Oxford Arts Blog

A new exhibition at the Museum of History of Science will tell the story of a promising English physicist killed during the First World War.

Henry 'Harry' Moseley was an exceptionally promising young English physicist in the years immediately before World War I. His work on the X-ray spectra of the elements provided a new foundation for the Periodic Table and contributed to the development of the nuclear model of the atom.

Yet Moseley’s life and career were cut short. He was killed in 1915, aged 27, in action at Gallipoli, Turkey.

With support from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), the Museum of the History of Science is staging a centenary exhibition, 'Dear Harry…' – Henry Moseley: A Scientist Lost to War. This marks Moseley's great contribution to science and reveals the impact of his death on the international scientific community and its relationship with government and the armed forces.

The exhibition opens on 14 May and runs until 18 October 2015.

Using entries from Moseley's mother’s diary, Moseley's original scientific apparatus from the Museum's collections, and his own personal correspondence, the exhibition presents an intimate biographical portrait set against the wider stage of international scientific discovery and World War I.

Through his research and experiments in Oxford and Manchester – where he worked with 'father of nuclear physics' Ernest Rutherford – Moseley made significant and lasting impacts in both physics and chemistry.

Had he lived, the young Moseley was tipped to have been a prime candidate for one of the 1916 Nobel Prizes. Instead, as Isaac Asimov wrote, "in view of what [Moseley] might still have accomplished ... his death might well have been the most costly single death of the War to mankind generally".

The international scientific community was fleetingly re-united in its condemnation of the loss of such a scientific talent, and Moseley’s death led to wider changes in the way that science, scientific research, and scientists were used in war.

Thanks to the HLF’s Our Heritage grant award, the 'Dear Harry…' project will conserve apparatus and archives in the Museum’s collections, permit a subsequent permanent redisplay of this important material, and deliver a broad programme of public events, education work, and digital resources.

The funding has also allowed the Museum to partner with the Royal Engineers Museum, Library and Archive, the Royal Signals Museum, the Department of Physics at the University of Oxford, and Trinity College, Oxford, where Moseley studied. Rarely-seen artefacts from each of these collections will be featured in the exhibition.

'Dear Harry…' has been timed to allow many of the key dates in Moseley's preparations for Gallipoli, and ultimately his death in August 1915, to be presented exactly 100 years later.

A 'live blog', both online and in-gallery, will pick out this centenary anniversary using extracts from archive material to present the events and thoughts of Moseley 100 years to the day.

Oxford wins the Boat Race...of 1863

Matt Pickles | 13 Apr 2015

This weekend the Thames hosted an historic Boat Race, with the women's crew racing on the same course as the men for the first time. Professor Sally Shuttleworth, a historian at Oxford, leads 'Diseases of Modern Life', a project which explores the medical, literary and cultural responses in the Victorian age to the perceived problems of stress and overwork.

In a guest post for Arts Blog, Professor Shuttleworth compares yesterday's Boat Race to the race of 1863.

With the crowds, the launches, and the world's media watching, the Oxford and Cambridge boat race seems a fairly riotous occasion. Such disruption as we see, however, including Trenton Oldfield's protest in 2012, is as nothing compared to the experience in the mid-nineteenth century.

In 1863, the medical reformer Dr Benjamin Ward Richardson depicted the scenes on the banks of the Thames on the day of the boat race, with maniac equestrians charging through the crowds, cannons firing and blowing off fingers, and even noses: ‘Women screaming from balconies and windows: children falling from garden-walls, or rolling into the stream to be fished out by dogs, half drowned or dead’.

On the river itself, following the rowing boats, were ‘heavy, black, roaring, filibustering steamers, calling themselves “Citizens,” and so weighted with human yelling craft that one side is in the water and the helmsman thinks it a consolation that it could not possibly be a worse fate to go over altogether’.

How sedate we seem now, with our mildly drunken crowds, and carefully managed flotilla of launches, carrying media-men, and a few lucky university members. No lost fingers or noses, no half-drowned children; no black steamers freighted with yelling hordes.

Even the finish, with our excited television announcers proclaiming the results to the world, seems tame by comparison with the Victorian experience: ‘Pandemonium let loose, in such a burst of human throat, cannon throat, steam throat, as charges the very clouds with thunder, and telegraphs to Hercules the news that “Oxford has won”’.

