other archives and reflect on how this can be best addressed by digital projects. Correspondence served as the vehicle for a wealth of scientific material (observations, articles, notices, artefacts…) from which it was often dissociated for institutional record-keeping purposes, and dispersed over time. To reconstruct exchanges, letters - volatile material by essence - have sometimes to be deduced from calendar information, inferred from responses or copied from published version when the original is missing. Although digital correspondences offer the chance to re-associate material separated by time, we will ponder on some of the difficulties that remain to recreate the richness of the exchanges and open them to a range of academic analyses. For example, some of the scientific material essential to complete correspondences still resists transformation into machine-readable formats. There remain too, challenges in bringing together resources from different cultural institutions. Although the contribution will draw from a variety of examples from the Royal Society archives, examples of John Herschel’s and William Buckland’s correspondences will be at the core of our argument.

Louisiane Ferlier is the Digital Resources Manager at the Royal Society’s Centre for the History of Science. A historian of ideas by training, she has worked on various digital humanities projects. In her current role, she is responsible for making over 350 years of Royal Society collections discoverable online and therefore supports various collaborations such as the Epsilon project.


Marcia H.M. Ferraz, The correspondence of José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva’

Abstract: In this presentation we will briefly address some aspects of the correspondence of José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva (1763-1838) available at the Brazilian National Digital Library. Born in Brazil—where he is popularly known as the ‘Father of Independence’—Silva conducted research in several fields of science, chemistry in particular. Along his work at several scientific institutions in Portugal—such as the National Mint and University of Coimbra—and Brazil, where he returned in 1819, Silva developed an extensive network of correspondents. These documents are currently spread across several archives, including the Brazilian National Library, in Rio de Janeiro, which digitised a small sample of letters, which are the subject of our talk.

The paper is delivered by Marcia H.M. Ferraz on behalf of  Marcia H.M. Ferraz, Ana M. Alfonso-Goldfarb, Silvia Waisse, CESIMA/PUCSP (São Paulo-Brazil)


Maura C. Flannery, ‘William Darlington’s Correspondence Network Extended Far Beyond Pennsylvania’

Abstract [see attached bibliography]: This presentation provides a brief case study of an American botanist, William Darlington, who, while not in the upper echelons in the field, was still a noteworthy correspondent who linked American botanists, both amateurs and professionals, with European botanists.  I argue that by making available the correspondence of the most connected members of the botanical network, the letters of other botanists who contributed to the advancement of the science also become more widely available, so providing a fuller picture of how the study of plants developed in the 19th century. 

William Darlington (1782–1863) was a physician for whom botany was an important undertaking throughout his life.  Born into a Quaker farming family in Pennsylvania’s Brandywine Valley, he attended the University of Pennsylvania where he was a student of Benjamin Smith Barton who encouraged his interest in plants.  Darlington then practiced medicine in West Chester, Pennsylvania while studying botany and collecting specimens from the area.  He published several editions of a flora of his county; he also served as a United States Congressman, president of the local railroad and bank, and member of a canal commission.  In 1826, Darlington became a founder of the Chester County Cabinet of Natural Science, which built up a collection of natural specimens that included Darlington’s herbarium.  Eventually the plant specimens formed the nucleus of the West Chester University herbarium that was named for him in 1965.

Darlington attempted to build a geographically broad plant collection.  He wrote to leading botanists in both the United States and Europe suggesting specimen exchanges.  Once Darlington had published his flora, he had a book to send his correspondents.  Since European botanists were eager to receive plants from the New World that might not have been described yet, some of them agreed to the trade.  This is how specimens from William Jackson Hooker in Britain, Augustin Pyramus de Candolle in Switzerland, and Jacob Georg Agardh in Sweden came to West Chester, Pennsylvania.  This is also how Darlington made contact with the likes of John Torrey, Asa Gray, and George Engelmann in the United States along with a number of amateur botanists throughout the country.

In addition, Darlington made an important contribution to preserving the correspondence of earlier American botanists, compiling a book of the letters of John Bartram, a leading colonial botanist, as well as those of Bartram’s cousin Humphry Marshall who published the first book by an American on native plants printed in America.  Years before this, Darlington had written a memorial to his friend, the botanist William Baldwin.  So Darlington was involved not only in helping to nurture American botany, but in preserving its history as well.

