Natural Philosophy in the 1830s

By Neha Anil Kumar ’21

Class planning as a Princeton undergraduate today can be difficult to say the least. With a huge variety of distribution requirements I have to take, alongside the major requirements of a STEM concentration, the life of an AB Physics student can get quite busy. So, you can imagine my excitement when I found lecture notes for a class on “Natural Philosophy” taught by Joseh Henry in 1830s that covered topics on modern day physics, mechanical engineering, epistemology, and philosophy along with material science, belonging to a time when students’ classes were definitively decided ahead of time because each entering class was small enough to take all of its courses together.

As I dived right in, not knowing the vast array of topics I was going to be reeled into, I was caught by surprise just across the first two lectures of the series. Contrary to what I expected of an introductory science class, that I considered closely related to physics, the first few lectures delve into much more epistemology than I expected; though the structure of introduction does make intuitional sense. The series begins with an explanation of what science really is and its categorization into the physical (modern day natural science) and the metaphysical (modern day philosophy). Interestingly, to introduce science as a mix of philosophy and quantitative and experimental analysis of phenomena, there does occur a strange attribution of nature’s laws to “tendency of the human mind” alongside a descriptions of various laws simply attributed to divinity. For example, the term “law of nature” is defined as the human “conception of the mode in which Divine wisdom operates in producing the changes of nature.” Moreover, the physical aspect of science is further split into Somatology, defined as “constitution and properties of bodies,” and Mechanics, which deals with the static and dynamic physical systems, creating a blurry line between the physical laws that govern movement of bodies and the hypotheses surrounding the constituents of matter and atoms.

Somatology, today considered a branch of anthropology, was then defined as the constituents and properties of bodies. (Click to enlarge.)

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The Princeton Pullman’s “Filipino Boys”

We’ve previously told you about the Princeton Pullman, a specially-designed railroad car that took faculty and students across North America in the 1920s and 1930s to collect geological specimens and fossils. Today, we’d like to highlight one aspect of these journeys: the Filipino staff who attended to the practical needs of the travelers, one of whom had an impact far exceeding his apparent official role as head chef.

Staff in front of the Princeton Pullman, 1926. Department of Geosciences Records (AC139), Box 39.

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Ivy Hall Library and Higher Education for Princeton Women in the 1870s

As Princeton University celebrates 50 years of undergraduate women, it is worth looking back a bit farther to examine how women pursued higher education in town prior to the mid-twentieth century. A variety of options have been available to Princeton’s women over the century that preceded the first female undergraduate admission in 1969. Some of the earliest records we have found relate to another largely forgotten chapter in Princeton’s history: its law school.

After the College of New Jersey (as the institution was known until assuming the name Princeton University in 1896) established a law school in 1846, benefactor Judge Richard Stockton Field built a brownstone building for its use, but the study of law at Princeton was short-lived. The law school dissolved in 1855, and the building that had housed it became a railroad and canal office.

Ivy Hall, ca. 1870s. Historical Photograph Collection, Grounds and Buildings Series (AC111), Box MP52, Image No. 1837.

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Princeton’s Summer Trips Across North America

Although traveling significant distances is routine for many Princetonians these days, traversing North America was not always as easy as it is now. Our records reveal a variety of both academic and pleasure trips over the years that have used horses, trains, cars, and bicycles to reach their destinations.

Most of the lengthy North American journeys Princetonians took in the 19th century were scientific expeditions, starting with the astronomical expeditions of the early part of century. Most of those were along the east coast, but in July and August 1869, with help from institutional and federal funding, a group of Princetonians took trains to Ottumwa, Iowa, to view a total solar eclipse. It took nearly five days to reach Ottumwa and three days to return. One student later wrote that aside from the spectacular event of the eclipse itself, “The great impression I received was concerning the magnitude of our country. We had passed through very varied scenery for nights and days, travelling over a country large enough to comprise all the kingdoms of Europe, all teeming with life and prosperity, and yet had only passed over about one-third of the extent…”

The first Geological Expedition took its participants (18 students and two professors) further into the American west on an 11-week trek to Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah in the summer of 1877. Three Princeton juniors (William Berryman Scott, Henry Fairfield Osborn, and Francis Speir) had taken a geology course with Arnold Guyot and had read reports about fossil-collection trips Yale had taken. They were determined that Princeton should not be left out of these types of adventures and convinced others to join them.

