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History and Biography

The history of science is largely inseparable from the study of the men and women who did the work.  Thus most of the sources listed here are biographical in nature. Histories of pre-modern chemistry and alchemy are held primarily in PCL, while modern chemical history is centered in the Chemistry Library.  The Harry Ransom Center has a significant collection of rare and early scientific books.  


Book-length biographies of chemists are uncommon and are usually limited to the most famous and influential historical figures. Search in the Library Catalog using the person's name as a subject or a keyword. Chemistry biographies are classified in the QD 21-22 area.
Some chemists publish their own reminiscences and autobiographies in book form. Search the library catalog or WorldCat using their names as an author or subject, or browse in the QD 21-22 area. During the 1990s the American Chemical Society published a series of personal memoirs titled Profiles, Pathways, and Dreams.
  • Deceased chemists may receive an obituary tribute in a journal relevant to their area of research, which summarizes their career and achievements. Prior to 1972 these were usually indexed in Chemical Abstracts:   search the name as a reference topic in SciFinder.
  • Members of the National Academy of Sciences and fellows of the Royal Society of London often receive substantial obituaries published in those organizations' respective biographical memoirs.
  • Wiley-VCH has compiled a List of Obituaries and Biographical Notes published in several major European journals over the years.
  • American chemists may receive a brief obituary notice in Chemical & Engineering News, which published annual subject indexes until 1997. Look in the indexes under the heading "Obituaries."
A Festschrift honors a scholar with a collection of original papers, usually on the occasion of a birthday or retirement. These invariably contain a laudatory biographical essay and bibliography of the subject's major publications.  Search in the library catalog using the person's name as a subject or a title keyword.  Book-form Festschrifts are not as common as they used to be; it is now more typical for them to appear as a dedicated issue of a journal. There is unfortunately no reliable way to search for special "titled" journal issues. It helps if you know the journal and year of publication, and you can do a name search on the journal's web site.
Collected Works
Occasionally the publications of a notable scientist will be collected and republished in book form. Search the library catalog under the person's name as an author.
You can find biographical information in histories of science, chemistry, or specific subfields. Use the subheading --History with relevant subject headings, such as: Chemistry--History or Chemistry, Analytic--History.  Also, browse the shelves at QD 11-20 for material on the history of chemistry in general.
Historical listings of articles published after 1907 can be compiled searching Chemical Abstracts, but pre-20th-century papers can be harder to identify. See the guide to Historical Literature for more information on pre-1907 indexes and abstracts.
Most historical resources are not published, but may be preserved as archival collections. If you're doing serious research, you must determine if an institution keeps an archive for the person in question. The best way to start is to contact the library or the department of the university or institution where the subject did significant work, and inquire about their papers or other primary resources (such as photo or clipping files, local newsletters, memorials, etc.) that might exist there. Searching that library's online catalog for the person's name is a good idea too, in case any of this unpublished material has been cataloged. The Chemical Heritage Foundation's Othmer Library, located in Philadelphia, is one of the major repositories of archives on the history of chemistry. They may be able to advise on archival questions.
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Chemistry Librarian

David Flaxbart's picture
David Flaxbart
Mallet Chemistry Library
University of Texas Libraries

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