News Release - Huntington and Caltech Launch New Research Institute in the History of Science and Technology

Feb. 13, 2019

SAN MARINO, Calif.—At a time when humanities programs are under intense scrutiny and being slashed from college and university budgets, The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens and Caltech announced today the launch of a new research institute focused specifically on the history of science and technology. Positioned to become the preeminent institute of its kind in the western United States, the Caltech-Huntington Advanced Research Institute in the History of Science and Technology will extend collaborative historical research between a premier science and engineering university and a premier research library with extraordinary holdings in the history of science and technology.

“The Huntington is already an important center for the study of the history of science,” said Steve Hindle, W. M. Keck Foundation Director of Research at The Huntington. “This new institute is a collaboration that will strengthen existing activities, add new programs, recruit additional research fellows, and ultimately lead to the appointment of new faculty. I am delighted that it will emphasize support for younger scholars in particular. The creation of the institute represents a significant step forward for this critical area of intellectual pursuit.” The history of science is the subset of history that focuses on the development of scientific knowledge over time. “This discipline,” said Hindle, is “essentially the study of how we came to know what we know—by learning about the rise of science, and especially about its social and cultural impact.”

The initial phase of the program, slated to begin in the summer of 2019, is an annual residential institute that will provide doctoral students with the opportunity to conduct research in The Huntington’s collections and interact not only with each other but also with a cadre of experienced historians of science and technology from Caltech and other institutions. In the second year, the institute will add a resident senior research fellow at The Huntington and a senior visiting faculty member at Caltech to conduct seminars across Southern California. In the third year, the program will expand to include a postdoctoral fellow at Caltech as well as additional short-term visiting scholars at The Huntington. In the fourth year, a search will begin for a new faculty member in the history of science and technology at Caltech, who will ultimately oversee the institute on a permanent basis.

“Despite the fact that the world’s societies are ever more dependent on scientific knowledge and technological breakthroughs, the fate of the academic discipline of the history of science and technology remains uncertain,” said Jean-Laurent Rosenthal, the Rea A. and Lela G. Axline Professor of Business Economics and Ronald and Maxine Linde Leadership Chair in Caltech’s Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences. “Many university history departments across the nation are shrinking as a result of declining enrollments and are often tempted to cut programs in science and technology. The Caltech-Huntington Advanced Research Institute in the History of Science and Technology aims to catalyze renewed enthusiasm for this area of inquiry and revive the critically important conversation between historians, scientists, and engineers that might serve as a model for the dialog between the humanities and the STEM disciplines.”

The Huntington’s history of science collection is one of the largest and most important in North America. Its diverse materials document Western practice and theory in science, medicine, technology, and a variety of subdisciplines. Holdings range widely, from a 13th-century Ptolemy Almagest manuscript (an astronomy treatise) to the papers of Edwin Hubble (1889–1953), the astronomer who discovered the universe is expanding. They also include the Carnegie Observatories’ Mount Wilson Observatory Collection, with more than 1,000 books on the history of astronomy and physics, as well as directors’ papers and photographic archives.

The arrival of the Burndy Library in 2006 enormously magnified the depth and scope of The Huntington’s holdings in science and technology. Containing 67,000 rare books and manuscripts, the Burndy’s great strengths include the history of early mathematics and physics, with the largest assemblage of Isaac Newton materials outside England, the Grace K. Babson Collection, on deposit from Babson College. Other topics well represented include the history of electricity, bridge and water engineering, metallurgy, color theory and practice, and aeronautics.

Caltech and The Huntington, whose campuses are less than a mile apart, have had a close relationship since Caltech’s George Ellery Hale encouraged railroad magnate Henry E. Huntington to transform Huntington’s library, art, and botanical collections into a research center nearly a century ago. In recent years, collaborations between The Huntington and Caltech’s Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences have included the Caltech-Huntington Humanities Collaborations, an ongoing series of interdisciplinary research projects that bring together Caltech faculty members and Huntington residential research fellows; the Eleanor Searle Visiting Professorship in History, awarded to a distinguished historian whose interests lie in the history of science and technology; and a recent grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for a new collaborative initiative in visual culture.

The launch of the new institute has been made possible by a generous gift from Stephen E. Rogers, a member of The Huntington’s Board of Overseers and president of the Caltech Associates, a support group of the university.


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Thea M. Page, 626-405-2260,
Lisa Blackburn, 626-405-2140,

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