"Nothing Less Than a Revolution": Henry Prentiss Armsby and the Role of Scientists in Society, 1862-1921

Open Access
Tonkel, Joshua R
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Dr. Michael James Milligan, Thesis Supervisor
  • Dr. Cathleen Denise Cahill, Honors Advisor
  • Henry Prentiss Armsby
  • The Pennsylvania State University
  • Land-Grant University Movement
  • Wilbur O. Atwater
  • Ellen Swallow Richards
  • Eugene Davenport
  • Respiration Calorimeter
  • Experiment Station
  • Agricultural History
  • Agricultural Science
  • Late 19th Century
  • Early 20th Century
Though research oriented public universities are now the staple of higher education in the United States, this was certainly not always the case. The origins of such universities can most directly be found in the mid-19th century amidst the land-grant university movement. The leaders within this movement called for the federal government to provide funds to states for the establishment of universities tasked with providing more scientific education to students of all social classes. Over time, these universities received funding to establish agricultural experiment stations where fundamental scientific research could be performed. That development may have been in the direction of modern research universities, but the scientists working in those early land-grant institutions were different from modern scientists in remarkable ways. This thesis seeks to analyze those differences by focusing on the research and writings of one such agricultural scientist, Henry Prentiss Armsby, who worked at the Pennsylvania State College from 1887 to 1921. Armsby’s writings reveal him to be a “philosopher-scientist” whose broad academic interests and long-term vision allowed him to play many interesting roles required by the social and political environment in which he lived. This thesis describes the nature of scientific research at the turn of the 20th century and the roles that scientists and their research played within that society through an analysis of Armsby’s writings and a comparison to other “philosopher-scientists” of the time.