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Exhibition of First Editions of Epochal Achievements in the History of Science (1934)

Introduction to "Exhibition of First Editions of Epochal Achievements in the History of Science" (1934) by Herbert M. Evans

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Blessed is he who contemplates the ageless order of immortal nature, how it is constituted and when and why.—Euripedes

No single feature of man’s past equals in importance his attempt to understand the forces of Nature and himself. It is a safe prediction that the historian of the future will be concerned increasingly with the chronicle of the intellectual acquisitions of man, for this deeper story includes not merely improvement in material comforts but mental enlargement which transcends every other feature of human evolution.

To commemorate the ninety-fourth meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, at Berkeley, June 18-23, 1934, certain members of the faculty of the University of California interested in the history of science have prepared for exhibition in the University Library a group of portraits, books, pamphlets, and periodical articles which in their judgment have been epochal in the history of science. Three categories of achievement have been included: first, accounts of significant single discoveries; second, the formulation of laws; and third, the proposal of hypotheses which have been responsible either directly or indirectly for the advancement of science. Applied science is not here included, and the great fields of agriculture, engineering, and medicine have, hence, been eliminated, together with the whole sphere of invention—even in its most notable triumphs (telegraphy, telephony, phonography, cinematography, radio communication, the steam and internal-combustion engines, aviation, photography, metallurgy, and illumination). To give examples from the field of medicine alone, the adoption of this policy has dictated the omission of any mention of the invention of percussion (Auenbrugger), or auscultation (Laennec), the kymograph (Ludwig), the microtome (His), the ophthalmoscope (Helmholtz), and the string galvanometer (Einthoven).

It is not claimed that this list is a comprehensive one. Its value lies in its selectiveness; nor is it claimed that every title in the selection would be readily accepted by other scholars. Furthermore, it must be clearly understood that the exhibition has been conditioned both by limits of space and availability of material, although the actual materials available locally could have more than doubled the size of the exhibition.

The list does not aim to cover contemporary or recent science; in physics, for instance, the discoveries of Röntgen, Becquerel, and the Curies clearly inaugurated a new era—the one in which we find ourselves—and are here represented only by Planck and Einstein, as is the case in chemistry, where Moseley stands almost alone.

The editor desires to state that the responsibility for the selection and characterization of these items rests with a group of his colleagues to whom major credit is due for whatever measure of success has been attained. He is especially grateful for the assistance of Professor Walter C. Blasdale, who made himself responsible not only for the section devoted to chemistry but reviewed carefully the choices made in some other fields, of Professors Adolf Pabst, Alfred O. Woodford (Pomona College), and Perry Byerly (all in geology), Dr. Dewey C. Duncan (mathematics), Professors William F. Meyer (astronomy), Victor F. Lenzen (physics), Charles A. Kofoid (zoölogy), and William A. Setchell (botany), and finally of Professors Frederick O. Koenig (Stanford University) and James Westfall Thompson, who have reviewed the list as a whole.

The bibliographic citations are intended merely to be adequate for ready identification. Where descriptions of specific copies have been available in the catalogue of the University of California Library, or in the Library of Congress, the John Crerar Library, or other libraries, as represented in the union catalogue of library cards, these descriptions have been used without further reference to the works available for the exhibit. For papers appearing in scientific journals, an attempt has been made to give references sufficiently full as to avoid any possibility of confusion. It is hoped that the bibliographic inaccuracies certain to be here, due to haste in preparation, will be overlooked. It is greatly to be desired that bibliographers will ultimately do for the writings of some of the other pioneers of science what Geoffrey Keynes has done in A Bibliography of the Writings of William Harvey (Cambridge, 1928), or John F. Fulton in A Bibliography of the Honourable Robert Boyle (Oxford, 1932). The bibliographic citations have been supplied by Miss Christine Price and Mr. Herman F. Henkle of the staff of the University Library, assisted by Miss Helen R. Blasdale and Mr. Thomas Cowles. Especial thanks are due to Dr. Albert M. Bender and to an anonymous “Alumnus” of the University for material aid which made this project possible, and to Mr. Harold L. Leupp, University Librarian, for his coöperation.

The collection of first editions, one of the chief cults of bibliomania, is perhaps more justifiable in the realm of scientific “firsts” than in any other territory invaded by the hobby. The precise form of an achievement in belles lettres is of course the very reason for its being, and it is preserved in the abundant reprints by means of which man reverentially multiplies these ministers to his spirit. Now as Sarton has well said, knowledge as opposed to beauty, is cumulative and progressive. Reprints of scientific works, as originally enunciated, are rare. Yet it is only by consulting the first form of a scientific achievement that one can hope to observe the origin and change of ideas. But, more than this, it may be maintained that one cannot adequately understand any scientific subject without knowledge of the manner in which our present conceptions were established. Enriques1Enriques, Federigo: “La signification et l’importance de I’histoire de la science et l’oeuvre de Paul Tannery” (in Tannery, Paul: Pour l’histoire de la science hellène…de Thalès d Empédocle (2d ed. (par A. Dies), Paris, 1930), p. xv. has said : “Si la signification même d’une théorie consiste dans les liens qui la rattachent au développement des théories qui la précèdent et de celles qui en vont sortir, on ne comprendra vraiment la science, en une acception élevée, que par son évolution historique.”

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