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.