Oxford University Gazette

Annual Report of the Museum of History of Science 1994-5

Supplement (2) to Gazette No. 4401

Monday, 20 May 1996

Contents of the supplement:

To Gazette No. 4402 (23 May 1996)

To Gazette Home Page

Staff changes

The Curator, Mr F.R. Maddison, retired on 30 September 1994 and a party was organized in the Museum, which served also to launch a festschrift publication, Learning, Language and Invention. Essays Presented to Francis Maddison, edited by W.D. Hackmann and A.J. Turner.

Dr J.A. Bennett, formerly Curator of the Whipple Museum of the History of Science, succeeded Mr Maddison on 1 October with the new title of 'Keeper'.

Dr W.D. Hackmann, formerly Assistant Curator, has been given the title `Senior Assistant Keeper'.

Joan Stevens, the Museum's long-serving Janitor, and the part-time invigilator John Glozier both retired and were presented with retiring gifts from the Museum by Mr Maddison at a reception in December.

Mr G.M. Hudson has been appointed to a part-time post of `Curatorial Assistant', filling the two days per week left vacant by the part- time employment of the Photographer and Technician. He has been principally concerned with the setting up of the computer network and preparing publications for the press.

The post of Assistant Keeper was advertised and, after four candidates were interviewed, the post was offered to Dr S.A. Johnston of the Science Museum. Dr Johnston has accepted and will join the Museum staff in October 1995.

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Developments in the Museum

With the completion of the work of the Review Committee, the subsequent establishment of the Committee for the History of Science and Technology (with responsibility for the Museum) and the appointment of a new Keeper (formerly Curator), there has been a sense in the University that the time has arrived for development at the Museum of the History of Science. The Museum has sought in the year past to respond to this and to rise to the opportunity presented by the fund of goodwill in the University and beyond. The result has been a year of developments and new initiatives with the aim of expanding the Museum's service to its different publics while at the same time maintaining its traditional priorities of preservation, education and research.

From the beginning of January the opening hours of the Museum were changed to 12 noon to 4 p.m. This was to assist the visiting public by having a single opening period extending over lunchtime. A decision has been taken to introduce Saturday opening from October 1995.

A local computer network was installed in the building early in 1995, funded within the general University networking scheme. There are points in all the offices and also in the galleries. With the help of a grant of £15,000 from the Research and Equipment Fund, we have been able to install one computer as a server and to provide computers for the Keeper, the Senior Assistant Keeper and the Secretary, and to install a computer in the workshop, all linked by a Novell network. These machines are PCs; in addition a Macintosh Power PC has come to the Museum through its participation in the Virtual Teaching Collection project (see below). In addition to having access to electronic mail, we have been able to develop an extensive Internet site. The network will shortly be extended to the Library and to the new Assistant Keeper.

`The Measurers' exhibition (see below) was one of the most prominent features of the Internet site inaugurated in July through the work of the Curatorial Assistant. It is the most extensive site offered by an Oxford museum. A full version of `The Measurers' catalogue is available on the World Wide Web, and this has created a great deal of interest in the exhibition and in the Museum generally. In addition there is an exhibition of early photographs, a small image library, illustrated accounts of the Museum and its publications, an electronic edition of the newsletter and information for intending graduate students. In total there are about 150 images, many available at very high resolutions. The Museum's web pages are held on the University's mainframe computer Sable and the address of the home page is http://www.ox.ac.uk/departments/hooke.

A start has been made on designing a computerized inventory of the entire collection. Work on this and on Library documentation will be given priority over the next two years.

The Museum has established a twice-yearly newsletter, entitled Sph‘ra. It was designed and prepared as a computer file in the Museum and printed by Oxuniprint. Copies are distributed to a mailing list approaching 200, are sold in the Museum and distributed generally to publicise the activities of the Museum. It has been enthusiastically received.

Several initiatives have been taken to impove the security of the collections, but it would not be appropriate to document these in a published report.

Strong representations to the University regarding the inadequate storage provision for the Museum have continued and we have now been promised the use of a suitable building for several years. Again for security reasons, the building will not be indentified in this report. After some alterations have been made, it will provide with a very suitable store, but the temporary nature of the allocation is problematic.

So as to relieve the very serious congestion in the Library, new racking has been purchased and assembled in the basement research room in the Clarendon Building. The Librarian has spent much time removing material to this room and greatly improved the appearance of the Library and the space available to readers.

The most exciting potential development set underway in 1994/95 is a plan to build a new special exhibition gallery in the ditch at the rear and sides of the building at basement level, with office, workshop and studio accommodation above. In addition a new library is planned in an excavated space beneath the cobbles at the front of the building. The latter provision will allow us to turn the entire basement room—the first public laboratory in England—into a gallery and allow public access throughout. The new special exhibition space will accommodate a series of exhibitions without diminishing the space for the permanent displays, and the accommodation above is urgently needed for the Museum's extended programme of display, exhibition, documentation and publishing.

