Southern Science

2 comments
In a post last month for the "Southern Roundtable" blog, Jay Malone (HSS executive director) makes a few noteworthy claims. For instance: historians of science and southern historians share peculiar senses of isolation in most history departments. Or:someone like William Dunbar (a Scot who came to North America in 1772 and became a planter) matters most to the history of science because he welcomed and supported visiting naturalists, like William Bartram or Alexander Wilson. (Also: tell me more about these visits. What they bring to mind most readily are the stops that Darwin made and recounted with Spanish officials on the Beagle voyage.)

But the most striking claim came in the title of the post. (And I know, I'm probably just showing my ignorance here.) What does "Southern Science" look like? Please, internet community, tell me more. (And, I know, you had the same question about "American Science." My question is: does a literature on "Southern Science" exist that parallels the larger American version?)

2 comments

My knowledge is about as sparse, but since there are no other takers.... The Barnard Observatory in Mississippi is one of the oldest observatories in the US: http://www.olemiss.edu/tours/lmsections-barnard.html

Also in the antebellum South, Charleston was a scientific center, which included John James Audobon. I believe that polymath physicians were particularly important in these circles.

Also, if you count Virgina, there's always Jefferson.

Hey Will. Thanks for jumping in. I had not heard of the Barnard Observatory. One of best observatories of the 1840s---I gather---was in a far more surprising place than a southern university. Alexander Dallas Bache led to the creation of an internationally recognized observatory in Philadelphia's Central High School. (I got that from Bruce's _The Launching of Modern American Science_, 47) And another significant observatory was also in the South, if you count DC: the Naval Observatory.

More generally, I did not mean to insinuate that I was surprised to find science in the South. I was surprised by the category of "Southern science" as distinct from science or "American science."

Your references to Charleston did get me thinking and I checked out Bruce (cited above). It turns out that he does talk about "Southern science," largely in explaining why the South seemed to have so little of it in the 1850s. But he agrees that Charleston was the center of it, with New Orleans a distant second. If Southern science had a character, it was characterized by a particular interest in natural history (hardly unconventional) and---I'm adding this---by physicians engaged in human and racial science.

I bet adding doctors more into the mix of "science" would make the South look at least less behind than Bruce argues.

back to top