The Foreign Laboratory Visits of Francis Gano Benedict

The Foreign Laboratory Visits of Francis Gano Benedict

Elizabeth Neswald

Educational travels and laboratory visits were commonplace events in nineteenth and early twentieth-century physiology. Physiologists traveled to meet colleagues, train in the labs of experts, learn new methods, and study new instruments before deciding whether to acquire or build their own. Such travels allowed them to establish networks, exchange knowledge, coordinate cooperative research, and situate their labs within the international disciplinary context.

In 1907, Francis Gano Benedict, the newly-appointed director of the equally new Carnegie Institution Nutrition Laboratory, undertook the first of what was to become a regular series of tour of European physiology laboratories. In total, Benedict travelled to Europe seven times between 1907 and 1932, visiting numerous countries and dozens of labs where metabolism and nutrition research was conducted on humans and animals. Benedict compiled extensive reports of these visits for the Carnegie Institution, describing in detail the laboratory setups, instruments, and research programs, but also how the physiologists he visited assessed each another. Benedict’s written reports are illustrated by hundreds of photographs of the labs and their personnel, instruments, and portraits of colleagues.

These seven volumes of laboratory descriptions and photographs covering several dozen laboratories over a 15-year time period give a unique synchronic and diachronic history of European physiology laboratories and, through Benedict’s commentary, of the changing relationship between European and American science in the early twentieth century. This project utilized the volumes to explore the foreign laboratory visits by Francis Gano Benedict.