Scale: A Matter of Perspective (2017)

Presentation Date: 

Thursday, March 9, 2017


Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments, Harvard University

Alice motif with mushrooms

We see scale throughout our daily lives and navigate through it without thinking too much about our changing rank.  The world is teeming with things larger and smaller in scale than us in size or social hierarchy.  We have instruments to explore and analyze these things.  We also display or signal our place in the world by our clothing and personal accoutrements, our associations, tastes, and politics.  This exhibition invites visitors to think about their place in the world in ways they might not have done before.

Scale: A Matter of Perspective explores the concept of scale from multiple viewpoints. It includes historic telescopes and microscopes that investigated the macro- and microcosmic worlds, models that scaled things up versus those that scaled things down (e.g., molecular or botanical models versus globes or ethnographic dioramas), scale in literature (think Alice in Wonderland or Gulliver's Travels), the high and low pitches of animal calls, and social scale as evidenced by adornments.

The four lenses, objective prism, and tailpiece of the 24-inch aperture Bruce photographic telescope are front and center.  Built by Alvan Clark & Sons, 1893, the giant telescope traveled to Peru and South Africa where it took more than 70,000 photographs on glass plates before returning to Massachusetts.  Accompanying the Bruce elements are photographs taken in Peru that were annotated by Henrietta Swan Leavitt, a “computer” at Harvard College Observatory, as well as a pair of her logbooks.  Leavitt’s discovery of the period-luminosity relationship of Cepheid variable stars provided a yardstick to measure the universe, fundamentally altering our view of its scale.

Bruce optics in Scale exhibition

See also: 2010s