Clio Logo
History of Science & Medicine at Yale
Item 5 of 7
Built in 1849, this building was home to James Dwight Dana. Architect Henry Austin designed the Italianate-style house with a trim inspired by designs from India.The Dana family sold the house to Yale in 1962. James Dwight Dana (1813-1895) graduated from Yale College in 1833 and became one of the most prominent geologists and mineralogists of his time. He was a member of the Wilkes Expedition (United States Exploring Expedition), a five-year trip around the world during which he observed and wrote on numerous aspects of natural history. Once back in New Haven, he continued to write prolifically on geological topics, producing his Manual of Mineralogy and Manual of Geology (which you can read at the links below).

  • rear view of James Dwight Dana House, photographed by Robert Fulton III, June 1967 (Library of Congress)
  • front view of the house (Historic Buildings of Connecticut)
  • James Dwight Dana (Library of Congress, retrieved from Encyclopaedia Britannica)

Early Life and Expeditions
James Dwight Dana was born in Utica, New York in 1813 and studied geology at Yale. His first published scientific paper was on the volcano Mount Vesuvius, which he visited while traveling on a Navy ship. Upon his return to Yale, he worked as an assistant to Benjamin Silliman, a professor of Chemistry and Minerology at Yale whose daughter Henrietta he would later marry. In 1838, Dana joined the Wilkes Expedition (United States Exploring Expedition), led by Charles Wilkes. During the five-year journey, Dana was very impressed by the Pacific Ocean coral reefs, which he wrote about in his academic work. When the expedition's zoologist left, Dana filled this role as well, studying and writing on the corals and crustaceans they encountered. 

Life in New Haven
After the expedition, Dana returned to New Haven and married Henriette Silliman in 1844. Over the next decade, he published his findings from the Wilkes Expedition, supported by a government stipend. As Louis Pirrson explained in his 1919 biography of Dana, "in that day there was little opportunity for one to assume a career in pure science unless his own fortune allowed him to do so" (56-57). Dana's work during this time covered a diverse array of topics: minerals, fossils, corals and coral islands, the origin of continents, and so on, "not alone descriptive, but bringing out broad principles of distribution and classification" (Pirrson, 56). 

During the 1950s, he assumed a post at Yale as the Silliman Professor of Natural History. His teaching experience led him to develop his famous textbooks, most notably his Manual of Geology, first published in 1862. Henry Williams, writing in 1895 following Dana's death, asserted that "the preparation of the Manual of Geology was perhaps the greatest of his contributions to geology; of its value every geologist of America knows. It has done more to unify and codify geology than any other work" (620). Dana also produced an abridged Text-book of Geology for less advanced students, as well as multiple editions of his System of Mineralogy.

Architecture of the Dana House
This house blends Italianate design with Indian (or Anglo-Indian) elements. The portico columnns are a particularly distinctive feature. As architectural historian James O'Gorman explains, "In these details, [Henry] Austin's architecture touches on the nineteenth-century love for the exotic, for Orientalism, that distortion of Eastern cultures that also found its way into the painting and literature of the period" (38).

"James Dwight Dana." Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. Accessed May 23, 2017. 

"The James Dwight Dana House (1849)." Historic Buildings of Connecticut. April 16, 2008. Accessed February 18, 2017. 

Lienhard, John. "James Dwight Dana." Engines of Our Ingenuity, University of Houston. Accessed February 18, 2017.

Lienhard, John. "The Wilkes Expedition." Engines of Our Ingenuity, University of Houston. Accessed February 18, 2017.

O'Gorman, James. Henry Austin: In Every Variety of Architectural Style. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2008. Especially p. 33-39.

Pirrson, Louis. "Biographical Memoir of James Dwight Dana, 1813-1895." National Academy of Sciences. 1919.

Waage, Karl. "James D. Dana." Encyclopaedia Britannica. Accessed May 23, 2017.

Williams, Henry Shaler. "James Dwight Dana and His Work as a Geologist." The Journal of Geology 3, no. 6 (1895): 601-21.