Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2009

Scholarship Domain(s)

Scholarship of Discovery


In the 1850s, the American scientist and educator Frederick A. P. Barnard created a collection of scientific apparatus at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Mississippi, of a size and expense that surpassed any collection in the United States at that time. The collection, which would come to include over three hundred instruments of both American and European manufacture, was the attempt by Barnard, born and educated in the North, to bring Big Science to the South and challenge the dominance of Northern schools in science education. In this respect it failed, and the collection became a forgotten footnote in the history of Southern science. This article examines the importance of the collection in understanding science at U.S. universities before the Civil War and what Barnard referred to as the “scientific atmosphere” of the South. The first section compares the collection to others of the period, highlighting its historical uniqueness and significance. The second section uses Barnard’s correspondence to construct a narrative of the collection’s assembly, providing insight into the international scientific instrument market of the period as well as the difficulties he faced working in the antebellum South. Finally, an examination of Barnard’s perceptions regarding intellectual isolation and the failure of his endeavor highlights differences perceived by scientists of the day concerning the practice of science in the North versus in the South prior to the Civil War.