A physician, natural historian, and professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Benjamin Smith Barton (1766-1815) was one of the central figures in Philadelphia's early national scientific establishment. Having received his medical training in European universities, Barton was appointed Professor at the University of Pennsylvania in 1789, lecturing on botany, materia medica, natural history. A prolific author, he established his reputation as one of the nation's preeminent botanists through his botanical text book The Elements of Botany (1803), but his contribtions to zoology, ethnology, and medicine were equally noteworthy. Barton's monograph on the "fascinating faculty" of the rattlesnake and his efforts in historical linguistics (New Views of the Origin of the Tribes and Nations of America, 1798) were widely read, and his Philadelphia Medical and Physical Journal (1804-1809) was one of the nation's first medical journals and an important outlet for natural historical research.
The Barton Papers offer a comprehensive view of the professional work of Benjamin Smith Barton from the time of his return to the United States in 1789 until his death. The collection is divided into five series: Correspondence, Subject Files, Bound Volumes, Graphic Materials, and Printing Plates. The collection includes a particularly valuable series of botanical, medical, and natural historical drawings collected by Barton for research, reference, and publication. Among the many artists represented are William Bartram, Frederick Pursh, Pierre Turpin, and Benjamin Henry Latrobe.