STEM Materials in New York Heritage Digital Collections

Ryan Perry - September 10th, 2015

As students head back to school, New York Heritage's featured collections highlight a variety of STEM-related collections that showcase the role science and technology has played in New York State history.

Everything has a history.  As a result, history offers an opportunity to incorporate students' interests across a wide variety of topic areas.  By understanding how and why something was created, students of history gain perspective on the present-day inquires of science and technology.  New York Heritage boasts a rich selection of STEM-related collections, which offer unique gateways to learning about both STEM fields and history.  Common Core standards have an increased emphasis on reading for information, with one important facet being the interpretation of authentic primary source documents.  The following collections serve as starting points for the exploration of science and technology, through the lens of New York State history.

Dr. Pierce's Alternative Extract or Golden Medical Discovery Bottle


The Nickell Collection of Dr. R.V. Pierce Medical Artifacts includes photographs of various medical containers and advertisements for his products. Dr. R.V. Pierce operated the "World's Dispensary Medical Association" from his offices in Buffalo, NY. Through his canny use of medical terminology, advertising media, and patient testimonials, his business grew to become one of the most successful purveyors of medical cures.  This collection brings history, medicine and media studies together as a case study for the roots of the medical industry.  As a bonus, the collection owner, Center for Inquiry Libraries, has provided some Educational Resources.


San Luis Observatory Exterior from North-East, Transit-Circle House and Photometer Shed

The San Luis Observatory collection documents the construction of an astronomical observatory in San Luis, Argentina--which acted as a southern hemisphere counterpart to the Dudley Observatory in Schenectady, NY.  The photographs and correspondence in this collection not only serve to illustrate the process of constructing a scientific facility, but also describe the technical specifications of the instruments.  As such, this collection could be utilized in lessons on topics ranging from architecture to the gathering of scientific data.


Letter regarding an idea for applying steam power to canal boats

The Great Steam Boat Race Letters, held by the Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum, exemplify the cross-section of history and technology.  These letters propose design specifications for propelling boats on the Erie Canal--exemplifying technical writing and the description of hypotheses.  By bridging New York State history with technological innovation, these letters offer many opportunities for interdisciplinary study.


2016pc725 (1) Postcard describing how to care for a small aquarium with water plants

The New York Aquarium Postcard collection includes a variety of images depicting the aquarium's wildlife and facilities.  Some postcards also include informative text that describes the maintenance and care of aquariums and wildlife.  The treatment of animals in captivity has changed markedly over the past one hundred years, and this collection provides insight into changing perspectives on wildlife that could give biology lessons a historical dimension.


New_way_of_holding_concrete_for_the_forms_1921 New way of holding concrete for the forms, 1921

Consisting of photographs taken during a transitional period for American cities, the Albert R. Stone Negative Collection documents Rochester's shifting transportation landscape in the early twentieth century.  With the Erie Canal giving way to the Barge Canal, a light rail subway system, and eventually interstate, new technologies and construction methods were developed to repurpose the city's infrastructure.  These feats of civil engineering lend themselves to studying the intersection between technology and the history of urban planning.


Two_Brockway_Huskies_in_Front_of_the_Cortland_Brockway_Motor_Trucks_Plant Two Brockway 'Huskies' in Front of the Cortland Brockway Motor Trucks Plant

Continuing in the vein of transportation technology, the Brockway Motor Trucks collection includes a number of images depicting trucks manufactured in Cortland, NY.  The Brockway Motor Company produced custom heavy-duty trucks for a variety of organizations--from local companies and townships to military units during World War II.  By examining the differences between the truck models, students can gain insight into the ways through which form follows function.


Harmony_Hall_Hearts_Delight_Farm_Chambers_Second_Floor_Plan Harmony Hall, Heart's Delight Farm, Chambers, Second Floor Plan

The Miner Institute Blueprints and Maps Collection documents the construction plans for the 1918 expansion of Heart's Delight Farm in Chazy, NY.  These materials shed light on the facilities and operations of an agricultural venture in the early twentieth century, giving students practice reading and interpreting technical drawings.

Together, these collections highlight the importance of STEM fields to the history of New York State, while offering numerous opportunities for interdisciplinary learning.  But that's not all we've got! Check out New York Heritage today and tell us what other STEM collections and items you find!