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The Philosophy Chamber: Art and Science in Harvard’s Teaching Cabinet, 1766–1820

The Philosophy Chamber: Art and Science in Harvard’s Teaching Cabinet, 1766–1820

$ 55.00

Edited by Ethan W. Lasser; with contributions by Aleksandr Bierig, Anne Driesse, Katherine Eremin, Andrew Gelfand, Claire Grech, Teri Hensick, Jane Kamensky, Ethan W. Lasser, Georgina Rayner, Jennifer L. Roberts, Whitney Barlow Robles, María Dolores Sánchez-Jáuregui, Anthony Sigel, Kate Smith, Lucie Steinberg, and Oliver Wunsch

Available May 2017

ISBN 978-0-300-22592-1
312 pages; 8 1/4 x 11 3/4 in.
326 color & b/w illustrations
Hardcover (paper over board)
Published by Harvard Art Museums
Distributed by Yale University Press

This book explores the history and collections of one of the most unusual rooms in early America. Between 1766 and 1820, the Philosophy Chamber, a grand room adjacent to the Harvard College Library, was home to more than one thousand artifacts, natural specimens, and works of art dispatched to the college from points around the globe. Named for the discipline of natural philosophy, the Philosophy Chamber served as a lecture hall, experimental lab, and picture gallery. The room was frequented by an array of artists, scientists, travelers, and revolutionaries, and its collections stood at the center of artistic and intellectual life at Harvard and in the New England region for more than 50 years.

Dispersed and hidden away for nearly 200 years, this unrivaled collection has been reunited for the first time since it was originally assembled, providing an invaluable window into the art and culture of early America. It attests to the wide-ranging spirit of inquiry that characterized the late 18th and early 19th centuries. With an insightful look at conservation efforts and detailed examination of specific objects, including works by artists such as John Singleton Copley and John Trumbull, this publication explores the social and political stakes that underpinned one of the most remarkable assemblages of artifacts, images, and objects in the Atlantic World, and introduces readers to many long-forgotten icons of American culture.

The related exhibition, The Philosophy Chamber: Art and Science in Harvard’s Teaching Cabinet, 1766–1820, is on display at the Harvard Art Museums from May 19 through December 31, 2017. The exhibition then travels to The Hunterian at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, where it will be on view March 23 through June 24, 2018.

Ethan W. Lasser is the Theodore E. Stebbins Jr. Curator of American Art and head of the Division of European and American Art at the Harvard Art Museums; Aleksandr Bierig is a Ph.D. student in architectural and urban history at Harvard University; Anne Driesse is Senior Conservator of Works of Art on Paper in the Harvard Art Museums’ Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies; Katherine Eremin is the Straus Center’s Patricia Cornwell Senior Conservation Scientist; Andrew Gelfand is the Anne Lunder Leland Curatorial Fellow at the Colby College Museum of Art, and a former undergraduate intern in the Division of European and American Art at the Harvard Art Museums; Claire Grech is the former Australian Conservation Science Fellow in the Straus Center; Teri Hensick is the Straus Center’s Senior Conservator of Paintings and Head of the Paintings Lab; Jane Kamensky is Professor of History at Harvard University and Pforzheimer Foundation Director of the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study; Georgina Rayner is the Straus Center’s Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Conservation Science; Jennifer L. Roberts is the Elizabeth Cary Agassiz Professor of the Humanities in the Department of History of Art and Architecture at Harvard University; Whitney Barlow Robles is a Ph.D. candidate in American Studies at Harvard University; María Dolores Sánchez-Jáuregui is the William Hunter Tercentenary Curatorial Trainee, supported with Recognition funding from Museums Galleries Scotland at The Hunterian at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, and a former Maher Curatorial Fellow in American Art at the Harvard Art Museums; Anthony Sigel is the Straus Center’s Senior Conservator of Objects and Sculpture; Kate Smith is the Straus Center’s Associate Conservator of Paintings; Lucie Steinberg is a Ph.D. candidate in American Studies at Harvard University; Oliver Wunsch is a Ph.D. candidate in the history of art and architecture at Harvard University.

The Philosophy Chamber: Art and Science in Harvard’s Teaching Cabinet, 1766–1820 is supported in part by major grants from the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Henry Luce Foundation. The exhibition and catalogue also received support from the following endowed funds: the Bolton Fund for American Art, Gift of the Payne Fund; the Henry Luce Foundation Fund for the American Art Department; the William Amory Fund; and the Andrew W. Mellon Publication Funds, including the Henry P. McIlhenny Fund.

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