Scientific Instruments on Display


During their active lives, scientific instruments generally inhabit the laboratory, observatory, classroom or the field. But instruments have also lived in a wider set of venues, as objects on display. As such, they acquire new levels of meaning; their cultural functions expand.

This book offers selected studies of instruments on display in museums, national fairs, universal exhibitions, patent offices, book frontispieces, theatrical stages, movie sets, and on-line collections. The authors argue that these displays, as they have changed with time, reflect changing social attitudes towards the objects themselves and toward science and its heritage. By bringing display to the center of analysis, the collection offers a new and ambitious framework for the study of scientific instruments and the material culture of science.

Contributors are: Amy Ackerberg-Hastings, Silke Ackermann, Marco Beretta, Laurence Bobis, Alison Boyle, Fausto Casi, Ileana Chinnici, Suzanne Débarbat, Richard Dunn, Inga Elmqvist-Söderlund, Ingrid Jendrzejewski, Peggy A. Kidwell, Richard Kremer, Mara Miniati, Richard A. Paselk, Donata Randazzo, Steven Turner.

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Pages: 217–231
Silke Ackermann is Director of the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford and President of the Scientific Instrument Commission of the IUHPS. She is particularly interested in the transfer of knowledge between the Islamic World and Europe.

Richard L. Kremer is Associate Professor of History at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. He has published widely on the history of early modern astronomy and on the use, production of and trade in scientific instruments.

Mara Miniati is Emeritus Curator of the Museo Galileo in Florence. She is interested in Renaissance scientific instruments and in the history of the scientific institutions.
"Several papers in this volume present excruciating details concerning the struggles that various people have faced when trying to get historic scientific instruments onto exhibit and keeping them there. Seldom, however, do they grapple with the question of why anyone, other than the odd collector, curator or historian of technology, should want to look at these instruments."
- At:, by Deborah Jean Warner, curator at the Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, Washington and the founding editor of Rittenhouse, the forerunner of eRittenhouse.

The book […] can be put to use by scholars interested in the history of science, scientific instruments, material culture, museums and the history of science in public. It joins a growing literature that reveals a desire to bring such studies together for their mutual benefit.”
- Rebekah Higgit (University of Kent), The British Journal for the History of Science, 2015, 697-699 pp.
List of Illustrations
Notes on Contributors
Silke Ackermann, Richard L. Kremer and Mara Miniati
Colour Plates
1. Andrea Corsini and the Creation of the Museum of the History of Science in Florence (1930-1961)
Marco Beretta
2. “Not for their beauty”: Instruments and narratives at the Science Museum, London
Alyson Boyle
3. “More Artistic than Scientific”: Exhibiting Instruments as Decorative Arts in the Victoria & Albert Museum
Richard Dunn
4. “Of sufficient interest …, but not of such value …”: 260 Years of Displaying Scientific Instruments in the British Museum
Silke Ackermann
5. Instruments on Display at the Paris Observatory
Laurence Bobis and Suzanne Débarbat
6. Looking at Scientific Instruments on Display at the United States Centennial Exhibition of 1876
Richard L. Kremer
7. Permanent Demonstrations: The Science Teaching Museum at the University of Chicago
Steven C. Turner
8. The Display of Twentieth-Century Instruments at Humboldt State University
Richard A. Paselk
9. Slide Rules on Display in the United States, 1840-2010
Peggy Aldrich Kidwell and Amy Ackerberg-Hastings
10. “Exceedingly Ridiculous”: Telescopes on Displayon the Seventeenth-Century Stage
Ingrid Jendrzejewski
11. Instruments on Movie Sets: A Case Study
Ileana Chinnici, Donatella Randazzo and Fausto Casi
12. Display of Instruments on Seventeenth Century Astronomical Frontispieces
Inga Elmqvist Söderlund
General Index
All interested in the history of science and scientific instruments, the material and visual cultures of science, and the institutional and social history of museums and museology.
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