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.


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.