|Letter from Henry to Bache, page one, July 11, 1853|
Smithsonian Institution Archives, SIA2012-2670
This letter, like much of Henry’s correspondence, sheds light on life in the early days of the Smithsonian and the nation’s capital. Written by Henry on July 11, 1853, to his close friend Alexander Bache, a leading American scientist of the time, the letter describes the events of his life and seeks advice from Bache. Across Smithsonian collections, letters like this not only give us factual information, but also aid us in painting a more detailed picture of the people who wrote them. As researchers, this detail allows us to understand why people make certain decisions and highlights the complexities of people’s personalities.
For example, Henry could be viewed as both gruff and amiable in just a few pages. On the one hand, he writes that the then Assistant Secretary, Spencer Baird, needed “a few hard knocks . . . [to] keep him in the proper course.” Yet, throughout the letter Henry gives others compliments and asks about Bache’s family. Personal nuances such as these, found in the documents give us a window to see beyond these individuals as a mere series of facts, but as true people whose personal make-up we can begin to understand.
|Joseph Henry, c. 1865,|
Smithsonian Institution Archives,
Smithsonian Institution Archives