This is the age of the telegraph, but Richardson depicts a wonderful mix of modes of communication: horses instantly dash off in all directions carrying the news, whilst the air is filled with pigeons, ‘ticketed “Oxford has won”’, flying away at sixty miles an hour, and that instrument of modernity, the telegraph, ‘dins every station in the kingdom’ with the news of Oxford’s victory.

Richardson's own interest in this scene of mayhem lies not so much in the spectacle itself, as in its implications for health. The above descriptions come from an article in the newly-founded Social Science Review on the consequences of physical overwork.

The Victorians, as many historians have noted, were deeply concerned about the possibilities of over-pressure on the brain from new modes of work, but less attention has been paid to their concerns with its physical correlate, over-pressure on the body.

Richardson is in favour of exercise, but in moderation. He warns of the dangers of the ‘competitive animal physics’ exhibited in the boat race. His verdict on the triumphant crew is alarming: there is not one 'who will not die so many years sooner by so much effort performed beyond his natural power'. Although extreme in its rhetoric, his argument chimes with current popular and medical concerns about excessive exercise.

In an interesting parallel with contemporary tales of individuals who move from sedentary lifestyles to over-active gym memberships, with fatal results, Richardson recounts the story of men who have ‘waxed fat’ and have joined the Volunteer force (the equivalent of our Territorial Army) "to work themselves down”, and have instead destroyed their health, and worse.

In opposition to the tenets of muscular Christianity, and the supreme faith placed in physical exercise and drill as training for the imperial mission, Richardson suggests that the Volunteer system, 'instead of imparting national strength, … is elaborating national weakness, by enforcing in excess exertion which, in moderation, would be most useful'.

Over the next decades, the Oxford and Cambridge boat race became the focus of repeated medical investigations in an attempt to determine whether placing such a strain on the body did indeed injure health.

Richardson, founder and President of the National Cycling Society, was strongly in favour of exercise, but retained a healthy scepticism towards the benefits derived from the boat race itself: 'Two boats holding crews half naked, said crews tugging might and main to gain a ridiculous staff, opposite and belonging to a “public” house.'

Would he have been surprised to learn that the tradition (with minor modifications) continues unabated to this day?

Diseases of Modern Life: Nineteenth-Century Perspectives is a five year research project, led by Professor Sally Shuttleworth, and funded by the European Research Council.

An exhibition about the effects of Alzheimer's co-organised by The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH) and the O3 Gallery opens in Oxford on Saturday.

'That Other Place' will be shown at the O3 Gallery in Oxford Castle Quarter from 4 to 24 April. The exhibition explores Alzheimer's disease from the perspectives of both sufferer and carer.

The collaboration is part of TORCH’s Humanities and Science series. It follows a TORCH seminar earlier this year, when an interdisciplinary panel of scholars explored the potential opportunities, and challenges, of engagement between the humanities and mental health.

The discussion was led by Professor John Geddes, Head of the Department of Psychiatry at Oxford. Professor Geddes said: 'Deep engagement between humanities and mental health may lead to better treatments. It may also enhance people’s experience of health services and lead to greater public engagement with the challenge of mental illness.'

Highlights of the exhibition include Fausto Podovini’s photographic series MIRELLA, which won the World Press Photo contest in 2013. These images chart the decline of the Mirella’s husband, Luigi, who began to show symptoms of Alzheimer’s aged 65.  Mirella cared for Luigi for six years, including during the final year of his life when Luigi no longer recognised his wife.

Hayley Morris's stop-motion film UNDONE, winner of the Slamdance Award 2009, evokes the progressive loss of memory and identity in an Alzheimer’s sufferer.

Stephen Tuck, Director of TORCH, said: 'The Humanities and Science series builds on a longstanding tradition of interdisciplinary work at Oxford, by bringing unexpected disciplines together to address new research questions. One focus of the series has been mental health, which is a growing concern, and one which Oxford is particularly well placed to address.'

'Collaboration with museums and galleries is an integral part of TORCH’s mission,’ says Victoria McGuinness, Business Manager at TORCH. ‘Over the past year we have worked with the Ashmolean, the Museum of Natural History, the Museum of the History of Science and Compton Verney to organise research activity and events that enable exchange between researchers and the public. We are delighted to be staging our first exhibition with the O3 Gallery.'

Helen Statham, Director of the O3 Gallery, said: 'We are delighted to use this opportunity to bring together the artistic and academic life of the city to explore one of the most pressing issues of our time.'

