History of Science

Highlights among the collections for history of science in Special Collections include the Thordarson Collection of rare science and illustrated natural history books, the Duveen and Cole collections of alchemy and chemistry, the Schadewald Collection on Pseudo-Science, the Science and Religion Collection, and the Albert Collection on optics and ophthalmology. In addition to the named collections below, the Department includes other important holdings on science, technology, natural history, and related fields (especially works published before 1801). Check for subjects or authors in the Library Catalog and the card catalog in Special Collections.

Named collections for history of science

Detail of engraving from François de Aguilón, Opticorum libri sex (1613). From the Albert Collection, Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Detail of engraving from François de Aguilón, Opticorum libri sex (1613). From the Albert Collection, Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

  • Daniel and Eleanor Albert Collection. Works on optics and the eye, containing more than 700 important works, primarily from the 18th and 19th centuries, along with earlier titles by Avicenna, Aguilón, Witelo, Parey, Wiseman and others, plus rare books in other fields. Titles are cataloged individually in the Library Catalog. See the portrait entitled “A Lesson of Time” (pp. 8-10 in the Libraries magazine, no. 39, fall 1999) for more information.
  • Boyle Collection. A nearly comprehensive collection of works by Robert Boyle (1627–1691), including first editions and items not recorded in Fulton’s bibliography of Boyle. Acquired in 1958. Shelf list available in the card catalog in the Department (with call numbers 1068353 noncurrent – 1069692 noncurrent, 1070871 noncurrent – 1070876 noncurrent); the Thordarson and Duveen Collections also contain works by Robert Boyle.
  • Cole Collection of Chemistry. Containing more than 1000 works on chemistry from the 17th through the 19th centuries, some acquired in 1977 and more received in 1998 and thereafter as a gift from William and Nora Cole. Individual titles are cataloged with call numbers beginning Cole Coll C. The Cole Collection also includes significant manuscript holdings, a few of which have been digitized. See Chemical literature, 1700-1860 by William A. Cole (London, New York: Mansell, 1988) for bibliographical details. There is some overlap between the Cole Collection and the Duveen Collection.
    Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

    Alchemist’s laboratory, from Heinrich Khunrath, Amphitheatrum sapientiae aeternae [Hamburg: s.n., 1595.]. Duveen Collection, Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

  • Dissertations Collection. Several thousand dissertations, mostly from Uppsala and Lund, Sweden; some from Finland and a few from Germany. Chiefly in Latin; many address topics in theology or philology. Titles held are indicated in printed indexes available in Special Collections. Arranged by university, then by praeses.
  • Duveen Alchemy and Chemistry Collection. Comprised of more than 2000 works on alchemy and chemistry, most from the 16th and 17th centuries. Individual titles are cataloged with call numbers beginning Duveen D. See Bibliotheca Alchemica et Chemica by Denis L. Duveen (London: E. Weil, 1949) for bibliographical details. Noteworthy within the Duveen Collection is a copy of Khunrath’s Amphitheatrum sapientiae aeternae (Hamburg, 1595); click here for more information.
  • English Almanacs (1638-1860). A subset of the Thordarson Collection, the almanacs contain miscellaneous practical and historical information, including calendars, advertisements, astronomical and astrological information, timetables, and advice for farming and health. A title listing is also available in the card catalog in the Department. Most are organized and bound by year; a few others are bound and/or cataloged individually.
  • Jahn LibraryA collection of mathematical textbooks, including some 150 volumes from the late 18th and first half of the 19th century, formerly belonging to William F. Jahn, kept together as a sample library. The oldest volumes were transferred to Special Collections in 1994 (shelf list available in the Department, with call numbers beginning LB8J19 Cutter); the remainder are in Memorial Library as part of the Cutter collection.
  • Linnean Collection. More than 200 works by or related to Carl von Linné (often known as Linnaeus), with call numbers beginning LIN. For other works by Carl von Linné either in Special Collections or elsewhere in the UW-Madison libraries, see the Library Catalog.
  • Mesmerism Collection. Materials documenting the ideas of Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815) and their reception. Shelf list available in the Department. Call numbers CA 3275 – CA 3287, including 12 volumes of pamphlets under the call number CA 3278.
  • Charles C. Miller Memorial Apicultural Library or Miller Bee Collection. Containing some 5000 titles (1600-1930) from around the world, including items from the H. J. O. Walker Library purchased for the Miller Collection. Most titles appear in the Library Catalog with call numbers beginning RTYMB; some were digitized in connection with the UW-Madison Libraries’ participation in the Google Library Initiative. A list of titles in the Miller Bee Collection is available in Special Collections; see also the Descriptive catalogue of a library of bee-books (Z5256 W82 and Z5256 W35 in the Special Collections reading room).
  • Books from Isaac Newton’s Library. Collection of books from Newton’s personal library, including a presentation copy of Boyle’s Essays of effluviums (1675) and a heavily annotated copy of the alchemical work Secrets reveal’d (1669), the latter now available in the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections. Inventory available in Special Collections; for more information, see John R. Harrison, The library of Isaac Newton (Cambridge [Eng.] ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1978), available in the Special Collections reference collection.
    Pp. 20-21 of Newton's copy of Secrets reveal'd by George Starkey. From the Duveen Collection, Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Available in the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections.