After a preliminary investigation by the Deputy Surveyor, a generous grant from the Renaissance Trust allowed the Museum to engage TBV Dangerfield to undertake a feasibility study, to provide structural surveys and costings, and to draw up plans for the development. Discussions between the Surveyors, the staff of TBV Dangerfield and the Keeper are proceeding.

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The exhibition `Scientific Books and Instruments from Robertus Anglicus to Leonhard Zübler, 1477–1614' continued on display until the end of January 1995.

A special exhibition, `The Measurers: a Flemish Image of Mathematics in the Sixteenth Century' was planned and written by the Keeper, and opened on 3 July 1995. It occupies a much larger space than the former series of exhibitions, and half of the entrance gallery was cleared to accommodate it. It is the first of a series of more ambitious exhibitions, but it is hoped that before long there will be a special exhibitions gallery and the whole of the ground floor can revert to being a permanent gallery. The exhibition was organized around the painting formerly attributed to van Balen in the Museum's collection, which shows a range of useful, everyday applications of mathematics: the series of vignettes in the painting were translated into sections of the exhibition. In addition an introductory section dealt with the historical and technical background to practical mathematics in the Netherlands in the period, and a concluding section covered the finer and more elaborate instruments not acknowledged in the painting itself but part of contemporary Flemish instrument making. The Keeper gave two radio interviews related to the exhibition. Sponsorship from the Worshipful Company of Scientific Instrument Makers and from the Fédération Internationale des Géomètres permitted the publication of an illustrated catalogue written by the Keeper and the production of a colour poster. Both the catalogue and the poster were designed in the Museum and delivered to the printers as computer files.

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Collaborations with other museums

The Museum has joined a group of European museums with similarly important collections and academic aims. At present the Museo di Storia della Scienza in Florence, the Museum Boerhaave in Leiden and the Conservatoire Nationale des Arts et Métiers in Paris are involved and an inaugural meeting of representatives from the museums has been arranged for September in Florence. It is planned to mount collaborative projects and to seek funding from the European Commission.

The Museum is a consortium member of a HEFCE-funded collaborative project known as the Virtual Teaching Collection. Among other institutions in volved is the Whipple Museum of the History of Science in Cambridge. The aim is to assemble `virtual' collections of objects relevant to certain areas of the history of science and of archaeology, so as to promote object-based teaching and learning and to provide resources for lecturers and students in higher education when immediate access to real collections is impossible.

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Teaching and seminar organization

The Keeper and Senior Assistant Keeper contributed courses to the M.Sc. in Economic and Social History.

The Keeper organized a series of eight seminars in the Michaelmas Term under the title `Current Perspectives in the History of Astronomy'. They were held in the Modern History Faculty.

In collaboration with Mr Scott Mandelbrote the Keeper organized a series of eight seminars in Hilary term on `Magic, Science and Religion in Early Modern Europe'. They were held in All Souls College.

The Museum sponsored a new seminar series on `Collection and Comparison in the Sciences' in Trinity Term. Dr Richard Drayton and the Keeper organized four seminars held in the Museum, with topics in the history of collecting and of museums in relation to the History of Science. It is planned to continue the seminar in the coming years.

The Keeper delivered the annual Harriot Lecture in Oriel College on 18 May.

The Museum has agreed to joint sponsorship with the Science Museum in London and the Whipple Museum in Cambridge of a termly seminar which will rotate between the three centres. The first such seminar will take place in London in Michaelmas Term 1995.

A new graduate course based in the Museum has been approved by the University and will admit students for the first time in October 1996. It will be taught by the three academic members of the curatorial staff in collaboration with the Professor for the History of Science and other members of the University. A twelve-month course will lead to the award of an M.Sc. by written examination and dissertation. Teaching will occupy two and a half terms, and the dissertation the remainder of the year. The history of science will be taught using the resources of the collection, with an emphasis on the importance of material culture for the development of science. It is believed to be the only course of its kind in the world. The course title is `History of Science: Instruments, Museums, Science, Technology'.

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There were 16,639 visitors during the public opening hours for the period covered by this Report.

An accumulating deficit in the Museum's accounts over a number of years is a matter of serious concern. Underfunding of the Museum's basic running costs has been the principal cause, and the General Board has agreed a significant increase in the non-staff grant for future years. The management of the bookstall has also been revised.

The top gallery was completely redecorated. This occasioned a great deal of disruption and the opportunity was taken to begin some revision and refurbishment of the displays.

