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MERSENNE  January 2016

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Subject:

Science Museum Research Seminar series

From:

Alison Hess <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Alison Hess <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 13 Jan 2016 12:02:39 +0000

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Dear list members,

We are pleased to announce the latest in our series of Research Seminars. These friendly seminars are open to students, museum professionals and academics with an interest in the history of science, technology, engineering, medicine and maths; museums, their audiences and collections. Feel free to bring a packed lunch to eat during the seminar.

All seminars between 1-2pm in the Dana Study, Dana Research Centre and Library, 165 Queen’s Gate.

We hope to see you there!

19th Jan, Barry Murnane, Pharmacy as a Laboratory of Modernity - A Knowledge Exchange Partnership, (Science Museum/ The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities)

2nd Feb, Jacob Ward, "The future must be invented, not predicted": Human imagination and computer prediction in the Post Office, 1967-1983, (Science Museum/UCL)

16th Feb, Lee MacDonald, Kew Observatory and the origins of the National Physical Laboratory, (Sackler Fellow, National Maritime Museum)

1st March, Ceri Pitches, From Explosions to Explainers: a new historiography of the SMG explainer role, (National Media Museum/ University of Leeds)

15th March, Ella Ravilious, Photography at the South Kensington Museum/V&A (V&A)

29th March, Tobias Becker, Homesick for Yesterday: A history of the “nostalgia wave” in the 1970s and 80s (German Historical Institute)

Abstracts

19th Jan, Barry Murnane, Pharmacy as a Laboratory of Modernity - A Knowledge Exchange Partnership, (Science Museum/ The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities)

If modernization can be defined by the master narratives of medico-scientific, economic, industrial and cultural production/innovation, pharmacy can be identified as a laboratory of modernity insofar as it unites these key discursive realms. Such a focus on pharmacy enables an engagement with the material dimensions in medical therapies, tracing the 'biographies' or social lives of pharmaceutical preparations to tell the story of medicines and the technological conditions of their discovery and delivery. In my paper I will introduce the rationale behind my project at the museum and will discuss a focus on pulmonary illness and inhalation therapy in the 19th century which will be one particular aspect of my work over the coming months. 

2nd Feb, Jacob Ward, "The future must be invented, not predicted": Human imagination and computer prediction in the Post Office, 1967-1983, (Science Museum/UCL)

This talk explores the research of the Post Office Long Range Planning Department, which was established in 1967 to guide technological development in telecommunications. Whilst this was ostensibly the department's goal, their research was also used to emphasise the inventiveness of research staff and articulate the primacy of man over machine in a period where an electronic, computer-controlled telecommunications network raised concerns about the automation of labour and potential loss of privacy. However, by 1980, imagination had been replaced by computer prediction. This talk will explore the computerisation of futures research in the Post Office, linking changing attitudes to computer control to the turbulent politics, economics, and resources crises of the 1970s.

16th Feb, Lee MacDonald, Kew Observatory and the origins of the National Physical Laboratory, (Sackler Fellow, National Maritime Museum)

Standard histories of the National Physical Laboratory present its foundation in 1900 as a classic example of nineteenth-century laissez-faire attitudes towards the patronage of science giving way to recognition of the need for state-funded research laboratories.  In this paper, I argue that the existing historiography attaches too little importance to the role of the largely privately-funded Kew Observatory in creating the NPL.  Kew was not merely a convenient first site for the NPL.  Much of the instrument-testing work of the early NPL had already formed an important part of the programme at Kew for several decades – as some instruments in the Science Museum’s collections help to demonstrate.  I thus argue that the NPL was not a clean break with nineteenth-century conceptions of the patronage of science. 

1st March, Ceri Pitches, From Explosions to Explainers: a new historiography of the SMG explainer role, (National Media Museum/ University of Leeds)

My research proposes a new historiography of the SMG explainer, locating the role clearly within the discipline of performance (and performance studies) and arguing for an embodied history and transmission of behaviours that dates back to the C19 lecture-demonstration practices of Davy, Faraday and Tyndall.  The paper begins by introducing key ideas from performance theories  – restored behaviour (Schechner 2002), archive and repertoire (Taylor 2003) and vertical transmission (Watson 2001) - to support my tracing of a new explainer lineage. In the second section I offer a more detailed exploration of some of the live interpretative practices at the Science Museum from 1924-mid 1980s, ones that, I suggest, should be viewed as early prototype ‘explaining’. 

15th March, Ella Ravilious, Photography at the South Kensington Museum/V&A (V&A)

The South Kensington Museum (later renamed the Victoria and Albert Museum) made, used and collected photographs from its earliest beginnings in the 1850s through to the present. This activity had many purposes and the photographic prints were viewed and used in myriad ways. The photographs of art objects and artefacts made by the Photographic Studio and the photographs collected by the National Art Library, the Circulation Department and the Photographs Collection together constitute a formidable resource. The shared photographic history between the Science Museum and the V&A is rich and include connections which are still coming to light today.

29th March, Tobias Becker, Homesick for Yesterday: A history of the “nostalgia wave” in the 1970s and 80s (German Historical Institute)

Throughout the 1970s and 80s intellectuals in the US, Britain and West Germany complained about a “nostalgia wave”, an almost pathological yearning for a sentimentalised past that afflicted Western societies. This wave was seen to manifest itself in the booming antiques trade, the success of the conservation movement and the popularity of historical books, museums and exhibitions, in short, what Robert Hewison dubbed the “heritage industry”. My paper reconstructs the nostalgia discourse and asks what to make of it retrospectively. It wants to find out how our perception and our use of the past has changed during the second half of the twentieth century and why.

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