Maura C. Flannery is Professor of Biology, retired, from St. John's University in New York. 


Tina Gianquitto, ‘Women’s Scientific Work in Correspondence Archives: Presence and Absence’

Abstract: Women participated in many diverse aspects of plant science in the 19th century, but because only a spare handful of these women were engaged in recognizably “professional” activities (such as curating university herbaria), evidence of their work can be difficult to locate, often existing only as ancillary materials in the collections of notable scientific men and institutions. Indeed, women’s scientific correspondence in the archive exemplifies what Susan Scott Parrish calls the ‘simultaneous losses’ of the historical record, displaying instances of what has not been collected, as well as that which has been unintentionally preserved, the ‘accidental stowaway inside the historical vehicle’ of the papers of the scientific men of the nineteenth century. And yet, the fact that we find a great many stowaways in the archives indicates that women participated fully in the scientific communities of the nineteenth century, engaging in different types of scientific conversations and largely following the conventions of their male colleagues in establishing and maintaining scientific networks.

As this presentation will explore, the surprisingly robust presence of women correspondents in the archives of key male scientists of the era provides a textured snapshot of women’s scientific engagement and offers rich and largely untapped veins of inquiry for anyone interested in examining the world of women in science in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Increased access to these materials through digitization will open new research and teaching opportunities. Digitization, combined with other digital humanities tools, such as mapping technologies, will help scholars and students visualize intellectual and geographic networks of women collectors and collaborators. It will also expose archival silences, rendering absence, presence, and difference (racial, economic) visible.

Tina Gianquitto is an associate professor of literature at the Colorado School of Mines. She is currently at work on two projects about plants: a digital project on plants and storytelling and a book about the influence of Darwin’s plant studies on responses to evolutionary theory in the U.S. She has written on US and UK women naturalists, women and scientific correspondence networks, and Darwinism in the US literary scene and has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Fulbright Program.


Frank James, ‘Digitising Faraday’

Abstract: This talk will reflect on the way that the development of digital technology has affect editorial practice over the last few decades, culminating in the launch of epsilon.

Frank James is Professor of the History of Science at the Royal Institution and University College London. His main research concentrates on the physical sciences in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and how they relate to other areas of society and culture, for example art, business, media, religion, technology and the military. He edited the Correspondence of Michael Faraday, published in six volumes between 1991 and 2012, and a number of essay collections including ‘The Common Purposes of Life’ – a set of essays on the Royal Institution. His Michael Faraday: A Very Short Introduction was published in 2010 by OUP who the following year also published his sesquicentenary edition of Faraday’s Chemical History of a Candle. His current research is on the practical work of Humphry Davy, including his work on nitrous oxide, agricultural chemistry, mineralogy, the miners’ safety lamp, analysis of ancient Roman pigments and his attempts to unroll chemically the papyri excavated from Herculaneum.

He has been President of the British Society for the History of Science, the Newcomen Society for the History of Engineering and Technology, the History of Science Section of the British Science Association and is currently chair of the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry. He was chair of the National Organising Committee for the XXIVth International Congress for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine held in Manchester in July 2013. He was elected a Member of the Academia Europaea in 2012; he is also a Membre Effectif of the Académie internationale d’histoire des sciences and a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Scientific Instrument Makers.


Gavan McCarthy, ‘The challenges of linking a rich range of auxilliary material: The correspondence of Ferdinand von Mueller’ 

Abstract: The Mueller Correspondence project has enabled the investigation of the transformation of scholarly resources to systematically curated data ready for the next generation of computational humanities researchers.

Gavan McCarthy is Director of the eScholarship Research Centre at the University of Melbourne. He has a long association with the Correspondence of Ferdinand von Mueller Project and has co-ordinated its inclusion in Epsilon. He has been a practising archivist for over 40 years and researcher in the field of social and cultural informatics since 1985. The history and archives of Australian science has been an abiding interest.


