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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 66/November 1904/The Progress of Science

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 66‎ | November 1904



This number of The Popular Science Monthly is given to the St. Louis Congress of Arts and Science, which is certainly an event in the history of science deserving special commemoration.

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Festival Hall, in which the Opening Exercises of the International Congress of Arts and Science were held.
Never before in the world have there come together a group of scholars whose average performance is so great, and it is a matter for legimate national pride that this assemblage should have gathered in the United States. The objects of the congress were described by Professor Newcomb, the president, in the September issue of the Monthly, and there is given above
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Administration Building, Being Part of Washington University, which was the Headquarters of the International Congress of Arts and Science.

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Palace of Education and Social Economy.

an appreciation of its work by Mr. Wm. Harper Davis, of Lehigh University, one of the secretaries. The articles following are addresses given at the congress, which have not been published elsewhere.

International congresses have gradually come to be a part of international expositions. At Paris over a hundred congresses were held, extending through the summer, and the sessions and the subsequent publication of the proceedings form an important chapter in the history of modern science. When the managers of the St. Louis exposition decided to make international congresses a part of their scheme, they appointed a representative administrative board, with President Nicholas Murray Butler, of Columbia University, as chairman. This board adopted the plan proposed by Professor Münsterberg, of Harvard University, to hold one congress of the arts and sciences which should attempt to promote and demonstrate the unity of science. Professor Newcomb was appointed president, and Professors Münsterberg and Small, vice-presidents, and at the same time acted as a committee of organization.

All this is, however, told in Mr. Davis's article. After giving the praise and appreciation that is due, it may be well to call atention to some of the lessons of the congress. It was a fine idea to have the whole range of modern civilization represented in a great international gathering of the leaders in all departments of the sciences
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Palace of Agriculture which covers Twenty Acres.
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Fisheries Building. Indian School.

and the arts. The attempt to unify knowledge on the lines of a particular philosophical system must naturally fail. No one supposes that a conference at the Hague will give the world enduring peace, or that a congress at St. Louis will unify the sciences. Indeed there are those who hold that science will be unified only when it is dead, and that any scheme of unification is more useful in promoting controversy than in prescribing a final solution. It is probable that very few of the speakers were even aware of Professor Münsterberg's plan or had read his article in the Atlantic Monthly. The addresses that dealt with some special problem to which the author had contributed were the best. The divisions intended to unify the sciences were superfluous.

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Palace of Machinery.

As a matter of fact it is more feasible and more profitable to unify men of science than to perfect a logical scheme of the sciences, and in this direction the congress was only moderately successful.

Incidentally much was indeed accomplished, the main result being the bringing of a hundred leading foreign scholars to this country. Not only at the congress, but in their visits to other places, they have taught us many things, and it may be hoped have learned some things from us. The two hundred thousand dollars expended is a considerable sum, and possibly still more might have been accomplished with it. It is doubtful whether the limitation of the meeting to a single week represents any advance over the series of congresses of the Paris exposition. If the dormitories of Washington University, with a proper dining-room and rooms for sessions and social intercourse, had been placed at the disposal of our national societies, and they had held a series of meetings during the summer, with perhaps one week for general addresses by a score of invited scholars, the results would probably have been better.

As it was the week of the congress was overcrowded. Each of the some three hundred speakers addressed an

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Palace of Electricity.

audience which probably averaged about fifty, consisting in part of specialists and in part of chance visitors. It was but seldom that students of one science listened to speakers in another, and the opportunities to become personally acquainted were inadequate. Officers of the army of science were paid to be present, but the rank and file of American workers were not there. And this was largely the fault of defective organization. We have, apart from the national scientific societies and local academies, at least four institutions which should have worked in harmony with the congress—the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Academy of Sciences, the Smithsonian Institution and the Carnegie Institution. But the cooperation of none of these bodies was secured, the head of none of them was present at St. Louis. They even worked at cross purposes, the American Association having met at St. Louis last Christmas and the National Academy having met at Chicago in November. An attempt to unify science which made no use of existing organizations was seriously at fault. The management also failed to bring science and scholarship into

contact with the wider public, the congress passing almost unnoticed, except by those immediately concerned.

But it may seem ungracious to call attention to what was not done when so much was in fact accomplished, The congress was worth many fold the efforts and the money that it cost. For the first time in the history of the world the attempt was made to bring together the leaders in all departments of science, scholarship and the arts. The large plan will ultimately emerge from the mass of details and will be a landmark in the history of civilization.

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Palace of Mines and Metallurgy.


An international exposition offers certain advantages and certain drawbacks as a place of meeting for an international congress. The drawbacks—both physical and mental—are sufficiently obvious. They are perhaps given more weight than they deserve, and thus a new obstacle is set up. With a comparatively small change in the conditions that have ordinarily prevailed, an exposition and a congress should help each other. They have in many ways the same ends in view. As civilization advances science and the arts become an increasing part of life. The St. Louis exposition, all the way from the Pike to the International Congress of Arts and Science, overlaps continually with the objects and the field of this magazine. It would be satisfactory if we could give an adequate appreciation and criticism of the exposition, but this does not appear to be feasible. It may, however, be worth the while in a number of the Monthly devoted to the International Congress to give some illustrations showing its material setting, and to devote a few words to the exposition itself.

The magnitude of the exposition, its hundreds of buildings, measured by the acre, and the tens of millions of dollars that it cost have been duly advertised; and allowance is made by sensible people for crudeness, flimsiness and heterogeneity. A certain architectural unity has been given to the whole scheme by the fan-like radiating avenues or plazas which converge towards the central festival hall. At night, under the electric illumination, the effects are marvelous and beautiful. It can scarcely be claimed, however, that any significant advance has been made beyond the Chicago exposition. It seems that the limits of magnitude and universality have been reached, and that subsequent international expositions, should they occur, must aim to surpass their predecessors in completeness in some particular direction.

In the classification of the St. Louis Exposition education was given the central place, and the fact that the new buildings of Washingeon University were occupied also emphasized higher education. Germany made a fine educational exhibit, and an Indian school and other schools were shown in operation. It would have been well if the buildings of Washington University could have been used to show a national or international university in operation with the speakers of the International Congress as the teachers; but this would doubtless be asking too much. Anthropology, directly and indirectly, should occupy a prominent place in an international exposition. At St. Louis the Philippine exhibit was timely and well arranged, with its native villages and the thousand representatives of the different peoples.

The progress of the applied sciences since the Chicago exposition is doubtless the most notable feature of the period, and this was adequately represented at St. Louis. The names of the buildings—agriculture, machinery, electricity, mines and metallurgy, etc.—make it clear that an exposition is practically an exhibit of applied science. The advances in America during this period have probably been unsurpassed, but the exhibits of Germany and Japan show that they are not unrivaled.