Bookshelf provides descriptions and notices of recent publications on Pennsylvania subjects.

A Glorious Enterprise: The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia and the Making of American Science

The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, founded in 1812, is the oldest natural history museum in the Western Hemisphere. Early expeditions organized by the academy were of central importance to the exploration of America’s vast western wilderness, and the plant and animal specimens brought back to Philadelphia formed the foundation of a collection that contains eighteen million items. What began as a small group of zealous amateurs has grown into a vibrant international center for scientific research and education.

For its bicentennial the academy developed A Glorious Enterprise: The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia and the Making of American Science written by Robert McCracken Peck and Patricia Tyson Stroud (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012, cloth, 438 pages, $75) which chronicles the stories of the passionate men and women who endeavored to acquire and disseminate knowledge of the natural world. Thomas Jefferson, John James Audubon, Charles Darwin, Robert E. Peary, Ernest Hemingway, and James Bond are just several of the colorful academy associates profiled in this first complete history of the institution. Homage is duly paid to Ruth Patrick (born 1907), noted academy botanist and limnologist who specialized in the study of the diatom (a single-cell alga, class Bacillariophyceae, which has a cell wall of silica) and freshwater ecology until she retired from working five days a week at the age of ninety-seven. The authors deftly guide readers among these individuals and behind the scenes of the academy, recounting the signal moments and achievements that shaped its first two hundred years — from landmark discoveries in North America and around the world, through the construction of its famous dioramas in the 1930s, to the pioneering work of academy scientists in water pollution and conservation long before they became topics of popular concern.

In their preface Peck, senior fellow and curator of art and artifacts at the academy, and Stroud, an independent scholar and award-winning author, write A Glorious Enterprise “is about the extraordinary people who conceived, built, and continue to shape America’s oldest continuously operating natural history museum,” adding, “the title might also describe the creation of the book itself, for this has been a project many years in the making and has allowed its authors an opportunity to explore one of the world’s great centers for scientific research.” Surprisingly, except for a brief, anecdotal account published at the time of the academy’s centennial and a smattering of articles and book chapters written over time, there has never been a formal history of the venerable institution where so many fields of science were given their start in America. “The challenge and opportunity to tell such a story was at once daunting and exhilarating,” Peck and Stroud assert.

A Glorious Enterprise is a sumptuously illustrated, oversized book containing hundreds of compelling historical and archival images and stunning original works by acclaimed contemporary photographer and author Rosamond Purcell that cast specimens drawn from the academy’s collections in a new light.

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) recently installed a state historical marker at 300 Market St., Philadelphia, honoring the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia’s role in promoting scientific study in the United States and throughout the world.

 

Also Worth Noting

Brothers Henry K. (1865–1955) and George D. Landis (1867–1953) are noted for establishing one of the best collections documenting Pennsylvania German (or “Dutch”) rural life that became the Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum in Lancaster, administered by PHMC as a destination along the Pennsylvania Trails of History. Less well known is Henry’s talent as a photographer. In The Photography of Henry K. Landis: Pennsylvania and New York, 1886–1955 (Stackpole Books, 2013, paper, 122 pages, $26.95), Oscar Beisert and Irwin Richman (a frequent contributor to PH) explore the disparate worlds in which he lived and worked: bucolic central Pennsylvania and New York City and Port Washington on Long Island. The authors selected images from a virtually unknown “extensive collection of photographs [at Landis Village and Farm Museum] whose contents are both homey and surprising,” reflecting “an unusual life.” Henry Landis made images long before photography had evolved into “the simple, almost universal, hobby that we know today.” He was of the same generation as Alfred Stieglitz, F. Holland Day, and Alice Austen. Beisert and Richman contend his work was influenced by, and is even comparable to, several of his better known contemporaries. Henry’s portfolio is difficult to describe; his photographs are poignant, playful, and painful, and they record with absolute sincerity and candid honesty the way people of his day — men and women, black and white, young and old — went about their daily lives.

Compiled by the staff of Al Dia, a popular newspaper serving the Hispanic market in southeastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and northern Delaware, 200 Years of Latino History in Philadelphia (Temple University Press for Al Dia News Media, 2013, cloth, 228 pages, $39.95) is a rich visual record of the history and contributions of Latinos in the largest city in the state and the sixth largest in the united States. The book traces the development of distinct neighborhoods, organizations, and institutions, providing an intimate portrait of a thriving community within a community. Divided into four sections, the book’s first chapter, “Our Shared History,” documents the city’s earliest Latino public figures, among them Venezuelan Manuel Torres who arrived in 1778 and upon his death in 1823 in Philadelphia was anointed by the New York Evening Press as “The Franklin of South America,” and the Reverend Felix Varela y Morales, a nineteenth-century Cuban émigré who settled briefly in the city in 1823 and later established the country’s first Spanish-language newspaper. Chapters continue with “Putting Down Roots, 1940–1980,” “Eye on the Community, 1980–1992,” and “Al Dia: 20 Years, 1992—Present.” Published to observe the twentieth anniversary of Al Dia, 200 Years of Latino History in Philadelphia brims with more than two hundred photographs, each of which tell a remarkable story.

The labor history of northeastern Pennsylvania’s anthracite region has received considerable attention in recent years, but many stories remain — deliberately, perhaps — uncovered and untold, partly because they concern matters which were illegal, illicit, or unethical. For generations the hard coal industry has been tainted with tales of intrigue and scandal — some perceived, some brutally real — that have imprinted undeniable scars on thousands of mine workers and their families. The sagas are replete with a cast of colorful (and dangerous) characters, of which the most romanticized yet feared were ruthless mobsters, organized-crime families, and Mafia bosses and their “soldiers.” Robert P. Wolensky and William A. Hastie Sr.’s Anthracite Labor Wars: Tenancy, Italians, and Organized Crime in the Northern Coalfield of Northeastern Pennsylvania, 1897–1959 (Canal History and Technology Press, 2013, paper, 445 pages, $24.95), probes deeply into the inextricably linked associations among mine owners and superintendents, workers, corrupt government officials, and unscrupulous union leaders who mercilessly parlayed their positions into financial supremacy, forcing their subordinates to cower. Anthracite Labor Wars chronicles the story of a “thirty-year war,” spanning roughly from 1905 through 1935 and its long-term impact, up to 1960, for the workers and the industry. Battles were brutal. Stabbings, shootings, even murders, were not uncommon. The authors analyzed the culture of the workers, relationships between labor and management, grievances in the workplace, and labor militancy, including participation in, or opposition to, union movements — all as related to subcontracting and leasing, the mining industry’s highly controversial practices.

For her time, Mira Lloyd Dock (1853–1945) was an exceptional woman: a university trained botanist, lecturer, women’s club leader, activist in the City Beautiful movement, and public official – the first woman to be appointed to Pennsylvania’s state government. In her twelve years on the Pennsylvania of rest Commission she allied with the likes of Joseph Trimble Rothrock, Gifford Pinchot, and Dietrich Brandeis to help bring about a new era in american forestry. She was also an integral force in founding and fostering the Pennsylvania State forest academy in Mont Alto, Franklin County, which produced generations of foresters before becoming the Mont Alto campus of Penn State. Although much has been written about her male counterparts, Mira Lloyd Dock and the Progressive Era Conservation Movement (Pennsylvania State university Press, 2012, cloth, 208 pages, $64.95) by Susan Rimbyis the first book dedicated to Dock and her life’s work. The author weaves together layers of Dock’s story with the greater historical context of the era to create a vivid picture of Progressive Era conservation in the eastern United States and her subject’s important role in, and legacy to, the movement.