The term “Natural Philosopher” was common in the early 19th century for someone who studied nature and the physical universe. It was not until the mid-19th century onward that the term scientist becoming more popular. Natural philosophers often pursued a wide variety of both scientific and artistic interests and offer a colorful glimpse into the world they inhabited.
Author: Doug Dunlop
Today, August 19th, marks National Aviation Day and we’re celebrating with a lesser-known flying vehicle — the airship. Emil Schimpf’s ballooning manuscript Vorläufige Instruction über Zusammensetzung Gebrauch des Luftschifferparks was recently added to the Smithsonian Transcription Center and is available for crowd-sourced transcription.
This March, in honor of Women’s History Month we’re highlighting notable women who are represented in our collections.
Sophie Blanchard was the first professional female aeronaut in history. Born March 25, 1778 near La Rochelle, France, Sophie was initiated into ballooning by her husband Jean-Pierre-François Blanchard, himself a pioneer in ballooning. Jean-Pierre along with his co-aeronaut Dr. John Jeffries, were the first to cross the English Channel by balloon in 1785.
Born in 1861 in Paris, Georges Méliès started his artistic endeavors as a child. By the age of ten, he was building his own stage sets for marionette shows and drawing caricatures of his teachers. Méliès continued his artistic and theatrical pursuits, including studying magic, despite his father wanting him to work solely in the family shoe business. In time, the family business was successful enough that Méliès was able to buy his own Paris theater: Théâtre Robert-Houdin.
Widely considered to be the father of science fiction, Jules Verne was born on February 8, 1828 in the French seaport town of Nantes. Despite his father wanting him to follow in his footsteps as a lawyer, Verne dreamt of an adventurous life at sea and even secretly procured a spot as a cabin boy. As the legend goes, Verne’s plan was discovered by his father before the ship could set sail and concluded with Verne promising that he “would travel only in imagination.”
As a preeminent American literary figure, Edgar Allan Poe is widely known for his tales of horror and the macabre. Less well known about Poe is his place in literary history as inventor of detective fiction, his contributions to the emergence of science fiction, and as editor of a textbook on conchology (The conchologist’s first book). It is through his work as science fiction writer that Poe found his way into Fantastic Worlds: Science and Fiction 1780-1910, a Smithsonian Libraries’ exhibition, now on display at the National Museum of American History in the Smithsonian Libraries gallery space located in One West.
Join Smithsonian Libraries on a journey to Fantastic Worlds: Science and Fiction, 1780-1910 a new exhibition opening to the public July 1, 2015 in the Smithsonian Libraries Gallery in the newly renovated wing of the National Museum of American History. Click here for a preview.