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HUM 132

Holton, Gerald James. Gerald James Holton personal archive, 1919-2011, 2013 and undated : an inventory

Harvard University Archives


Harvard University

©President and Fellows of Harvard College, 2016

Descriptive Summary

Repository: Harvard University Archives
Call No.: HUM 132
Creator: Holton, Gerald James.
Title: Gerald James Holton personal archive, 1919-2011, 2013 and undated
Quantity: 70.5 cubic feet (189 document boxes, 14 half-document boxes, 5 flat boxes,1 legal document box, 1 record carton)
Abstract: Gerald Holton (born 1922) is the Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and Professor of the History of Science (Emeritus, 1992) at Harvard University. Holton's research has focused on the physics of matter at high pressure, the history and philosophy of science, the role of science in contemporary America, and science education. The collection documents Holton's academic and professional career, with the heaviest concentration of material dating from 1942 to 2011.

Inventory update

This document last updated 2016 August 10.

Acquisition Information:

The Gerald James Holton personal archive was acquired by the Harvard University Archives through donation from Gerald J. Holton. The acquisitions are as follows:

Researcher Access:

The Gerald James Holton personal archive is open for research use.
Harvard University records in this collection are restricted for 50 years from the date of creation. Personal records in this collection are restricted for 80 years from the date of creation.
Restricted items are noted at the item level below.
Materials in box 209 are closed to researchers.
Original letters in box 210 are restricted.

Copying Restriction:

Copying of fragile materials may be limited.

Related Material

In the Harvard University Archives
In the Center for Jewish History, New York, New York
In the Boston University Center for Philosophy and History of Science
In the American Institute of Physics

Preferred Citation:

Holton, Gerald James. Gerald James Holton personal archive, 1919-2011, 2013 and undated. HUM 132, Harvard University Archives.

Processing Information:

Processed April-December 2012 by Dominic P. Grandinetti.
Processing included rehousing materials in the appropriate containers, establishment of series and subseries hierarchy, photocopying of news clippings, and the creation of this finding aid. In some cases, photocopies of explanatory or descriptive notes written on the front flap of the original folders by Gerald Holton (i.e. lists of correspondents, lecture titles, or subjects considered within the folders) were inserted into the appropriate folder. Folder titles were transcribed as found in this collection by the archivist; dates and titles supplied by the archivist appear in brackets.
In all respects, the archivist attempted to retain and preserve the original arrangement and existing relationships of the documents as established by Gerald Holton. Details about the processing and arrangement of each series are described below.


The records are arranged in thirteen series:

