Contents and Arrangement Expanded View

Collection Overview

Princeton University. Library. Special Collections and Princeton University. Library. Department of Rare Books and Special Collections
Princeton Scientific Expeditions Collection
Princeton University Archives
Permanent URL:
1834-1995 (mostly 1834-1930)
26 boxes and 236 items
Storage Note:
  • Mudd Manuscript Library (scamudd): Boxes 1-19; 22; 27-51; 7A; 7B; 7C


The Princeton Scientific Expeditions Collection brings together original materials from the university archives that document the work of various scientific expeditions conducted under the aegis of Princeton University and its corporate predecessors. The connection with the university ranges from enterprises duly authorized in the trustees' minutes to expeditionary tasks that happen to have been carried out by members of the university faculty, often with little official notice of Princeton as an institution.

Collection Description & Creator Information

Scope and Contents

The history of scientific expeditions with connections to the college and university at Princeton is fragmentary and tentative. From the information now at hand it seems possible that the earliest such enterprises were Astronomic. The College of New Jersey's Professor Stephen Alexander journeyed to Georgia in 1834 to observe an eclipse of the sun. While no notice of this has been found in the trustees' minutes of the time, at least two of three subsequent eclipse expeditions (in 1854, 1860, and 1869) were official college investigations, duly authorized and even funded by the trustees. Alexander's successor, Professor C. A. Young, led his own eclipse expeditions in 1878 to Colorado, in 1887 to Russia, and in 1900 to North Carolina. An 1882 journey to observe the transit of Venus is, so far, the only other identified astronomic expedition of the 19th century.

The Geological expeditions are more fully documented. The first, of 1877, was a student-initiated effort, nurtured by the Natural Science Association, founded by the same group of students. The expedition was conceived on military lines with specific tasks set out for members of the official party. Its conspicuous success, not only as a training ground for the student members of the expedition, but also in the professional publication of discoveries that were genuine contributions to paleontological and topographical knowledge, gave a solid foundation to subsequent expeditions. These followed in 1878, 1882, 1884, 1885, 1886, 1890, 1891, 1893, 1894 and 1895. All had the American West as their destination, most the Rocky Mountain regions, with an emphasis on paleontological collection, most frequently in the Dakotas. By the late 1890's the expeditions had assumed the routine form of annual academic summer camps for students of geology. The early expeditions generated an enthusiasm for the professional responsibilities of the scientific pursuit and were pivotal in producing such distinguished scientific careers as those of William Berryman Scott, Henry Fairfield Osborn and William Libbey. The expeditions brought to the Princeton museum of Geology and Archaeology one of the most important paleontological collections in the world. They were also an important factor in Princeton's pre-eminence for nearly a century in the field of paleontology.

William Libbey, a member of the first geological expedition, and the photographer on subsequent geological and astronomical efforts, connected the Princeton name to other scientific expeditions with more diffuse objectives. As Professor of Geography and Curator of the E. M. Museum of Geology and Archaeology, Libbey frequently called upon his Trustee father to be the monetary patron of both the museum and many of the expeditions that were tangentially connected with it. These included journeys with diverse goals which Libbey defined as geographic, ethnographic and archaeological. Many of these expeditions enjoyed sponsoring agencies other than Princeton, but his connection with the college and its museum were always conspicuous in reports of the enterprises. The 1886 Mt. St. Elias expedition to Alaska was followed by an 1888 expedition to Cuba, an 1890 exploration of the Sierra Madre in Mexico, an 1893 Hawaiian expedition and an 1897 exploration to Pueblo County in New Mexico. These journeys yielded mainly ethnographic riches. Three expeditionary summers (1889, 1890, 1891) were spent investigating the Gulf Stream and its relation to the Labrador Currents, and Libbey was second in command and geographer of the Peary Relief Parties of 1894 and 1899 in Greenland. Libbey's investigations were successful mainly in the collections that resulted, mostly ethnographic and archaeological, and enriched the Princeton museums.

Expeditions more properly categorized as archaeological (involving professional excavation) are thinly represented in this collection. The 1876 excavations at Panosoffkee Lake in Florida were surely followed by other investigations that led to the archaeological excavations of Classical sites sponsored by the Department of Art and Archaeology in the 20th century, but they are not documented here.

The manuscript, printed and photographic materials in the collection are duly noted in the folder descriptions. Folders labeled as "Archival description and notes" contain information on the expeditions randomly gathered by the compiler of this collection, with pertinent xeroxes and relevant correspondence that document each expedition. The geological expeditions are most fully represented. The journeys of other categories are noted by scant documentation.

Collection History

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Alfred Bush in September 1992. Finding aid written by Alfred Bush in September 1992. Box 27 added by Christie Peterson in May 2012. Description of the contents of Box 1, 3, and 10-15 updated in January 2022 by Phoebe Nobles and Lynn Durgin for a digitization project.

Boxes 21 and 23 do not exist.

Access & Use

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. To cite or publish quotations that fall within Fair Use, as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission is required. The Trustees of Princeton University hold copyright to all materials generated by Princeton University employees in the course of their work. For instances beyond Fair Use, if copyright is held by Princeton University, researchers do not need to obtain permission, complete any forms, or receive a letter to move forward with use of materials from the Princeton University Archives.

For instances beyond Fair Use where the copyright is not held by the University, while permission from the Library is not required, it is the responsibility of the researcher to determine whether any permissions related to copyright, privacy, publicity, or any other rights are necessary for their intended use of the Library's materials, and to obtain all required permissions from any existing rights holders, if they have not already done so. Princeton University Library's Special Collections does not charge any permission or use fees for the publication of images of materials from our collections, nor does it require researchers to obtain its permission for said use. The department does request that its collections be properly cited and images credited. More detailed information can be found on the Copyright, Credit and Citations Guidelines page on our website. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us through the Ask Us! form.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

For preservation reasons, original analog and digital media may not be read or played back in the reading room. Users may visually inspect physical media but may not remove it from its enclosure. All analog audiovisual media must be digitized to preservation-quality standards prior to use. Audiovisual digitization requests are processed by an approved third-party vendor. Please note, the transfer time required can be as little as several weeks to as long as several months and there may be financial costs associated with the process. Requests should be directed through the Ask Us Form.

Credit this material:

Princeton Scientific Expeditions Collection; Princeton University Archives, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Permanent URL:
Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library
Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library
65 Olden Street
Princeton, NJ 08540, USA
(609) 258-6345
Storage Note:
  • Mudd Manuscript Library (scamudd): Boxes 1-19; 22; 27-51; 7A; 7B; 7C