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COLLECTION Identifier: UAI 15.991

Records of the Erving Professor of Chemistry and Mineralogy kept by John White Webster

Overview

This collection documents the teaching and administrative activities of John White Webster, Erving Professor of Chemistry and Mineralogy, and provides an overview of Webster's supervision of the Harvard chemical laboratory and use of scientific instruments and drawings in experiments and lectures at Harvard from 1824 to 1835.

Dates

  • 1824-1835 and undated.

Researcher Access

Records of the Erving Professor of Chemistry and Mineralogy kept by John White Webster, are open for research. Access to fragile original documents may be restricted. Please consult the Public Services staff for further details.

Copying Restriction

Copying of fragile materials may be limited.

Extent

.17 cubic feet (1 half-document box)
This collection documents the teaching and administrative activities of John White Webster, Erving Professor of Chemistry and Mineralogy at Harvard from 1824 to 1835. Webster's correspondence provides an overview of his supervision of the Harvard chemical laboratory and his use of scientific instruments and drawings in laboratory experiments and lectures. Faculty reports provide various statistics about Webster's chemistry, mineralogy, and geology classes. Additional records include a plan of the apparatus room illustrating a proposed ten foot addition to the chemical laboratory and a list of senior and junior students absent from Webster's chemical exercises from January to March 1828.

The records were assembled as an archival collection by the archivist at an unknown date from various sources without regard to original provenance in order to document University professorships.

Historical Note on John White Webster

John White Webster (1793-1850), a physician and chemist in Boston, Massachusetts, served as Lecturer on Chemistry, Mineralogy, and Geology at Harvard from 1824 to 1826; Adjunct Professor of Chemistry from 1826 to 1827; and Erving Professor of Chemistry and Mineralogy from 1827 to 1850. After receiving his Doctor of Medicine from Harvard in 1815, Webster completed his medical studies in London. Webster pursued a medical practice in Boston until his appointment as Lecturer on Chemistry, Mineralogy, and Geology in 1824, confining his instruction to the Harvard Medical School. Like his predecessors, Webster used experiments to demonstrate the principles of chemistry and recent scientific discoveries.

Webster served as an associate editor of the Boston Journal of Philosophy of Arts (1823-1826) and edited two well-known foreign works for use in the United States, Elements of Chemistry (1827) by Andrew Fyfe (1792-1861) and Animal Chemistry or Organic Chemistry by Justus Liebig (1803-1873). In 1826, Webster published a textbook designed for students studying chemistry at Harvard, A Manual of Chemistry. This chemistry book presented the latest advances in chemistry and discussed general chemical principals, electronegative substances, electropositive substances, metals and their combination with other substances, mineral analysis, and vegetable and animal substances.

In March 1850, Webster was arrested for the murder of Dr. George Parkman (1791-1849), a well-known Boston physician. He was found guilty and was hanged on August 30, 1850.
Historical Note on the Erving Professorship of Chemistry The chair of Chemistry was endowed as the Erving Professorship of Chemistry and Materia Medica in 1791, under the will of William Erving (A.B. 1753), and was known by this title until 1816. From 1816 to 1827, the professorship was the known as the Erving Professorship of Chemistry. From 1827 to 1894, it was entitled the Erving Professorship of Chemistry and Mineralogy. In 1894, "Mineralogy" was removed from the title and the professorship was known as the Erving Professorship of Chemistry.

The previous holders of the Erving Professorship of Chemistry were Aaron Dexter (1791-1816) and John Gorham (1816-1827).

Arrangement

The records are arranged in four series:
  1. Correspondence, 1824-1835 and undated
  2. Faculty reports, 1826-1827
  3. Absences from Chemical Exercises, 1828 February 21
  4. Plan of an apparatus room, undated

Acquisition information

The materials in this collection are University records and were acquired in the course of University business.

One item was acquired through purchase in 1952:
  1. Letter from John W. Webster to Robert Bakewell, Jr., 1835 April 13.

Related Materials

In the Harvard University Archives
  1. Correspondence by John Gorham, Erving Professor of Chemistry, 1825-1826 and undated (UAI 15.990).
  2. Papers of John White Webster, 1840-1968 (HUG 1875.8XX): contains material related to the murder of Dr. George Parkman and the trial of John White Webster.
  3. A Manual of Chemistry on the Basis of Professor Brande's; containing The Principal Facts of the Science, Arranged in the Order in which they are Discussed and Illustrated in the Lectures at Harvard University, N.E.: compiled from the works of Brande, Henry, Berzelius, Thomson and Others by John White Webster, 1826 (HUC 8826.213.93): designed as a text book for the use of students and persons attending lectures on chemistry.

References

  • Bentinck-Smith, William and Elizabeth Stouffer. "Erving Professorship of Chemistry, 1791." In Harvard University, History of Named Chairs: Sketches of Donors and Donations. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Secretary to the University, 1991.
  • Cohen, I. Bernard. Some Early Tools of American Science: An Account of the Early Scientific Instruments and Mineralogical and Biological Collections in Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1950.
  • Long, J.H. "Some Points in the Early History and Present Condition of the Teachingof Chemistry in the Medical Schools of the United States." Science XIV, no. 349 (September 6, 1901) : 360-372.
  • Morison, Samuel Eliot. Three Centuries of Harvard, 1636-1936. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1936.
  • Pearson, Edmund L. "Webster, John White." Dictionary of American Biography. Ed. Dumas Malone. Vol. XIX. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1943. 592-593.
  • Sullivan, Robert. The Disappearance of Dr. Parkman. Boston, Massachusetts: Little, Brown and Company, 1971.

Inventory update

This document last updated 2018 December 10.

Processing Information

This material was first classified and described in a Harvard University Archives shelflist prior to 1980. The material was re-processed in 2011. Re-processing involved a collection survey, enhanced description of items from the nineteenth century, and the creation of this finding aid.

This finding aid was created by Dominic P. Grandinetti in July 2011.
Link to catalog
Title
Webster, John White, 1793-1850. Records of the Erving Professor of Chemistry and Mineralogy kept by John White Webster, 1824-1835 and undated: an inventory
EAD ID
hua35011

Repository Details

Part of the Harvard University Archives Repository

Holding nearly four centuries of materials, the Harvard University Archives is the principal repository for the institutional records of Harvard University and the personal archives of Harvard faculty, as well as collections related to students, alumni, Harvard-affiliates and other associated topics. The collections document the intellectual, cultural, administrative and social life of Harvard and the influence of the University as it emerged across the globe.

Contact:
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