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Mar. 29, 2012

A Glorious Collection

by Annette Heist

Click to enlarge images
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The Academy of Natural Sciences, in Philadelphia, turns 200 this year. The Academy (which merged with Drexel University last year) was founded by seven men, in part to provide an alternative to the “taverns, gaming houses, dancing rooms or places of a more degrading atmosphere.” That’s according to a new book about the Academy’s history, A Glorious Enterprise: The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia and the Making of American Science, by Robert McCracken Peck and Patricia Tyson Stroud (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012).
 
Meeting at first in rented rooms, the group sponsored natural history lectures, started a scientific journal, and began collecting specimens: minerals, shells, birds, plants and animals from around the world. Today, the Academy estimates its collection at 18 million. It includes plants collected by Lewis and Clark, and drawings by John James Audubon.
A selection of the objects in the collection were “freed” from their climate-controlled cabinets last year, so Boston-based photographer Rosamond Purcell could capture them in natural light. (The objects were reportedly hauled up to the Academy’s roof for a series of photo shoots.)
 
Courtesy Rosamond Purcell
 
These images are featured in the new book, and a selection of them are on display at the Academy through May 20, 2012.
 
The Academy will be celebrating its bicentennial all year. Check out their website for a calendar of events.
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About Annette Heist

Annette Heist is a former senior producer for Science Friday.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

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