This collection of essays discusses the marketing of scientific and medical instruments from the eighteenth century to the First World War. The evidence presented here is derived from sources as diverse as contemporary trade literature, through newspaper advertisements, to rarely-surviving inventories, and from the instruments themselves. The picture may not yet be complete, but it has been acknowledged that it is more complex than sketched out twenty-five or even fifty years ago. Here is a collection of case-studies from the United Kingdom, the Americas and Europe showing instruments moving from maker to market-place, and, to some extent, what happened next.
The application of photography to astronomy was a critical step in the development of astrophysics at the end of the nineteenth century. Using custom-built photographic telescopes and objective prisms, astronomers took images of the sky on glass plates during a 100-year period from many observing stations around the globe. After each plate was developed, astronomers and their assistants studied and annotated the plates as they made astrometric, photometric and spectroscopic measurements, counted galaxies, observed stellar variability, tracked meteors, and calculated the ephemerides of asteroids and comets. In this paper, the authors assess the importance of the plate annotations for future scientific, historical, and educational programs. Unfortunately, many of these interesting annotations are now being erased when grime is removed from the plates before they are digitized to make the photometric data available for time-domain astrophysics. To see what professional astronomers and historians think about this situation, the authors conducted a survey. This paper captures the lively discussion on the pros and cons of the removal of plate markings, how to best to document them if they must be cleaned off, and what to do with plates whose annotations are deemed too valuable to be erased. Three appendices to the paper offer professional guidance on the best practices for handling and cleaning the plates, photographing any annotations, and rehousing them.
The Leyden jar was arguably the most important instrument for electrical experiments in the second half of the 18th century, and Benjamin Franklin’s fame as a natural philosopher was based largely on his explanation of how it worked. In two remarkable letters written in the 1750s to scholars in Boston, Franklin offers instruction on the making of Leyden jars and assembling them into batteries. The letters also illustrate the challenges of getting and maintaining natural philosophical apparatus in colonial America, and a culture of recycling goods in order to make do.
Analysis of a Galapagos tortoise specimen marked "Ship Abigail," which belongs to Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology, with remarks on Herman Melville, Charles Darwin, and whaling. Online at Wonders and Marvels.
In a world obsessed with the virtual, tangible things are once again making history. Tangible Things invites readers to look closely at the things around them, ordinary things like the food on their plate and extraordinary things like the transit of planets across the sky. It argues that almost any material thing, when examined closely, can be a link between present and past.
The authors of this book pulled an astonishing array of materials out of storage--from a pencil manufactured by Henry David Thoreau to a bracelet made from iridescent beetles--in a wide range of Harvard University collections to mount an innovative exhibition alongside a new general education course. The exhibition challenged the rigid distinctions between history, anthropology, science, and the arts. It showed that object-centered inquiry inevitably leads to a questioning of categories within and beyond history.
Tangible Things is both an introduction to the range and scope of Harvard's remarkable collections and an invitation to reassess collections of all sorts, including those that reside in the bottom drawers or attics of people's houses. It interrogates the nineteenth-century categories that still divide art museums from science museums and historical collections from anthropological displays and that assume history is made only from written documents. Although it builds on a larger discussion among specialists, it makes its arguments through case studies, hoping to simultaneously entertain and inspire. The twenty case studies take us from the Galapagos Islands to India and from a third-century Egyptian papyrus fragment to a board game based on the twentieth-century comic strip "Dagwood and Blondie." A companion website catalogs the more than two hundred objects in the original exhibition and suggests ways in which the principles outlined in the book might change the way people understand the tangible things that surround them.
Schechner, Sara J. “Webster Memories.” In Rod aand Madge Webster: A Legacy of Collections, Philanthropy, and Friendship, 62-67. Chicago: Adler Planetarium, 2014.
Review of Historické vědecké přístroje v mikulovských sbírkách: Katalog vědeckých přístrojů z 16. až 19. století ve sbírkách Regionálního muzea v Mikulově [Historical Scientific Instruments in the Mikulov Collections: Catalogue of Scientific Instruments from the 16th to 19th Centuries in the Collection of the Regional Museum in Mikulov] by Zdeněk Horsky.
Time: We find it, keep it, measure it, obey it, rely on it, waste it, save it, chop it and try to stop it. We organize our lives around it, and yet, do we really know what time is? Drawing upon collections in Harvard’s scientific, historical archaeological, anthropological, and natural history museums and libraries, the book explores the answers given to that question in different ages by different world cultures and disciplines. Themes include time finding from nature and time keeping by human artifice. Readers of this book will explore cultural beliefs about the creation and end of time, the flow of time, and personal time as marked by rites of passage. They will take time out, and examine the power of keeping time together in music, dance, work, and faith. They will explore time’s representation in history and objects of personal memory, its personification in art, and its expression in biological evolution and the geological transformations of our planet. Featured objects include portable sundials and precision clocks, calendars from different cultures and epochs, time charts shaped like animals, Mesopotamian, Native American, and African ritual objects, fossils, metamorphosing creatures, and Julia Child’s stopwatch.