The secretary's office has been repainted. It has been decided that serious electrical deficiencies in the basement will necessitate a temporary rewiring very shortly.

Arrangements for invigilation and cleaning have been reorganized, so that there is now an invigillator responsible for each floor. The consequently minimal invigilation duties assumed by the Librarian should result in an improvement in the Library service.

Advisory visits to the Museum have been made by officers of the South Eastern Museums Service and the Museums Documentation Association, and their subsequent reports have been helpful in forward planning. The Keeper attended two training seminars at the South Eastern Museums Service—one on the use of digitized images, the other on making an application to the National Lottery.

The Senior Assistant Keeper has started to plan an association of Friends of the Museum. He has also taken on the role of Education Officer and is collaborating with other local museums' education projects for schoolchildren, such as the Oxmus workshops.

An annual party was instituted, to be held on 23 May, the birthday of Elias Ashmole. The first such celebration was in 1995.

A new letterhead for the Museum's stationary, incorporating the Museum's logo, was designed and printed.

Arguably the best improvement in the general appearance of the Museum resulted from the fixing of wooden posts at the border of the cobbled area at the front pavement, which stopped the established practice of using this space as a car-park.

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Museum publications

The following were published by the Museum during the year.

Exhibition catalogue: The Measurers: a Flemish Image of Mathematics in the Sixteenth Century, by Jim Bennett

Sphaera. The Newsletter of the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford, Issue no. 1, Spring 1995.

Six postcards, nos 6 to 12 in the third series.

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Instrument acquisitions

The more notable accessions for the year were as follows.

Lunar volvelle plate from the verso side of a medieval quadrans vetus, believed to be a missing component from a quadrant in the Museum's collection presented by Lewis Evans. Purchased with the assistance of a grant from the PRISM fund administered by the Science Museum on behalf of the Museums and Galleries Commission.

Compound microscope by Beck, London; microscope illuminator by Beck, London; compound binocular microscope by Cooke, Troughton & Simms, York. These instruments were donated by the National Physical Laboratory to be included in the Royal Microscopical—Museum of the History of Science Collection.

English wooden folding gunner's rule signed `Bengiman Jobson 1680', the only recorded instrument with this signature. Purchased.

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Library acquisitions

The most noteworthy new publication added to the library during the year has been Gloria Clifton, Directory of British Scientific Instrument Makers 1550-1851, the result of a project under the supervision of Professor G. L'E. Turner, initially under the auspices of this Museum and latterly based at the National Maritime Museum.

A small group of papers relating to the Oxford University Alembic Club, from the archive of the late L. E. Sutton, were received via the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists.

Professor G. W. Series presented 24 volumes of Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, 1971-1993, and the Royal Society's Catalogue of Portraits.

Various books and papers were presented by Mr F. R. Maddison upon his retirement.

Others who have made small gifts to the library, or given copies of their own publications, include: M. Archinard, J.A. Bennett, A. Chapman, W. D. Hackmann, A. R. Hall, K-D. Herbst, J. Holland, J. R. Millburn, C. Mollan, A. J. Turner, G. L E. Turner, E. A. Vincent.

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Model of electron density of penicillin by Dorothy Hodgkin, to a Röngten exhibition at the University of Wûrtzburg.

Octant, backstaff, traverse board and parallel rule, lent to a navigation exhibition at the Bodleian Library, now returned.

Ten instruments from the Orrery Collection, lent for a special exhibition at the Museum Boerhaave, Leiden, now returned.

Five books and instruments returned from a special exhibition at the Bowood Estate, Wiltshire.

Italian set of drawing instruments returned from a special exhibition at the Palazzo Grassi, Venice.

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With the benefit of a grant from the South Eastern Museums Service a conservation survey of the Museum's collection of globes was undertaken by the leading London globe conservator Sylvia Sumira. A number of steps have been taken as a consequence of her report, principally relating to the conditions of display. In addition the pair of Blaeu globes have been cleaned in Ms Sumira's studio.

Some conservation work has been undertaken on the frame of the painting The Measurers by Victoria Boyer, who has also been engaged to advise on work needed on other paintings and drawings.

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Filming, Visits and Other Events

The BBC filmed in the Museum on 27 October for a programme on astronomy and the Open University filmed in the Museum on 3 February in preparing a programme on the history of mathematics.

The Museum contributed to the anniversary celebrations of Green College by hosting a reception, producing a small booklet on the Radcliffe instruments and setting out several items relevant to the Radcliffe Observatory.

The Senior Assistant Keeper organized the Museum's contribution to the Science Week (SET 95) sponsored by the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS). He gave two talks in the Museum on 21 and 23 March: `Navigating the Earth and `The Natural World . He gave seven further gallery talks to visiting groups with special interests.

