Public Lecture: Simon Schaffer, Friday 9 November 2018

Annual Gerard Turner Memorial Lecture

Inside the Madras Observatory; from the Madras Observatory Papers by John Goldingham, 1827.

Simon Schaffer, Professor of History of Science, University of Cambridge

Instruments and Ingenuity between India and Britain

Society of Antiquaries, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, W1J 0BE
5.30pm Tea, coffee and biscuits
6pm Lecture starts
7pm Drinks and nibbles
7.45pm Event ends
Free and open to all
No need to register, just turn up on the day

Abstract: Some influential spokesmen for British rule in nineteenth century India referred to the apparent superiority of their sciences to justify their claims to control. This appeal gave the instruments of science a salient role in colonial power. In demonstration experiments, survey schemes and engineering programmes, the hardware of the sciences were used to attempt to bolster European authority. Yet this account of scientific instruments' use in nineteenth century south Asia often neglects maintenance and repair to which instruments were subject when their fragility and vagaries became obvious. Crucial, too, is the indispensable ingenuity of Indian practitioners on whose labour these instruments' careers systematically depended. This illustrated lecture offers fascinating stories of ingenuity, adaptation and crisis which centred on scientific tools and their remarkable fate.

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Simon Schaffer is Professor of History of Science at the University of Cambridge. He has been editor of British Journal for the History of Science and Trustee of the Science Museum. In 2005 he was co-winner of the Erasmus prize. In 2013 he was awarded the Sarton Medal of the History of Science Society, in 2015 the Caird Medal of the National Maritime Museum, and in 2018 the Dan David Prize. His research concentrates on the history of natural philosophy and the physical sciences between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. In 2005–10 he led a collaborative AHRC research project on the history of the Board of Longitude and of the navigational and astronomical sciences.

Highlights of the Bulletin Part I: The Mensing Case

Since 1983 the Bulletin of the SIS has published countless essays on the history of scientific instrumentation – the archive of the Bulletin is a treasure trove of information on all sorts of devices, makers, historical episodes and instrument resources. But as you'll have found if you click on that link, it's available only to members of the SIS (you can join here).

So we thought we would showcase some highlights of the Bulletin by making articles selected by SIS members available for free. If you're a member and would like to contribute to this project please get in touch!

Our first installment comes from Joshua Nall of the Whipple Museum, Cambridge. Josh was co-author (with Boris Jardine and James Hyslop) of the recent Bulletin essay on fake antique scientific instruments – which is also available for free here. Appropriately enough, therefore, Josh chose the important 'Final Report' on The Anton Mensing Scientific Instrument Project, co-authored by Stephen Johnston,Willem F.J. Mörzer Bruyns, Jan C. Deiman and Hans Hooijmaijers and published in Bulletin 79 (December 2003). This report brought to a conclusion one of the most thorough collaborative studies of the history of instrument collections ever undertaken, and is a model for anyone planning anything similar. And, as with anything Mensing related, it's a cracking story too.

 Anton W.M. Mensing (1866–1936)

Anton W.M. Mensing (1866–1936)

 Click the image to download the article.

Click the image to download the article.

Paper Instruments in the History of Ottoman Astronomy

Gaye Danişan Polat from the Department of the History of Science, Istanbul University provides us with an overview of her research which has been funded by a grant from the SIS. Full details to follow in a subsequent issue of the Bulletin.

The importance of using paper instruments during the Ottoman period remains unexplained because there are few surving examples to help us understand their role in the history of Ottoman astronomy. To date there are still several important questions that need to be answered: When were paper instruments first used by Ottoman astronomers? Which style of paper instruments were used? Who used them? Were they widely used across the Ottoman world? Were the paper instruments used for education or actual calculations?