They took a train to Denver. Princeton had two cars of its own, one for baggage and one for passengers. The expedition party boarded at the Dinky station at about 8:00PM on June 21 and arrived in Denver on June 25 after a few stops along the way, including Chicago and Kansas City. In his memoir, Some Memories of a Palaeontologist, Scott described the journey this way:

Of our journey, novel to most of us though it was, there was not much to be said. The Middle West was not then the busy, prosperous region it has since become, and the principal impression which it made upon me then was one of crudeness and shabbiness. The roads were quagmires of black mud; the towns were chiefly of wood and sadly in need of paint and, though there were a great many fine-looking farms, the journey was a depressing experience. (p. 60-61)

In Denver, the faculty secured horses and wagons and the group set up camp just outside the city, then a town of about 25,000 people, for a few days, where one traveler wrote that they “slept soundly in our blankets using our saddles as pillows.”

The Princeton Scientific Expedition camping out at Fairplay, Colorado, in the summer of 1877. Princeton Scientific Expeditions Collection (AC012), Box 3, Folder 2.

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“The End of a Monastery”: Princeton’s First Female Graduate Students

The Princeton University Graduate Announcement for 1961-1962 warned potential applicants, “Admissions are normally limited to male students.” Yet this “adverbial loophole,” as the Daily Princetonian termed it, left room for some admissions that were not “normal” for Princeton at the time. Within the loophole, dozens of women became degree candidates before the advent of undergraduate coeducation.

Clipping from the Daily Princetonian, October 1, 1962.

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Lawrence Rauch *49 and Operation Crossroads: Atomic Testing at Bikini Atoll

By Rosalba Varallo Recchia

This post is part of a series on education and war related to our current exhibition, “Learning to Fight, Fighting to Learn: Education in Times of War,” on display through June 2018. Please stop by to learn more.

Lawrence Rauch *49, a mathematics graduate student and a research assistant in physics, concentrated on radio telemetry while at Princeton.  He lived in the Graduate College near John Tukey, Rauch’s mentor during this time. Richard Feynman also lived nearby. Rauch was passionate about his studies, but World War II affected his academic experience. He won the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship in 1942, but due to his involvement in war research had to turn it down. Throughout the war, Rauch worked on defense related projects–which had the added benefit of keeping him out of the draft. He was chosen among five other members of the University to attend the first series of post-war nuclear testing being conducted in the Pacific Ocean by the Joint Army and Navy Task Force at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands in 1946.

Lawrence Rausch *49’s ROTC portrait. Lawrence Rausch Papers (AC393), Box 2, Folder 10.

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Princeton in Space

Several Princetonians have braved the final frontier, beginning with NASA’s Apollo missions. Here we present a brief overview of their contributions to space exploration.


Charles “Pete” Conrad ’53

Charles Conrad studied aeronautical engineering at Princeton, earning his B.S. in 1953. A little less than a decade later, NASA chose him alongside eight other men to train for the Gemini and Apollo projects. After his return to Earth as the pilot for Gemini 5 in 1965 set a record for the longest time humans had spent in space (eight days), Princeton took the unprecedented step of raising its flag above Nassau Hall to celebrate.

As commander of the Apollo 12 mission in 1969, Conrad was the third human to walk on the moon, quipping, “That might have been a short step for Neil [Armstrong] but it was a damn long one for me.” He took five Princeton flags with him on the trip, later presenting one to the University.

Princeton University flag taken to the moon by Charles “Pete” Conrad ’53. Memorabilia Collection (AC053).

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Great Scott! Look at All These Birds!

By Arthur Kim ’18

Until relatively recently, there were thousands of stuffed birds in Guyot Hall, which was once the home of Princeton’s Museum of Natural History. Most of these birds were collected by William Earl Dodge Scott, the former curator of the Department of Ornithology at Princeton University. Scott traveled throughout the country, studying and collecting different species of birds inhabiting each area. From pigeons to the great white heron, Scott established an impressive collection that was both educational and aesthetic.

Robert Bruce Hosfall illustration of William Earle Dodge Scott, May 1902. This illustration appeared as the frontispiece for Scott’s autobiography, The Story of a Bird Lover. Faculty and Professional Staff Files (AC107).

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The Cat Telephone

By Arthur Kim ’18

What do a cat and a telephone have in common? They were the same thing in an experiment conducted in 1929 by Professor Ernest Glen Wever and his research assistant Charles William Bray here at Princeton University. Wever and Bray took an unconscious, but alive, cat and transformed it into a working telephone to test how sound is perceived by the auditory nerve.