Biographical Note

Gerald Holton (b. 1922) is the Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and Professor of the History of Science (Emeritus, 1992) at Harvard University. Holton's research focused on the physics of matter at high pressure, the history and philosophy of science, the role of science in contemporary America, and science education.
Holton was born on May 23, 1922 in Berlin, Germany to Austrian parents and received his early education at the Humanistisches Gymnasium in Vienna. He left Austria for England in 1938 and stayed there for two years, earning a national certificate in electrical engineering from the School of Technology in the city of Oxford. In 1940, Holton came to the United States and earned his BA degree at Wesleyan University (1941) and PhD in experimental high-pressure physics from Harvard University (1948). During World War II, Holton was an instructor at Wesleyan, Brown, and Harvard Universities; he also served as a research associate in Harvard's radar laboratory teaching naval officers about physics and radar. In 1947, Holton joined the Harvard faculty (tenured in 1952) as a physics instructor. He also served as a visiting professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1976-1994), where he was a founding member of the Science, Technology, and Society Program.
Gerald Holton became an American citizen in 1945. In 1947, Holton married Nina Rossfort (b. 1924), a sculptor. They had two children, Thomas and Stephen. At Harvard, Holton introduced the teaching of the history and philosophy of physics into the science curriculum with the publication in 1952 of Introduction to Concepts and Theories in Physical Science (revised in 1958 as Foundations of Modern Physical Science). This book was the first modern science textbook to be used in Harvard's General Education program. Holton's efforts to provide a more humanistic perspective to the teaching and study of science and physics were continued and expanded upon in his Project Physics Course, which began in 1964 as a National Science Foundation curriculum development project. The textbook, films, laboratory exercises, manuals, and other materials for the Project Physics Course eventually introduced physics to 200,000 high school students each year in the 1960s and 1970s. In later years, the Project Physics Course inspired other initiatives from such organizations as the National Science Foundation, the National Research Council, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science to improve science education in the United States.
In 1973, Holton introduced his concept of thematic analysis (the study of the humanistic and societal context of scientific research) to the study of the history of science in his book Thematic Origins of Scientific Thought: From Kepler to Einstein, thus establishing Holton's stature as a major interpreter of Albert Einstein's work in the scientific community. In later years, Holton defended science against the anti-scientific movements of the last half of the twentieth century which challenged scientific and technological improvement in such books as The Advancement of Science and Its Burdens (1986), Einstein, History, and other Passions (1996), and Science and Anti-Science (1993). In these books Holton applied thematic analysis to the study of the works of many scientists including Jules Henri Poincaré (1854-1912), Robert A. Millikan (1868-1953), Enrico Fermi (1901-1954), Werner Karl Heisenberg (1901-1976), and polymaths Thomas Young (1773-1829) and Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826).
In addition to his Harvard activities, Holton was involved in a variety of projects to promote the study of the history of science, the role of science and scientists in American culture, and the improvement of science education. Holton was instrumental in the preservation of the Einstein Archive at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University in the 1960s and later helped start the Einstein Papers Project at Princeton University Press. In 1983, he served on the National Commission on Excellence in Education and co-authored the report A Nation at Risk, which revealed the deficiencies of American education and identified proposed solutions. In 1956, Holton founded the quarterly journal Daedalus to give intellectuals a forum to discuss issues related to the humanities, social studies, sciences, and current affairs, and he established the Newsletter on Science, Technology, and Human Values (later becoming the journal Science, Technology, and Human Values) to support the study of science, technology, and society in 1972. In 1981, Holton received the federal government's highest honor for achievement in the humanities from the National Endowment for the Humanities and spoke as the Jefferson Lecturer on the direction of science in contemporary America. Holton's later research led to publications on the career obstacles of women scientists, national science policy, the fate of the children of scientists who came to the United States as refugees prior to World War II, the need to improve science education in the United States, and the general public's understanding of science in modern America.