This study aims to clarify the purpose of using paper instruments in the Ottoman world by assessing the following surviving examples in the astronomical literature: the first example is a calendar with the title of Ruzname-i Şeyh Vefa (replicated by Ibrahim Shahidi ibn Khoudaï Dede in 1676, BnF supplément turc 537). It includes a paper instrument with two moving circles (volvelles) representing the positions of the Sun and Moon (folio 6). Composed of a series of concentric circles, this instrument enabled the user to perform caluclations relating to the age and phase of the Moon, lunar mansions and eclipses (both solar and lunar). The second example (Fig. 1, below) is also a calendar in the Kandilli Observatory (MS 540, copied A.H.1134/1721-22 A.D) made of cardboard by Derviş Mehmed el-Hasib el-Mevlevi (d.1709) who was a muwaqqit (timekeeper). There is a gurrename on the top right corner, and also circles & semicircles featuring the names of planets, zodiac signs, fixed stars, and information about the climates, zodiac, and winds. The third example (Fig. 2) is an Ottoman book on navigation entitled Navigasyon (1857) which features a serko haritası which is equivalent to a quartier de reduction (sinical quadrant) used among French mariners. We can assume that this printed paper instrument was used for pedogogical purposes since the Navigasyon was written for students at the Naval School (Mekteb-i Bahriye). Finally, there are also a few examples mounted on wood that can be to use as surviving instrument like cylindrical sundial, qıblanuma, quadrant. This project will contribe to our understanding of the use and role of paper instruments within the history of Ottoman astronomy.

Note: For more detailed infromation about serko haritası in the Ottoman Empire see Danışan Polat G., “Osmanlı Denizcileri ve Serko Haritası (Quartier de réduction),” Osmanlı Bilimi Araştırmaları/Studies in Ottoman Science, XVIII/1 (2016), pp. 1-25.

2018 SIS Study Tour to Athens, Greece

2018 SIS Study Tour to Athens, Greece
13-18 May

 Thiseio Observatory

Thiseio Observatory

Based in the Greek capital, delegates will have the opportunity to explore collections of historic scientific instruments at the following venues:

Sunday 13 May
Welcome Reception (evening)

Monday 14 May
Cycladic Art Museum
Museum of History of the University of Athens

 Penteli Observatory

Penteli Observatory

Tuesday 15 May
Museum of the University of Athens, Zografou Campus
(Museums of Education, Zoology, Paleontology and Geology)
Penteli Observatory (Newall Telescope)

Wednesday 16 May
Full day excursion to Cape Sounion to see the Temple of Poseidon and the ancient metalworking sites of Lavrio.

Thursday 17 May
Byzantine Museum
Maraslios Pedagogical School
Thiseio Observatory
Museum of Geoastrophysics
Gala dinner (evening)

 The Antikythera Mechanism

The Antikythera Mechanism

Friday 18 May
National Archaeological Museum (Antikythera Mechanism)
Delegates are free to depart in the afternoon

Approximate cost: £450 per person to include all excursions, coach travel, lunches and the gala dinner. Delegates will need to arrange their own travel and accommodation.

For further information and to book a place please contact the SIS Executive Officer, Sarah Cavalier sis@sis.org.uk. Delegates are requested to register by 23 March 2018 at the latest.

Research report: The Armsby respiration calorimeter

By Nicole Welk-Joerger (History and Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania)

The Armsby respiration calorimeter was the first of its kind in the world. Completed by 1902, and based on Wilbur Atwater’s human device, Henry Prentiss Armsby’s device was large enough to accommodate and calculate heat production in cattle. These calorimetric measurements not only helped determine the metabolism of these large food animals but determine the nutritive quality of the foods they ate. Through the first half of the 20th century, the device was converted to accommodate sheep, humans, and even used to measure the metabolism of microorganisms until its accession into a museum in the 1960s. With a generous travel grant from SIS, I was able to visit Pennsylvania State University’s (PSU) archives to research the device and visit the outside of the calorimeter building while the inside was undergoing repairs.

My visit proved that there is still much to learn about this device and its position in America’s nutrition science history. The archive holds over one-hundred detailed lab reports of experiments that were completed with the device. Many of these books contain loose sheets of paper outlining the tireless work scientists and their assistants spent on calculating not only heat, excrement, and emissions from cattle, but quality control of the device. The publications that resulted from these experiments were printed in English and German with worldwide circulation.  Scholars from around the world visited the device. And scientists that worked with Armsby and the Animal Nutrition Institute (the calorimeter its main feature) proved to be very involved in the early 20th-century political climate of the U.S.

Earlier this year while preparing the museum for repairs, staff found a treasure trove of new materials related to Armsby’s calorimeter and the Animal Nutrition Institute. They found a box of documents and photographs sitting within the calorimeter’s old, non-working freezer beneath a toppling pile of bulletin reprints. The items are currently being held at PSU’s Pasto Agricultural Museum until they can be properly processed with Special Collections. However, given my connections and the timing of my visit, I was able to get a sneak peak of the primary source material. They appear to highlight Armsby’s earlier publications with the Wisconsin Agricultural Experiment Station, his course materials as a professor at PSU, and photographs of the scientists who worked with the calorimeter after Armsby’s death in 1921.      

