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Accordion List

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 13 and enrolls approximately 25 students for the doctoral program. Additionally, research in a range of other departments, including Anthropology, 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 (19th and 20th centuries), in the U.S., Latin America, Middle East, Europe, and South Asia, 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 developing world are areas of increasing interest, especially among graduate students. Working in the earlier periods of the history of science are faculty in the Classics, History, and Philosophy departments. 

There are two majors available to undergraduates: Health and Societies; and Science, Technology and Society. Both are very popular.  

The Penn Libraries' collections in this field comprise both works about the history of science and scientific works themselves. Scientific works published in the 19th and 20th centuries comprise primary source material and are dispersed throughout the library system; many can be found in the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center collection as well as in the various science libraries on campus. Van Pelt houses a very large collection of secondary sources in the history of science, medicine, and technology. The Library's most unique strengths are in its collections of texts in science and the history of science published prior to the 19th 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 15th century to the present. Others fields of strength are spiritualism and the occult (Henry Charles Lea Library Collection, the Seybert Collections on Modern Spiritualism in the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts); alchemy; botany (including the Harshberger collection of herbal and pre-Linnean works); veterinary science, especially equine studies (the Fairman Rogers Collection at New Bolton Center has more than 1,000 titles dating from the 17th century); agriculture (including the library of the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture, with over 600 volumes of 18th and early 19th century materials on agriculture and animal husbandry); and the history of dentistry, with special strength in 18th century treatises. The Elzevier Collection has over 400 Leyden dissertations on medical and other scientific subjects. Medicine is represented with a strong secondary collection, for example, and the historic collection of Penn medical dissertations, a primary source collection, is located in special collections.  

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 18th 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 electronic formats. Other formats, including photographs and data sets, are purchase on an ad hoc basis in response to requests and research trends. 

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 and other languages to support the research needs of the department including those from the Middle East and South Asia.  

5. Publication dates 

Emphasis is of necessity on current materials, although selective retrospective purchasing is undertaken as circumstances require and/or funds allow. The latter have become increasingly important.  

6. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Current collecting is informed by research interests in the department focusing on sexual minorities and ethical issues in health care disparities. The field itself inherently demands an analysis of structures of knowledge production which necessitates DEI analysis.

7. Open Access  

Products that lead to open access publications and resources receive priority. Proprietary resources in which we would not normally invest receive greater consideration if they support a competitive market with freely accessible resources.

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 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

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.