Herschel Family Papers Now Open for Research at The Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin

With generous support from the AIP Center for History of Physics, the Harry Ransom Center recently completed a year-long project to rehouse, rearrange, and describe its holdings of papers of the Herschel Family in accordance with current archival practices and descriptive cataloging standards. The resulting finding aid describing the papers is now available online at http://research.hrc.utexas.edu:8080/hrcxtf/view?docId=ead/00568.xml.

The Herschel Family Papers at the Ransom Center largely represent the life and work of Sir John F. W. Herschel (1792–1871), the noted English mathematician, astronomer, chemist, and experimental photographer. Also present are manuscripts and correspondence by and about John’s father, Sir William Herschel (1738–1822), discoverer of the planet Uranus and stellar astronomy pioneer; John’s aunt, the noted astronomer Caroline Lucretia Herschel (1750–1848); and many other Herschel family members, scientific colleagues, and friends.

Sir John Herschel’s own papers span 1809–1871 and chiefly document his scientific activities and tenure at the Royal Mint, but also depict his personal life as well as his relationships with colleagues, friends, and family. His manuscripts include writings on actinometry, astronomy, botany, chemistry, geology, mathematics, meteorology and barometry, music, photography, physical optics, physics, and other subjects. Also present are his mathematical notebooks from his student years, his diaries spanning 1820–1871, and his travel journals with observations from tours in Italy, France, Germany, and England, 1809–1850.

His observations at the Cape of Good Hope (1834–1838) are documented by reports, notes, star charts, financial accounts, and diaries. Sir John’s correspondence is extensive and includes exchanges with colleagues such as George Biddle Airy, Charles Babbage, Francis Baily, Charles Darwin, William Rutter Dawes, Michael Faraday, John Russell Hind, John William Lubbock, Charles Lyell, Thomas Maclear, George Peacock, Edward Sabine, Richard Sheepshanks, William Henry Smyth, George Gabriel Stokes, William Henry Fox Talbot, William Whewell, Thomas Young, and many others.

Materials representing Sir William Herschel date from 1753 to 1822 and include correspondence, manuscripts of essays, notes, and tables. Within his correspondence are letters from his father and other relatives in Germany. A list of the telescopes Sir William constructed and documents relating to his early musical career are also present.

Holdings for Caroline Lucretia Herschel span 1783–1849 and consist of correspondence, biographical memoranda, documents, tables, and diaries. In her correspondence are letters from Carl Friedrich Gauss, John Haygarth, Alexander von Humboldt, and Joseph Lalande. Among her manuscripts are diaries for 1833–1845, drafts of her autobiography, and a commonplace book of astronomical memoranda that records her education as an astronomer.

The remainder of the collection contains papers of other Herschel Family members—including Sir John’s mother Mary Pitt Herschel, his wife Lady Margaret Herschel, and several of his children—as well as papers by or correspondence between Herschel colleagues, such as George Biddell Airy, James Russell Hind, Thomas Maclear, Edward Sabine, William Samuel Stratford, and others.

The Herschel Family Papers are supplemented by other holdings at the Ransom Center, including books and scientific offprints formerly owned by the Herschels, photographs taken by Sir John; additional printed documents and pamphlets; and a few personal objects.

Submitted by:
Joan M. Sibley, Senior Archivist
Archives & Visual Materials Cataloging
Harry Ransom Center
The University of Texas at Austin
P. O. Box 7219
Austin, TX 78713-7219
P: 512-471-7110
F: 512-471-7930


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