New exhibitions open at Ashmolean

Matt Pickles | 27 Mar 2015

Two new exhibitions have opened at the Ashmolean Museum.

Love Bites: Caricatures by James Gillray and Great British Drawings will be on display until 21 June and 31 August respectively.

Love Bites marks the 200th anniversary of the death of British caricaturist James Gillray. Visitors can see more than 60 of Gillray’s finest caricatures from the collection of New College, Oxford.

'We are accustomed to seeing caricatures that divide the world along political and personal lines,’ says Professor Todd Porterfield, exhibition curator.

'In this exhibition I hope to emphasise a previously under-explored theme in James Gillray’s work: love, friendship and alliances; and by doing so to provoke fresh insights into his work and to show that Gillray was a substantial figure of his time and an enduringly great artist.'

Great British Drawings showcases the Ashmolean’s collection of British drawings and watercolours, which is considered one of the most important in the world. The exhibition comprises more than 100 words by some of the country’s greatest artists and many of them are on display for the first time.

The exhibition includes work from Flemish artists working in Britain in the sixteenth and seventh centuries and experiments in modernism instigated on the Continent and enthusiastically taken up by the British after the First World War.

'The exhibition of Great British Drawings can only scratch the surface of the extraordinary riches of the Ashmolean’s collections,' says Colin Harrison, Senior Curator of European Art at the Ashmolean Museum.

'It will provide the visitor with an unparalleled opportunity to explore the amazing variety of drawing in Britain, from the rapid sketch in pencil or pen, to the most highly wrought watercolour.'

Ashmolean staff hanging a James Gillray caricatureAshmolean staff hanging a James Gillray caricature

Ashmolean Museum

The remains of Richard III were reinterred at Leicester Cathedral today (26 March 2015).

Dr Alexandra Buckle, an expert in medieval music at Oxford University, has been on the Liturgy Committee for the Reinterment of King Richard III for nearly two years, after finding the only known manuscript to document what a medieval reburial service involved.

Over the last two years, Dr Buckle has been working on the context of medieval reburials, looking at why they happened, who organised them and who received them. She has managed to compile a long list of the great, the good and the not-so-good of the 1400s, involving most kings, dukes and earls.

She said: 'Medieval reburials were far more common than I envisaged. They happened for many reasons – this was an age of active warfare – many who fell in battle were buried cloe to where they fell, only to be moved by family members to a place with family associations 10-30 years later.

'Other reasons include political, status and, always, a desire to keep the dead in the memory of the living. Richard III was involved in two reburial ceremonies (for his father, Richard, duke of York and for Henry VI) so he would have not been unfamiliar with the medieval document of reburial I found, which dates from his life time.'

Dr Buckle's discovery has formed the basis for the ceremony in Leicester Cathedral.

She said: ' The manuscript I found in the British Library has really guided the process: the opening and closing prayers are taken from this, as well as much in between.

'The manuscript includes two unique prayers, not known to survive in any other liturgy, and these have become a real feature of the service.  They draw on passages in the bible which feature bones – the famous ‘dry bones’ passage from Ezekiel and the carrying of Joseph’s bones from Egypt to Canaan.

'The document has also influenced the music – although the medieval chant of this service will not be the only music heard, the same items of music will be used. For example, where the document asks for Psalm 150, the chant will not be used but a modern setting of this will be heard instead, in this case a setting, which has been revised for this occasion.

'The manuscript called for a lengthy service, running over two days so some of the material has had to be cut, namely the  prayers which draw heavily on the doctrine of Purgatory and are, therefore, not appropriate in a modern, Church of England service. In addition, some modern elements (such as hymns, commissions and The National Anthem) have had to be added to make this service intelligible to the congregation and those watching the broadcast at home but much remains from the medieval rite.'

Dr Buckle said the ceremony gives a dignity to Richard III's memory that would have been missing from his original burial.

'When I started work on this manuscript, I never envisaged it would influence a service of national importance and that some of the prayers I unearthed would end up in the mouth of The Archbishop of Canterbury. The team at Leicester have had a hard task but I think they have managed to blend the medieval and modern sensitively. Richard III’s funeral was notoriously plain and hasty: he did not have a coffin, his grave was too small and he only had the most basic of funerary masses. The overriding concern of the team at Leicester has been to bury Richard, this time around, with dignity and honour, and it has been very special to be involved with this process.'

Dr Buckle is blogging about her research and her involvement in the Richard III reinterment here.

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