    Pp. 20-21 of Newton’s copy of Secrets reveal’d by George Starkey. From the Duveen Collection, Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Available in the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections.

  • Joseph Priestley Collection. Includes the most important theological and scientific works by Joseph Priestley. 135 items acquired in 1958. Shelf-list available in the Department (under the call numbers 1069693 noncurrent through 1070876 noncurrent). The Cole Collection contains other titles by and about Priestley.
  • Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

    Cover of Raymond Bernard, The hollow earth. From the Schadewald Collection on Pseudo-Science, Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

    Robert Schadewald Collection on Pseudo-Science. Donated by Wendy Schadewald in 2001. Containing nearly 900 titles collected by Robert Schadewald on a variety of pseudo-science topics, including creationism, cult activity, UFOs, and theories on Earth’s size, shape, age and density. Printed works are cataloged separately with call numbers beginning CA 15700 no. 1. Raymond Bernard, The hollow earth. From the Schadewald Collection on Pseudo-Science, Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison.The collection also includes extensive archival materials, for which an inventory is available in Special Collections.

  • Science and Religion Collection. Assembled by Ronald Numbers, now Hilldale Professor of the History of Science and Medicine Emeritus, and donated to Special Collections. The collection features more than 700 titles on the relationship of science and religion with a particular focus on creationism and evolution. They are cataloged separately with call numbers beginning CA 15501 no. 1.
  • Warner Taylor Collection. Some 167 British and American titles of ornithology, including color-plate items and scholarly studies, acquired in 1959 from Taylor. Inventory and shelf-list available in the Department (under the call numbers 1166940 noncurrent – 1166976 noncurrent). Many more illustrated works of ornithology are contained in the Thordarson Collection.
  • Detail from Mark Catesby, natural history of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama island. From the Thordarson Collection, Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

    Detail of the blue bird from Mark Catesby, Natural history of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama island. From the Thordarson Collection, Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison. UW Digital Collections has also digitized a copy of Catesby’s Natural history.

    Thordarson Collection. As built by Chester H. Thordarson, immigrant from Iceland and noted electrical engineer. The collection contains several thousand volumes, with particular strengths in illustrated natural history and English science, as well as English literature and Icelandic history and literature. Titles are cataloged individually with call numbers beginning Thordarson T. Some aspects of the Thordarson collection are described in the Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, v. 23 (1930) and 44 (1950). More information from J. Christian Bay about the formation and contents of the Thordarson Collection is available in manuscript form in Special Collections (call number MS 7).