The Philosopher's Cabinet: The Santa Clara College 19th Century Scientific Instrument Collection

Third Floor Gallery
March 6 - July 13
9 a.m - 7 p.m. (Daily, Excluding Holidays)

In the 1854 Prospectus of Santa Clara College, founder and President John Nobili, S.J. stated

Hitherto, the institution has been only the germ of what its founders intended to make it... the Fathers of Santa Clara College hope to make it an institution, where a thorough course of mercantile, scientific and classical studies, such as are pursued in the best colleges of the Union, together with a solid, moral and christian education, can be completed.

To achieve this goal, Fr. Nobili ordered "a complete philosophical and chemical apparatus" from Paris. This apparatus would be the first of many 19th century scientific instruments to be added to the University's collection, designed to help the students of Santa Clara College better understand the various principles of science.

In addition to these purchases, Fr. Nobili recruited Aloysius Masnata, S.J., Francis Veyret, and Charles E. Messea, S.J., to help establish the Natural Sciences and Mathematics departments. They were later joined by Joseph Neri, S.J., Anthony Cichi, S.J., and Joseph Bayma, S.J., whose reputations as philosophers, mathematicians, and scientists traveled far beyond the walls of the small frontier college. After Fr. Nobili's death, College presidents continued to invest in the school's science program. In 1858, the Scientific Course was created. This course removed the Latin and Greek requirements from the more traditional Classical Course, and established the Bachelor of Science degree.

In 1862, a new Science Hall was constructed. As one of the largest buildings on campus at the time, the new Science Hall housed the Science Department, chemical laboratory, philosophical cabinet, science lecture hall, and museums of minerals and fossils. Demonstrations in the science lecture hall used the scientific instruments to introduce students to some of the principles of these disciplines. In turn, the students were expected to write lectures on mechanics, hydraulics, pneumatics, acoustics, heat, electricity, magnetism, optics, meteorology and astronomy, incorporating the instruments into their presentations. Students were then selected to demonstrate their lectures during a "Programme of Exercises at the Annual Examination." These annual examinations lasted two days, often drawing large crowds from throughout the region. Despite its popularity, the Scientific Degree was eliminated from the curriculum by 1887 due to an internal Jesuit debate regarding the value of the Classics Course, rather than a decrease in the number of students wishing to receive the degree. From 1892-1907, no Bachelor of Science degrees were awarded at Santa Clara College. Despite the disappearance of this degree, science course requirements for the Bachelor of Arts degree remained as part of the curriculum.

The Philosopher's Cabinet displays many of the remaining instruments that make up the Santa Clara College Scientific Instrument Collection, and recognizes the faculty and students involved in the Scientific Course at Santa Clara College in the 19th century. These instruments, along with the faculty who taught these classes, played a crucial role in the establishment of the school's reputation as a progressive and modern institution. During this time period, a visitor to the college could find more than 500 instruments available for use by faculty and students. The instruments displayed in this room cost thousands of dollars at the time of their purchase, serving as a testimony to the value Santa Clara College placed on the sciences during the school's formation.


Exhibit Images