Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Liberal Studies


Joseph W. Dauben

Subject Categories

History of Science, Technology, and Medicine


natural history, museums, nineteenth-century Philadelphia, nineteenth-century medicine, nineteenth-century science


In the first decades of the nineteenth century, Americans established institutions of science that called upon the public to donate materials and further the study of natural history. This thesis examines how resident scholars recruited sailors, merchants, and amateur naturalists to collect objects and accounts of natural history in South America. In turn, we find that the kinds of education and professional training that young doctors received in antebellum Philadelphia gave naval surgeons like William S. W. Ruschenberger the skills and temperament to collect objects that were otherwise considered sacred or taboo. Finally, as medical education in urban Philadelphia divided the labor of medicine between pharmacists and physicians, we find that educators believed that the study of natural history was necessary to clarify the use and nature of therapeutics. Taken together, naturalists in Philadelphia connected concerns of science and trade in such a way that even when conducting business abroad, young Americans would convey curious objects and accounts back to their peers in the North Atlantic. This activity created a diverse network of collectors throughout the Americas, that directed mineral specimens, live plants, novel medicines, and human bones into Philadelphia’s cabinets of natural history.