The Librarian gave two gallery talks in the Michaelmas Term 1994 open to the public, and several to special groups, on themes linked to the temporary exhibition of early books and instruments.

The Institute of Physics held a meeting in the Museum on 13 May and talks were given by the Keeper and by Dr Allan Chapman. The Keeper also gave a gallery talk to a group from a Rewley House history of science course on 7 March.

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Contributions by Museum staff to academic work outside the Museum


During the year Dr Bennett became Associate Editor of the Journal for the History of Astronomy, a Consulting Editor for the New Dictionary of National Biography with responsibility for astronomers, and an Advisory Editor for the Readers' Guide to the History of Science.

Dr Bennett gave the following lectures and seminars.

8 September, `Museums and the History of Science', Instrument Commission of the International Union for History and Philosophy of Science, Leiden

13 October, `What has happened to the History of Astronomy', History of Science and Technology Seminar, University of Oxford

28 October, `Science and Social Policy in Ireland in the Mid- Nineteenth Century', British Society for the History of Science meeting in Armagh

4 November, `La Grande Lunette: the Spectacle of Astronomy in 1900', public lecture organized by the Whipple Museum of the History of Science, University of Cambridge

19 November, `How to Write the History of Science', colloquium at the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie, Paris

22 November, `Trends in the Historiography of Scientific Instruments', research seminar at the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie, Paris

26 November, `Scientific Instruments 1500-1750', lecture to a colloquium at the Museum of London on the `Skilled Workforce in London'

8 December, `Can Science Museums Take History Seriously?', invited lecture to the Catalan Society for the History of Science, Tarragona

10 December, `Malpighi and the Microscope', Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine, University of Cambridge

11 February, `Artificial Instruments and the Natural World', Rewley House

28 February, `The Artist and the Astrolabe in the Renaissance', Linacre College Seminar

18 May, `Instruments, Mathematics and Natural Knowledge: Thomas Harriot's Place on the Map of Learning', Harriott Lecture, Oriel College

The following publications by Dr Bennett appeared during the year.

`The Cambridge Legacy of Robert Gunther' in W.D. Hackmann and A.J. Turner, eds, Learning, Language and Invention. Essays Presented to Francis Maddison (Aldershot: Variorum and Paris: Société Internationale de l Astrolabe, 1994)

(with D. Bertoloni Meli) Sphaera Mundi. Astronomy Books 1478-1600 (Cambridge, Whipple Museum, 1994)

The Measurers: a Flemish Image of Mathematics in the Sixteenth Century (Oxford, Museum of the History of Science, 1995)

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Senior Assistant Keeper

Dr Hackmann, as Recorder of the General Section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science meeting at Loughborough, organized a session on `Forensic Science with the novelist Baroness (P.D.) James as President. He continued as Editor of the Bulletin of the Scientific Instrument Society, Treasurer of the Society of the History of Medieval Technology and Science, and Joint Secretary of the Commission on Bibliography and Documentation, Division of the History of Science of the International Union of the History and Philosophy of Science, and was elected Chairman of the British Vintage Wireless Society. He provided the commentary for a film on `Alchemy produced for Discovery Channel, and gave several extra- mural courses on themes in the History of Science.

Dr Hackmann gave the following lectures and seminars.

2 March 1995, `Early Models of Atmospheric Physics , Dept of Atmospheric Physics at Oxford

27 May 1995, `Art Meets Alchemy and Quantum Physics , Exhibition lecture at the Museum of Modern Art

6 July 1995, `Marconi and the Transition from Telegraphy to Wireless Telegraphy : AGM Scientific Instrument Society at the Society of Antiquaries

14 July 1995, `Scientific Instruments at the Court of Henry VIII : Henry VIII Project, Society of Antiquiaries

The following publications by Dr Hackmann appeared during the year.

Edited with A.J. Turner, Learning, Language and Invention. Essays Presented to Francis Maddison (Aldershot: Variorum and Paris: Société Internationale de l Astrolabe, 1994)

`Jan van der Straet (Stradanus) and the Origins of the Mariner s Compass' in ibid

Willem Hackmann, `Attractions électriques et instruments de mesure', in Les Cahiers de Science & Vie, No. 26 (April 1995)


Mr Simcock's publications for the year were as follows.

'Elucidatio fabricae ususque: Rambling Among the Beginnings of the Scientific Instrument Bookshelf', in W.D. Hackmann and A.J. Turner, eds, Learning, Language and Invention. Essays Presented to Francis Maddison (Aldershot: Variorum and Paris: Société Internationale de l Astrolabe, 1994)

`"Reason's Dim Telescope": A Poetic Tirade Against Joseph Priestley, F.R.S.', in Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, vol.49, (1995)

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