All images were used with permission from the Eberly Family Special Collections Library, Penn State University Libraries.

Archives consulted

  • “Science in Agriculture Vol. 23, No. 4, 1976,” Henry P. Armsby Article Reprints, 1892-1976. PSUA 75. Penn State University Archives, Special Collections Library, Penn State University Libraries.
  • ‘"Die nutzbare Energie des Timothyheues." Landwirtschaftliche Jahrbucher, 1904.’ Henry P. Armsby Article Reprints, 1892-1976. PSUA 75. Penn State University Archives, Special Collections Library, Penn State University Libraries.
  • “Calorimeter—Foreign Visitors,” Photographic vertical files, Physical Plant 1855-present. PSUA 1184. Penn State University Archives, Special Collections Library, Penn State University Libraries.
  • “Small photograph of Dr. Armsby,” William Frear papers, 1883-1922. PSUA 362. Penn State University Archives, Special Collections Library, Penn State University Libraries.
  • “Calorimeter Log Book,” Animal Nutrition Institute records, 1882-1960. PSUA 44. Penn State University Archives, Special Collections Library, Penn State University Libraries.

Visit to the Whipple Museum (Cambridge), 7th Feb

 The Main Gallery of the Whipple Museum

The Main Gallery of the Whipple Museum

SIS members are invited to the Whipple Museum of the History of Science (Cambridge) on Wednesday February 7th, 2018, for an afternoon tour and object-handling session. Details are as follows:

  • (12.30pm: Museum open to visitors)
  • 2pm–3pm: Guided tour of the Whipple Museum’s new special exhibition, Astronomy & Empire, from the Curator of Modern Sciences, Joshua Nall
  • 3pm–4pm: Handling session led by Boris Jardine and Joshua Nall, giving SIS members the opportunity to examine some of the Museum’s special and curious objects
  • (4.30pm: Museum closes to visitors)

The Whipple Museum was founded in 1944 when Robert Stewart Whipple presented his collection of scientific instruments to the University of Cambridge. The Museum holds an internationally important collection of scientific instruments and models, dating from the Middle Ages to the present.

Members should make their own way there (see the map here), there will be no payment necessary, but donations to the museum from visiting members would be welcome on the day.  The address is: Whipple Museum of the History of Science, Free School Lane, Cambridge CB2 3RH. Website: www.sites.hps.cam.ac.uk/whipple 

BULLETIN 134/135 – September/December 2017

Owing to a delay in uploading issue 134, the SIS is delighted to present the online versions of BOTH Bulletin 134 and 135 – the contents and selected articles from Bulletin 134 are now online here, and from 135 here. These two issues feature plenty of SIS news (report of the AGM, account of our visit to the wonderful Combe Mill), as well as articles on John Cuff, Richard Long, Humfrey Cole and (many!) others...

Antique Scientific Instrument Fair

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The SIS will be represented at the 61st Antique Scientific Instrument Fair. Details:

22nd October 2017
10am to 3.00pm      

Admission £5
Early entry (9.00am) £20

DoubleTree by Hilton
2 Bridge Place, Victoria
London SW1V 1QA

From the website:

The fair, the largest of its type in the world, is held twice a year in April and October. It attracts dealers and collectors from all over the world and presents an amazing display of antique instruments of science, medicine and technology. You will find microscopes, telescopes, maritime antiques, surveyor's instruments, globes, pharmaceutical and medical sets, electrostatic machines, magic lanterns, optical toys, corkscrews, clocks, compasses, architect's drawing sets, books, rules, orreries, calculating machines, early telegraph equipment . . . . . and all available for purchase from as little as a few pounds! In 2017 the fair moves into its 31st year and the October fair will be the 61st!!

Public lecture: Silke Ackermann, 20 November 2017

Fifth Turner Memorial Lecture of the Scientific Instrument Society

Dr Silke Ackermann, In the Service of Religion? ‘Science in the Islamic World’ in the Museum

5.30pm for 6.00pm on Monday 20th November 2017

King Harald V Room, The In & Out (Naval and Military) Club, No.4 St James’s Square, London SW1Y 4JU

The lecture is free and open to the general public, no booking is required, however as a Private Members Club a dress code is observed and you may be refused entry if this is not adhered to. The King Harald V room is at the top of the stairs on the left – there is a lift if required.

Dress code: Gentlemen: jacket and tie, Ladies: smart separates, dresses or business attire; No sports shoes or clothing.

