News from the History of Science Society

From HSS (10 December 2009):

The John Tyndall Correspondence Project
Bernard Lightman, York University
Michael Reidy, Montana State University
James Elwick, York University

Last October we learned that our application for a three-year National Science Foundation grant had been successful. The NSF grant will enable us to take a major step forward in completing the goals of our project: first, to publish a one-volume calendar of the correspondence of the Victorian physicist John Tyndall (1820-1893) and to issue multiple volumes of his collected correspondence, both in print and, eventually, in an accessible, searchable, on-line format; and second, to galvanize a community of scholars at varied stages in their careers – from graduate students to postdoctoral researchers to senior personnel – around themes raised through an intense study of John Tyndall. Now the project will be able to draw on the expertise of scholars from fourteen universities located in four countries that specialize in the history and philosophy of Victorian science. Though the main intellectual merit of the project will be the publication of Tyndall’s correspondence, we are putting graduate students at its center, thereby relying on a cooperative model of graduate student training and research that can be used for other similar large-scale endeavors. What we are creating is a unique, international, collaborative project that will provide scholars with an important resource that is difficult to access.

Tyndall was one of the most influential British scientists of the second half of the nineteenth century. As the successor to Davy and Faraday at the Royal Institution, Tyndall enjoyed a prominent place within the scientific elite. Due to his flamboyant lecturing style, he became well known as an eloquent public speaker for fashionable audiences. He was a member of the powerful group of scientific naturalists that included T. H. Huxley, Herbert Spencer, and Joseph Dalton Hooker, and became a leading figure in the debates over evolution. With a vast international network of scientific allies and colleagues, Tyndall’s influence reached beyond Britain. Tyndall made contributions to the advancement of scientific knowledge, though he is not known for making scientific discoveries of the highest order. He was among the first to explain the earth’s natural greenhouse effect and the role played in this process by gases such as carbon dioxide. He also undertook important research in electro-magnetism, thermodynamics, sound, glaciers, and spontaneous generation, among other subjects.

The first phase of the project — locating, collecting, and digitalizing all of the estimated 8,000 extant letters — is nearly complete. Grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and from the Mellon Foundation funded the first phase of the project at York University and provided for the transcription of approximately 2,000 letters. The NSF grant will enable us to finish the second phase of the project, completing the transcription of the rest of the letters, in the next three years. The NSF grant establishes a second center for the project at Montana State University, directed by Michael Reidy, that will coordinate the work of twelve scholars and their students, in addition to those working at York and Montana State. The team will include: Ruth Barton (Auckland), Janet Browne (Harvard), Gowan Dawson (Leicester), Graeme Gooday (Leeds), Piers Hale (Oklahoma), John Lynch (Arizona State), Iwan Morus (Aberystwyth), Elizabeth Neswald (Brock), Richard Noakes (Exeter), Simon Schaffer (Cambridge), Matthew Stanley (NYU), and Jim Strick (Frankland and Marshall). Montana State University will also be hiring a two-year postdoctoral researcher to help run the project, and in 2012 will host a conference on Tyndall and the science of the Victorian age, combined with a workshop for those editing the volumes of correspondence. For more information on the project, go to:

Published in: on December 13, 2009 at 12:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

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