The Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry at the Science History Institute offers fellowships on an annual cycle for scholars whose research would benefit from the use of our collections. About 20 fellowships are given out annually, making the Beckman Center the largest private fellowship program in the historical study of science, technology, and medicine in the United States. Researchers travel from all over the world to use our collections and take part in a vibrant scholarly community.
Our materials range chronologically from the 15th century to the present and include over 6,000 rare books, significant archival holdings, oral histories, scientific instruments and artifacts, thousands of images and other graphic media, memorabilia, and a substantial fine art collection, supplemented by over 100,000 modern primary-source volumes and journals. Within the collections there are many areas of special interest to historians of art, business and labor, and the environment, as well as to historians of science, technology, and medicine and scholars in science and technology studies. Collection strengths include:
- Corporate Records: We possess the corporate records of chemical companies and senior business and scientific figures within them. These include the historical collections of the Dow Chemical Company, Rohm & Haas, the Aldrich Chemical Company, and Arnold O. Beckman and Beckman Coulter, Inc.
- Scientific Organizations: Our archives hold the records of major international scientific organizations such as the American Chemical Society, the American Institute of Chemists, The Chemists’ Club and the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry. We also hold the records of the Gordon Research Conferences.
- Immigration and Exile: Our oral history collection documents scientists’ experiences throughout the twentieth century as they fled Cuba, Hungary, South Africa, China, Turkey, and Germany. Archival collections include the papers of Gabor Levy, Ernest Ludwig Eliel, and most recently Georg Bredig and his son Max.
- Food Science: We possess substantial collections documenting and analyzing the production, packaging, and marketing of food, including advertisements, printed ephemera, recipe books, and photographs. Subjects represented in the collection include food additives and adulteration, flavoring essences, and safety standards, as well as food-adjacent topics such as sugar, monosodium glutamate (MSG), and margarine.
- Information Science: We hold the papers, oral history, and extensive works of Eugene Garfield, as well as oral histories of several early information scientists and historical materials including punch cards, card punching equipment and documentation of the patenting of LCDs.
- Materials Science: The Othmer Library holds substantial resources on materials science topics across six centuries, including inorganic and organic chemistry, mineralogy, mining and metallurgy, geochemistry, and astrochemistry. Our museum holdings preserve the diverse material heritage of chemistry, from early handheld analytical balances to late twentieth-century mass spectrometers.
- Modern Bioscience and Medicine: Our library and archives have broad primary and secondary source collections covering molecular biology, biochemistry, biotechnology, physiology, pharmacology, toxicology, balneology, and agriculture.
- Women in Science: In addition a range of materials related to prominent female chemists (listed under “chemists” below), our collections also include oral histories of women in the chemical industry, images of women working in a variety of laboratory and industrial settings, nineteenth and twentieth century women’s laboratory and lecture notes, and numerous historical materials and objects related to women's health.
- Chemists: Our Archives hold the papers of numerous notable polymer chemists, such as Carl Marvel, Daniel W. Fox, and the Nobel laureate Paul Flory. Other Nobel laureates in the archival collection include Sir John Pople, Alan MacDiarmid, Paul Lauterbur, John Fenn, Robert Bruce Merrifield, Johann Deisenhofer, and Richard Smalley. Additionally, our library collections contain a range of materials related to prominent female chemists including Marie Curie, Irène Joliot-Curie, Bettye Washington Greene, Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, Stephanie Kwolek, and Rosalyn Yalow.
- Alchemy: Our rare books collection includes a world-class collection of hundreds of manuscripts and published sources relating to Renaissance and early modern alchemy, as well as books of secrets.
- Fine Art: Our fine art collection contains more than 500 works of art including oil paintings and portraits, prints, sculpture, multimedia works, and nontraditional media, depicting alchemists, early medical practitioners, chemists, and the modern chemical industry.
- Color: The practical applications of materials science in the world of color are well represented across our collections, including home and industrial dyes and dyeing, pigments, enamels, gunpowder and pyrotechnics, and color theory.
- Science Education: Pedagogical materials in our scientific instrument collections include some 170 different chemistry sets from all over the world, molecular models, and science kits used for both instruction and play, primarily from the mid-20th century. Related archival documents include lecture notes, such as Louis Pasteur’s on stereochemistry, as well as letters between scientists concerning the state of scientific education, and the library holds an extensive collection of scientific textbooks.
The Bredig Archive: We would particularly like to draw attention to our recent acquisition of the personal papers of the Jewish-German émigré scientist Georg Bredig (1868–1944) and his son, Max (1902–1977). The sizable collection consists of correspondence, books, photographs, and scientific notes smuggled out of Germany during World War II. A founding figure in physical chemistry and catalytic research, Bredig became a target for persecution by the Nazi regime owing to his Jewish background and liberal political beliefs. The archive bears witness to Bredig’s significant scientific contributions and his family’s struggle to survive the Holocaust.
More information about all of our collections can be found at sciencehistory.org/collections. The library and archival collections can be searched at othmerlib.sciencehistory.org/search and the digitized collections at digital.sciencehistory.org. A number of more detailed subject guides and information on how to navigate the Othmer Library holdings can be found at guides.othmerlibrary.sciencehistory.org. For information on our museum holdings please submit a reference request.
The Beckman Center offers the following fellowships:
80/20 Postdoctoral Fellowships (2 years)
These fellowships reflect the Institute’s commitment to providing a career-launching platform for recent PhDs and its support for the career diversity initiatives of the American Historical Association and affiliated scholarly societies. Postdoctoral fellows of the Beckman Center have the opportunity to build skills and experience relevant to work both within and outside the academy. We encourage applications from scholars aspiring to library, museum, and public history careers, as well as those targeting the tenure track.
Our postdoctoral fellows are presented with the option of spending roughly one fifth of their time working closely with Institute staff mentors on “engagement” projects related to their research and based loosely in one of three concentrations: rare books, museum, or oral history. Each concentration incorporates a digital component, and all fellows are encouraged to undertake a range of outreach activities, which include contributing to our in-house digital magazine and podcast, Distillations. The rest of the time fellows are expected to take advantage of the Institute’s considerable resources to develop and publish their own research.
Applicants for 80/20 postdoctoral fellowships must be on track to defend the dissertation by the end of July 2021 or have earned the doctoral degree within the last five years. Postdoctoral fellowship stipends are US$45,000, paid in monthly installments, with an additional US$2,500 subsidy for health insurance, an annual allowance for research expenses, and an additional one-time reimbursement for initial travel expenses.
Dissertation Fellowships (9 months)
These fellowships are open to graduate students whose PhD dissertation proposals have been accepted by their respective university departments. The stipend is US$26,000, with an additional one-time reimbursement for initial travel expenses.
Short-Term Fellowships (1–4 months)
These fellowships are open to all scholars and researchers irrespective of career stage, including doctoral students, who plan to work closely with the Institute’s collections on an independent research project. The stipend is US$3,000 per month to defray the costs of travel, accommodation, and living expenses in Philadelphia. A limited additional travel subsidy may be granted to international scholars depending on the availability of funds.
*NEW* Distinguished Fellowships (4 months)
These 4-month fellowships are open to established scholars who are able to spend either the fall or the spring semesters in residence at the Institute carrying out research related to the history of chemical or molecular science. The stipend is US$5,000 per month, plus an additional travel subsidy. Applications are made via the same process as short-term fellowships.
The deadline for the Fall 2020 call for fellowship applications is January 25, 2021. See our website for our guide for applicants and instructions on how to apply: sciencehistory.org/fellowships/guide-for-applicants.