Mark Twain and the Science of Dr. Conn

Prof. Ken Noll (far left) and students with their exhibit "Mark Twain and Herbert W. Conn"

As curators we often work with undergraduates on their class projects, and I recently had the opportunity to work with Professor Kenneth Noll of the Molecular and Cell Biology department in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.  Prof. Noll devised a project for a INTD class he taught this semester, “Mark Twain and Herbert W. Conn: Science in Literature and Society in Late 19th Century Connecticut.”  We all know who Mark Twain is but who is Conn?  H.W. Conn was a very prominent scientist at Wesleyan University in the late 1800s/early 1900s, and although he was not a faculty member at what then the Connecticut Agricultural College (now known as UConn), he was the driving force in establishing the Storrs Agricultural Experiment Station.  Prof. Noll’s objective for the class was to have the students create an exhibit that describes Conn’s work as the Connecticut state microbiologist, juxtaposing it to Mark Twain’s 1905 essay, “3000 Years Among the Microbes,” which deflates human beings’ inflated sense of importance. 

Ken Noll and the exhibit, in the Plaza Alcove at Homer Babbidge Library

The class, all of them freshmen honors students, was split into three groups to research Conn and Twain, as well as the science behind Conn’s work, particularly his 1893 Chicago World’s Fair exhibit on dairy microbiology.  The students used many materials in Archives & Special Collections, including photographs from the University Archives, Storrs Agricultural Experiment Station catalogs, and maps, and made a field trip to the Connecticut Science Center.

 The result is an exhibit now up in the Plaza Alcove in Homer Babbidge Library until December 17. 

On December 6, at 11:00a.m., there will be a celebration of the exhibit that will feature a reading from Twain’s story by retired Prof. of Dramatic Arts Jerry Krasser and Prof. Noll.  The public is invited to the celebration, in the Class of ’47 room in Homer Babbidge Library

Laura Smith, Curator for Business, Railroad and Labor Collections