Scientific Discovery Marches On
153 years ago this month, the first shots of the American Civil War were fired in Charleston, South Carolina.
And 152 years ago this month, Part One of the Monographs of the Diptera of North America was published in the Union Capitol, Washington, D.C., by the Smithsonian Institution.
Diptera is the order, in biological classification, for flies.
The work had been accepted for publication almost a year earlier, in July of 1861, the same month the first battle of Manassas (or Bull Run) took place. It was published the same month as the Battle of Shiloh.
In 1942, the Geological Society of France published Maurice Leriche’s Contribution à l’étude des faunes ichthyologiques marines des terrains tertiaires de la plaine cotière atlantique et du centre des États-Unis; le synchronisme des formations tertiaires des deux cotés de l’Atlantique. (Roughly translated, Contribution to the study of marine ichthyological fauna of the tertiary rocks of the Atlantic coastal plain and central United States; the synchronism of the tertiary formations on both sides of the Atlantic.)
They published it in Paris, which was, at the time, occupied by the Germans.
In some ways, it’s quite remarkable that anyone was publishing works on fossil fish from the United States in occupied Paris, or that a part of the federal government was taking the time and resources to produce a book on flies with eleven states in full-on armed revolt.
And in other ways, it’s not.
Science doesn’t stop, even when there’s a war on, and even when the topic being researched is not directly related to the war. Discoveries are still made, and publications are still produced to share those discoveries.
Let’s look at another example.
The seventh edition of Dana’s System of Mineralogy was published by John Wiley and Sons of New York City in 1944. Like many books published during World War II in the United States, it included the notice that it had been “manufactured in accordance with the recommendations of the War Production Board in the interest of the conservation of paper and other important war materials.”
Concessions in the manner of publication were necessary, in a year that would be remembered more for the Allied Invasion of Normandy and the Battle of Peleliu than for the seventh edition of Dana’s System of Mineralogy. But the book was still published, and purchased, and used, before eventually making its way to the VMNH Library 63 years later, in 2007. And here it can still be used, to help people make discoveries today.