Scope and Content

The Gerald Holton personal archive documents the academic and professional career of Gerald Holton, with the heaviest concentration of material dating from 1942 to 2011. The collection is a valuable resource for research in the history of science, science education, the study of the relationship of science to public policy in the second half of the twentieth century, and documents Holton's involvement as a teacher, writer, advisor, and consultant, on matters of science at the highest levels of academia and government. Holton was a prolific researcher, letter writer, and author, and thus much of the collection consists of correspondence, research notes, project files, published and unpublished articles, lectures, and course materials produced during his career. Although the series are generally well defined, researchers should note that the largest component of the collection, the Subject files (Series XI) overlaps with other parts of the collection and contains materials documenting Holton's professional activities and interaction with individuals from a wide variety of fields in the sciences and humanities; correspondence concerning the publication of several of Holton's books; and records referring to Holton's membership and involvement in many learned societies. The collection also contains a limited amount of biographical materials (Series I) pertaining to Gerald Holton and his wife Nina, from 1939 to 2010.
Holton's interactions with several noted scientists of his era, as well as Nobel laureates and scholars at the forefront of philosophy, history, economics, medicine, literature, politics, and government can be found in the Correspondence files (Series II) in this collection. This series also illustrates Holton's association with the American Institute of Physics, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Holton's involvement with agencies at the highest level of government such as the National Academy of Sciences. The Correspondence files document Holton's relationship with publishers and describe Holton's high-pressure physics research and studies of the history of science at Harvard. This series also includes a small group of letters from amateur scientists who shared their theories and ideas with Holton throughout his career.
Holton's Research project files (Series VII) in this collection dating from 1919 to 2011, document his studies of the lives and works of such notable physicists as Percy W. Bridgman, Albert Einstein, Philipp Frank, Edwin C. Kemble, and Johannes Kepler. Photocopied correspondence, photographs, articles, and notes in this series was collected by Holton during his research at libraries and archives; much of this research material was used by Holton in his extensive writings about these scientists. Additionally, the Frank research project files document the activities of the Inter-Scientific Discussion Group and the Institute for the Unity of Science, founded by Philipp Frank in the 1940s to promote the integration of scientific knowledge at Harvard. The series also includes Holton's Second Wave research project files, a study of the factors which contributed to the socioeconomic success of young refugees, mostly Jewish children, who came to the United States in the 1930s and 1940s with their parents who were exiled scholars from Germany.
Holton's professional and academic contributions to the fields of physics and the history of science from 1944 to 2011 are documented in the writings (Series XII) in this collection. Holton's writings reveal his views on the cultural dimensions of modern science; his thoughts on the dynamics of science in modern civilization; and his efforts to reconcile the image of science among intellectuals, students, and the general public. The writings also illustrate Holton's commitment to the improvement of science education in the United States at both the public school and university levels, and emphasize his dedication to increasing the general public's understanding of physics and science. Moreover, many of the reprints, conference papers, and book chapters in this collection include discussions of Holton's concept of thematic analysis and the psychological aspects of scientific discovery through the study of such notable scientists as Albert Einstein, Henri Poincaré, and Johannes Kepler. The Writings series also includes a limited number of publications that describe Holton's high-pressure physics research at Harvard and book reviews of Holton's publications by other scholars.
Holton's teaching activities and high-pressure physics research as well as his efforts to improve physics education at Harvard and in the United States are highlighted in several series in this collection. The lecture notes, homework assignments, and syllabi, found in the Harvard teaching materials series (Series III) in this collection document Holton's physics instruction from 1944 to 1992. Descriptions of Holton's physics research at Harvard from 1943 to 1977 in such areas as the thermodynamic properties of aqueous solutions, ultrasonic-velocity measurements in water at high pressure, the study of molecular processes in liquids at high pressure by acoustic means, and the thermodynamic character of protein conformation are found in the High-pressure physics research files (Series V). Holton's efforts to develop, improve, and support the physics and history of science departments at Harvard from 1965 to 1996 are illustrated in Harvard committee files (Series IV). In addition, the administrative and instructional materials in the Harvard Project Physics Course series (Series VI) dating from 1962 to 2011 in this collection document the creation, implementation, and history of the Harvard Project Physics Course, a physics program developed and directed by Gerald Holton and two other colleagues, F. James Rutherford and Fletcher G. Watson, to improve physics education in secondary schools in the United States starting in the 1960s.
The Professional organization files in the collection (Series VIII) relate to Holton's involvement in many societies including the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Social Science Research Council, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Academy of Sciences. Letters, news clippings, reports, memoranda, and meeting minutes, document Holton's participation in the development of science education in the United States; his support of activities designed to promote the history of science and technology in the classroom; and his advocacy of public policy issues involving science and technology. Correspondence between Holton and members of the professional organizations in these files chronicle the governance of these organizations, the development of their educational activities for the sciences and humanities, their financial affairs, and the recruitment of new members. Holton's interactions with scientists working in physics and the history and philosophy of science and his participation in roundtable discussions, workshops, and seminars from 1952 to 2009 both in the United States and abroad is documented in the Conferences and meetings files in this collection (Series IX). Holton's Editorial files (Series X) illustrate his interest in creating forums (Daedalus and Science, Technology, and Human Values) in which scholars could publish original interdisciplinary research on public issues related to science, technology, and the humanities. Additionally, the Men Who Teach program files (Series XIII) further highlight Holton's efforts to introduce and promote science to non-scientists and to the general public.

Series Descriptions and Folder Lists