Charles W. Bray ’25 and E. Glenn Weaver. Undergraduate Alumni Records (AC199).

To do so, they first sedated the cat and opened its skull to better access the auditory nerve. A telephone wire was attached to the nerve and the other end of the wire was connected to a telephone receiver. Bray would speak in the cat’s ears, while Wever would listen through the receiver 50 feet away in a soundproof room. The common notion during this time was that the frequency of the response of a sensory nerve is correlated to the intensity of the stimulus. In the case of the auditory nerve, as a sound becomes louder, the frequency or pitch of the sound received by the ear should be higher. When Bray made a sound with a certain frequency, Wever heard the sound from the receiver at the same frequency. As Bray increased the pitch of the sound, the frequency of the sound Wever heard also increased. This experiment proved that the frequency of the response in the auditory nerve is correlated to the frequency of the sound. To further validate their experiment, Wever and Bray performed more trials with varying conditions. When they placed the wire on other tissues and nerves away from the auditory nerve, the telephone receiver did not produce any sound. In one experiment, they restricted the blood circulation to the cat’s head, which also ceased the transmission of sound from the receiver. From their findings through these experiments, Wever and Bray were awarded the first Howard Crosby Warren Medal of Society by the Society of Experimental Psychologists in 1936.

Soon after, Bray became an Associate Professor at Princeton University and later became the Associate Research Director of the U.S. Air Force Human Resources Research. During World War II, he served as one of the leading scientists of the civilian psychological research for both the National Defense Research Council and the Navy. As for Wever, he became the head of the department of psychology at Princeton and worked with Dr. Julius Lempert of the Lempert Institute of Otology to research on otosclerosis, an abnormal bone growth in the ear that leads to hearing impairment due to the ear’s inability to amplify sound. During World War II, Wever was a consultant to the National Research Council on anti-submarine warfare. He found that men with musical abilities were the best sonar operators, regardless of what instrument they played.

Surprisingly, Wever and Bray were not particularly interested in the practical use of their discovery. Instead they cared more about the protocol and methodology to run these tests. The techniques they developed for the experiment were highly renowned by physicians who used them to study the human hearing. Their research laid a foundation for cochlear implants, devices that convert sound vibrations into electrical signals to the brain.

Sources:

Alumni and Faculty Offprint Collection (AC121)

Faculty and Professional Staff Files (AC107)

Graduate Alumni Records (AC105)

Undergraduate Academic Records 1921-2015 (AC198)

Undergraduate Alumni Records 1921-2015 (AC199)

 

For further reading:

Wever, Ernest Glen and Charles W. Bray. “Action Currents in the Auditory Nerve in Response to Acoustical Stimulation.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 16 (1930): 344-350.

Arthur Kim is a junior in the chemical and biological engineering department at Princeton University.

Margaret Niemann Rost ’85 on Softball and the Senior Thesis

By Cailin Hong ’17

With the women’s softball season underway, Mudd reflects on the team’s not-so-humble origins with a retrospective on Margaret Niemann Rost ’85, former co-captain and one of the team’s first members after the fledgling sport was promoted to varsity status. Rost was a religion major from Ridgewood, New Jersey, who played on both the varsity women’s basketball and softball teams before choosing to focus on softball her senior year. Rost played second base and during her time at Princeton led the team to incredible success, scoring wins against some of the top teams in the NCAA at Temple and University of Massachusetts, despite being a relatively new team and limited in practice dates by Ivy League regulations. As a multi-sport athlete on Princeton’s need-based scholarship, Rost was an example of the University’s commitment to supporting the nation’s brightest minds while promoting “education through athletics”. When asked about the challenges of being a varsity athlete and completing the academic capstone of the Princeton undergraduate experience, the senior thesis, Rost shrugged, “my roommate and I, who’s co-captain of the team, finished it [a 124-page analysis of the writings of Jewish author Chaim Potok] six weeks early so we could fully commit to enjoying the season.”

This recently digitized video highlights Rost’s timeless reflections on the challenges of senior year, balancing “going Independent” with a campus job, and the uncertainty of post-graduation plans. It was filmed just after Rost led the team to their third consecutive Ivy League Championship.

Sources:

Broadcast Center Recordings (AC362)

Daily Princetonian

Niemann, Margaret Ruth. “Varieties of Identities in the Writing of Chaim Potok.” 1985. Senior Thesis Collection (AC102).