Giedrė Miknienė, ‘History of science in egodocuments:  letters of dr. Jonas Basanavičius in a bibliographical dataset’

Abstract: In this paper a fragment of an egodocumentary heritage of dr. Jonas Basanavičius will be presented, as a source for history of scholarly community in Lithuania. Dr. Jonas Basanavičius (1851–1927) is famous for establishing with others a first Lithuanian scientific association (1907), his anthropological, archaeological, and historical research. He was also involved in a movement of national impendence of Lithuania, collected folk tales, songs, and published anthologies. Dr. J. Basanavičius developed a wide international scholarly cooperation, corresponded with famous European historians, specialists of philology and historians of medicine in Europe. Letters he received are stored at the library of the Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore. A reconstruction of his library was created, a catalogue was published. Egodocumentary heritage of dr. J. Basanavičius was registered applying the modern technology of bibliographical dataset. First bibliographical index at the Wroblewski library of the Lithuanian academy of sciences was issued in 1953. Bibliographical records became a part of ALEPH library system in 2005, records were described in UNIMARC, later – in MARC21 formats. A bibliographical dataset „Jonas Basanavičius“ with over 10000 records will be introduced in this paper. Records of letters are among other documents, a name and addressee finding aid was created. A bibliography formatting software will be discussed.

Dr. Giedrė Miknienė, Wroblewski Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences


Marco Segala, ‘Ampère’s Correspondence’

Abstract: One of the great scientists of the golden age of French science, André-Marie Ampère (1775-1836) left a conspicuous correspondence (almost 1200 letters to and from him) whose qualitatively importance is undeniable. Ampère was not only the renowned author of the mathematical theory of electrodynamics, developed in the first half of the 1820s. He was a polymath who gave fundamental contributions to mathematics (calculus and probability) and chemistry (he formulated what was later called the Avogadro’s law) and attended several researches in the fields of natural science, linguistics, psychology, philosophy, and philosophy of science. His correspondence reflects these various interests, offers vivid pictures of the scientific and institutional milieu in Paris in the first third of the 19th century, and contributes to our understanding of the complex and significant relationships among European scientists at the time. Moreover, it is enriched with letters with family and friends in the Lyon region, where he was born and educated, and official correspondence concerning his activity as inspecteur of the Ministry of education.

Ampère’s correspondence is now available within the platform “Ampère et l’histoire de l’éléctricité” ( - edited by Christine Blondel and Marco Segala – through the softwares BaseX and Synopsys. The letters have been encoded and indexed according to the TEI and a search engine is available.

Marco Segala is Professor of history of philosophy at the University of L'Aquila, Italy. He studied philosophy at the Scuola Normale Superiore of Pisa (1983-1987) and obtained his Ph.D. in philosophy at the University of Firenze (1992). In the period 1992-2000 he was selected for fellowships at Berlin (“Walther Rathenau” Fellowship, Technische Universität), Firenze (“Cosimo Ridolfi" Fellowship, Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza), Paris (“chercheur associé” at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique), and Frankfurt (Humboldt Fellowship, Schopenhauer-Archiv). Between 2009 and 2011 he was “Marie Curie” fellow at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris. His research activity spans history of postkantian philosophy, history of science in the last two centuries, philosophy of music in the Nineteenth-century. Among his books: a monograph on the history of geology in the period 1850-1950 (La favola della terra mobile, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1990), a monograph on the relationship between philosophy and physiology in the period 1770-1850 (I fantasmi, il cervello, l'anima, Firenze, Olschki, 1998), a book (as editor) on scientific transfers in early-modern Europe (The Routes of Learning. Italy and Europe in the Modern Age, Florence, Olschki, 2003), a monograph on the relationship between philosophy and science in Schopenhauer (Schopenhauer, la filosofia, le scienze, Pisa, Edizioni della Normale, 2009). He is active in the digital humanities: together with Christin Blondel he is scientific director of the Ampère digital project at the Centre Alexandre Koyré, Paris; on behalf of the Schopenhauer-Gesellschaft, Frankfurt a.M., he is member of the steering committee of the Schopenhauer digital project at the Schopenhauer-Archiv, Frankfurt a.M.


Stephen Weldon, ‘Named-entity authority management for correspondence projects’

Abstract: Managing named-entity authorities for large digital projects can be very challenging. This talk will address the crucial issues regarding linking of records, and suggest approaches to expedite discovery of possible duplicate entries for disambiguation, and to help align the authority systems in multiple projects. One current project explores ways to use the IsisCB authority table to function as a resource for all interlinked projects.

Stephen P. Weldon is Associate Professor of History of Science at the University of Oklahoma and has been editor of the Isis Bibliography since 2002. In addition to working on the bibliography, he also studies the relationship between science and culture, especially science and and secular thought in America.


In this section:

ƐPSILON is now live at