Abstract: In the Museum ‘Islam’ or ‘Islamist’ are words that we read in the papers almost daily – frequently in a negative context, as unreflective labels for an amorphous group of people or ideas. ‘Islamic’ or ‘Islamicate’ are labels that have been used to refer to objects – in an equally ill-defined way. The former is often used to refer to the origin of an object with a nebulous reference to religion, the latter was introduced in the 1970s to indicate a cultural rather than a religious context - whilst for most non-specialists an intended clarity frequently caused further confusion.

So what do we actually mean when we refer to ‘Islamic Science’ in our museum galleries? What do our audiences expect when we invite them to join us in exploring ‘scientific instruments from the Islamic World’? The Museum of the History of Science in Oxford has - largely unbeknown to most visitors - one of the finest such collections. How should we explain this topic and how should we display the objects? And is the use of 'science in the service of religion' an exclusively 'Islamic' notion?  The lecture will reflect on this multifaceted and frequently challenging subject then and now – and how we might move on from here.

Dr Silke Ackermann studied History, Languages and Cultures of the Orient, and History of Science at Frankfurt University (Germany). She worked for 16 years in a variety of curatorial and managerial roles at the British Museum before taking up the Directorship of the Oxford University Museum of the History of Science (MHS) following a two-year stint at a German University between these two roles. Silke has twice served on the Committee of the Scientific Instrument Society and has just stepped down as President of the Scientific Instrument Commission. With her team at the MHS she is about to launch 'Towards 2024', the vision for the 100th anniversary of the Museum.

The lecture will be followed by an optional bookable Buffet Reception from 7.00pm to 8.45pm at the cost of £32.50 per person. To attend, please complete this form below and return it with your payment by 1st November.

Astrolabe rete, by Muḥammad Ṣāliḥ Tatawī, 1666/7, Thatta (present day Pakistan), © The Museum of the History of Science, Oxford, inv. no. 33474.

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SIS Study Tour to South Wales, 10–15 September 2017

 The Big Pit winding tower

The Big Pit winding tower

Staying in a hotel in central Cardiff, we will spend the week exploring the industrial, social and technical heritage of South Wales. Programme highlights include visits to the Royal Mint, Big Pit, the Department of Physics at the University of Cardiff, plus the opportunity to view items held in the reserve collections at museums in Cardiff, Swansea and Merthyr Tydfil.

Please contact the Executive Officer (sis@sisoffice.org.uk) for more details. The deadline for applications is 7th July 2017.

From Pharmaceutical Innovation to Public Engagement: Stephen Carter and the Micrarium in Buxton

by Viviane Quirke

In 1981, a new kind of museum opened in Buxton’s old Pump Room. It was the ‘Micrarium’, created by Dr Stephen Carter, who had previously been involved in cancer research at ICI’s Pharmaceutical Research Centre in Cheshire. The Micrarium’s ambition was to make the microscopical world, which Carter had explored in his work for ICI, more readily accessible to the wider public. For this Carter developed a remote-controlled projection microscope and, with the help of his wife Janet and their three daughters, made 50 versions of it in their home workshop in time for the opening. After winning an award from the British Tourist Authority and receiving a Museum of the Year Award, the Micrarium became the first recipient of a grant from the Fund for the Development of Interactive Science Centres. It also received acclaim from professional microscopists, who praised both the clarity of the image and the depth of field obtained with the Micrarium’s microscopes.  However, Carter’s premature death in 1987, after which his widow Janet ran the Micrarium until she retired in 1995, and the eventual displacement of the apparatus used in the Micrarium by digital technology, led to the ultimate demise, not only of the Micrarium itself, but of its very idea as a museum.

Little is known about this short-lived ‘World First’ use of microscopes in a dedicated museum setting, which through the Carters bridged a gap between scientific innovation and public engagement.  Thanks to a generous grant from SIS, I was able to visit Janet Carter in Cheshire in order to interview her and other members of the family, examine the private collection of papers and other materials held by them, and go to Buxton to see the old Pump Room as well as visit the local library.

What this research revealed, was how Carter adapted the microscope and associated technologies to fit its change of purpose and location. Carter and his family also had to develop and mobilise both personal and professional networks, as well as acquire new skills, in a way that challenged the boundary between amateur and professional science. However, despite an apparently favourable social and cultural context, the Micrarium experienced difficulties as well as successes, at a time when public engagement was becoming big business, with multiple constituencies and expanding support, but also with growing competition for resources.