Reading Instruments: Objects, Texts and Museums
Science educators, historians of science and their students often share a curiosity about historical instruments as a tangible link between past and present practices in the sciences. We less often integrate instruments into our research and pedagogy, considering artefact study as the domain of museum specialists. We argue here that scholars and teachers new to material culture can readily use artefacts to reveal rich and complex networks of narratives. We illustrate this point by describing our own lay encounter with an artefact turned over for our analysis during a week-long workshop at the Canada Science and Technology Museum. The text explains how elements as disparate as the military appearance of the instrument, the crest stamped on its body, the manipulation of its telescopes, or a luggage tag revealed the object’s scientific and political significance in different national contexts. In this way, the presence of the instrument in the classroom vividly conveyed the nature of geophysics as a field practice and an international science, and illuminated relationships between pure and applied science for early twentieth century geologists. We conclude that artefact study can be an unexpectedly powerful and accessible tool in the study of science, making visible the connections between past and present, laboratory and field, texts and instruments.
The authors would like to thank the Canada Science and Technology Museum, its curators, conservators, and staff and the organizers of the 2009 Reading Artifacts: Summer Institute in the Material Culture of Science, especially David Pantalony, Richard Kremer, Roland Wittje and Randall Brooks. We are moreover indebted to the anonymous referees who provided us with insightful and useful comments. Thanks also to J. Cameron Roberts for his research assistance on the project. Mélanie Frappier would also like to acknowledge financial support from the SSHRC Strategic Knowledge Cluster Situating Science for her participation to the workshop and the development of similar initiatives in Nova Scotia.
- Baron Roland von Eötvös (1848–1919). (1948). Nature, 162(4108), 135. doi:10.1038/162135c0.
- Barton, D. C. (1931). Gravity measurements with the Eötvös torsion balance. Bulletin of the National Research Council, 77, 167–190.Google Scholar
- Bell, R. E. (1998). Gravity gradiometry. Scientific American, 278 (6), 74–79.Google Scholar
- Bennet, J. A. (2001). Shopping for instruments in London and Paris. In P. Findlen (Ed.), Merchants and marvels: Commerce science and art in early modern Europe (pp. 370–395). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Chianello, J. (2009). Retired geophysicist Weber passes. The Ottawa citizen. May 26, 2009. http://studentsonice.com/blog/general/retired-geophysicist-weber-passes. Accessed July 10, 2010.
- Drehwaagen nach Eötvös-Schweydar. Berlin Fedinau: Askania-Werke A. G., n. d.Google Scholar
- Elliot, R., et al. (1994). Towards a material history methodology. In S. M. Pearce (Ed.), Interpreting objects and collections (pp. 109–124). London and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- E. R. F. (1926). The “Eötvös” torsion balance. Nature. 118(18), 406.Google Scholar
- Fleming, E. M. (1982). Artifact study: a proposed model. In T. J. Schlereth (Ed.), Material culture studies in America (pp. 162–173). Nashville: American Association for State and Local History.Google Scholar
- Friedel, R. (1993). Some matters of substance. In S. Lubar & W. D. Kingery (Eds.), History from things: Essays on material culture (pp. 41–50). Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press.Google Scholar
- Gerö, A. (2006). Imagined history: Chapters from nineteenth to twentieth century symbolic politics. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
- Hamilton, M. A., & McKellar, S. (2006). Learning through objects: Development of the UWO medical artifact collection as a teaching and research resource. Canadian Bulletin of Medical History, 23(1), 219–243Google Scholar
- Hood, A. (2003). Topics in material culture. University of Toronto. http://www.history.utoronto.ca/material_culture. Accessed June 2, 2011.
- Innes, M. J. S. (1962). Andrew Howard Miller 1886–1962: An obituary. Proceedings and Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, 56, 225–230.Google Scholar
- Kemp, M. (1991). “Intellectual ornaments”: Style, function and society in some instruments of art. In J. H. Pittock & A. Wear (Eds.), Interpretation and cultural history (pp. 135–152). New York: St. Martin’s Press.Google Scholar
- Kemp, M. (1997). Seeing and picturing: Visual representation in twentieth-century science. In J. Krige & D. Pestre (Eds.), Science in the twentieth century (pp. 361–390). Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publisher.Google Scholar
- Klotz, O. (1919). The dominion observatory at Ottawa. Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, 13, 1–16.Google Scholar
- Marx, G. (2003). Hungarian physicists at home and abroad: The great generations. In L. Somlyódy & N. Somlyódy (Eds.), Hungarian arts and sciences, 1848–2000 (pp. 45–57). Boulder (Co): Social Science Monographs.Google Scholar
- Miller, A. H. (1926). Gravity and isostasy. Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, 20, 327–334.Google Scholar
- Miller, A. H. (1928). Gravitational methods of geophysical prospecting. Canadian Mining Journal, 49(24), 476–481.Google Scholar
- Miller, A. H. (1929). Trip to Britain and Europe correspondence and report. Archives Canada, Miller fonds, MG30 B167.Google Scholar
- Miller, A. H. (1932). Surveys with the torsion balance and the magnetometer in eastern Canada. The Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, 26, 1–16.Google Scholar
- Miller, A. H. (1934a). The theory and operation of the Eötvös torsion balance. The Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, 28, 1–31.Google Scholar
- Miller, A. H. (1946). Gravimetric surveys of 1944 in New Brunswick. Geological Survey of Canada Bulletin, 6(32), 152–186.Google Scholar
- Miller, A. H., & Norman, G. W. H. (1936). Gravimetric survey of the Malagash salt deposit, Nova Scotia. Technical Publication, 737(47), 1–11.Google Scholar
- Millman, P. M. (1946). Winter exercise musk ox. Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, 40(1), 17–22.Google Scholar
- Schaffer, S. (2000). Object lessons. In S. Lindqvist (Ed.), Museums of modern science (pp. 62–76). Canton (Ma): Science History Publications.Google Scholar
- Stinner, A. (1998). The Hungarian phenomenon. The physics teacher, 35, 520–524.Google Scholar
- The Eötvös torsion balance. (1925). London: L. Oertling, Ltd.Google Scholar
- Turner, G. L’E. (1993). A decade in the study of scientific instruments. In R. G. W. Anderson & G. L’E. Turner (Eds.), An apparatus of instruments: The role of the scientific instrument commission (pp. 4–14). London: Scientific Instrument Commission of the IUHPS.Google Scholar
- Watts, A. B. (2001). Isostasy and flexure of the lithosphere. Cambridge: Cambridge University.Google Scholar