Update: H Word posts on books, hoaxes, lives and laptops

Posts over on The H Word, from the last little while. Comments on all of these are now closed, but please feel free to continue any of the conversations in the comments here – particularly on reading about science, discussed in the last post listed here.  On that theme, see also Georgina Voss’s post asking for suggestions of fictional works that help explore the politics of science and technology.


Twenty years on from Longitude… rewriting the “villainous” Nevil Maskelyne

A new book on a Georgian Astronomer Royal reveals that there was a great deal more to Nevil Maskelyne than being clockmaker John Harrison’s bête noire.

The Great Moon Hoax and the Christian Philosopher

180 years ago newspaper readers were thrilled by a story about plants, animals and flying men on the Moon. Why were people convinced, was it a hoax, and why was it written? Was it a satire that went wrong?

Anna Atkins: Google’s tribute to a pioneer of botany and photography

One of the few women to gain presence in 19th-century science, her book, containing cyanotypes of botanical specimens, was the first to contain photographic images.

Destroyed Snowden laptop: the curatorial view

The Snowden MacBook, destroyed in the basement of the Guardian, is on display at the V&A. I asked some experts for their opinion of this unusual and provocative display of technology.

An alternative 13 best books about science?

What books do you think people should read to understand science – not just its content, but also its history and place in society?

Update: recent(ish) H Word posts

Rather than cross-posting the H Word posts that I seem to have missed adding to this blog, I’m going to give the links here for anyone who might have missed them.

Matthew Flinders bicentenary: statue unveiled to the most famous navigator you’ve probably never heard of (published 18 July 2014), introduced the story of the naval officer and talented surveyor and his circumnavigating cat, Trim. Their statue is now at Euston station, near where Flinders was buried in 1814.

Flinders, who surveyed much of the Australian coast, is better known down under, although even there The big Australian science picnic of 1914 (published 3 September 2014) was a forgotten story. I spoke about it on ABC Radio as well as blogging, drawing on research I did in Australia back in 2007, on the 1914 meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

Christopher Wren’s anniversary was recently marked by a well-known search engine, with a drawing of St Paul’s. I took the opportunity to point out that Google Doodle forgot to celebrate Christopher Wren the man of science (published 20 October 2014).

Whewell’s Ghost on Facebook and Twitter

I have decided that it is time to take the Facebook page and Twitter account of Whewell’s Ghost in a new direction. In part inspired by our earlier discussions about the future of The Giants’ Shoulders history of science blog carnival (and my guilt and always failing to send links into the horrible blog carnival submission system), I will be posting as many links to history of science posts and articles as I can to Facebook. This will also be picked up by the Twitter account.

So please – ‘Like’ here http://www.facebook.com/whewellsghost and ‘Follow’ @WhewellsGhost https://twitter.com/WhewellsGhost.

Please also feel free to let me know about posts @beckyfh – and all future hosts of The Giants’ Shoulders should stop by to see what I’ve been reading and enjoying!

History of science: Putting the ‘H’ in The H Word

Cross-posted from The H Word.

The Airy Transit Circle at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. Photograph: National Maritime Museum

It seems polite, in my first post in this brand new blog, to introduce myself, at least briefly, as one half of The H Word. This also seems sensible since the blog branches the Guardian science blogs out into humanities (shock! gasp! please don’t stop reading!) as it is focused on the history of science, medicine and technology. The ‘H’ in ‘The H Word’ stands for ‘history’ every bit as it does Higgitt and Heggie, the two authors.

You might note too that across the top of the blog’s front page, the links suggest you might be interested in the Guardian’s history pages, as well as the science blogs and articles tagged history of science. The “Two Cultures” (which never did exist) are properly united here. Nevertheless I should, perhaps, come clean here and now and admit that I am Rebekah and I am a historian.

I was last taught science formally in my penultimate year at school (the Scottish system meant I kept one science up a year longer than I would have done had I been at school in England), my first degree was in history, my second in 17th-century studies and my last in history of science. My undergraduate background makes me somewhat in the minority within the field, but the delightful thing about the academic discipline of history of science is that it does attract and welcome people with backgrounds in arts and humanities, science and social sciences: it makes for healthy and fascinating conversations.

It certainly puts me in the minority as a Guardian science blogger, but I hope you will be kind, and I am determined that you will be interested. I hope too that readers of history, books, arts and culture in the Guardian’s pages will also find their way over here and beyond.

Lest you bristle at the presumption of a historian commenting on science, I hope the posts in this blog will show, firstly, that science, its policy and communication can benefit from historical insights and, secondly, that the idea that history can be written and taught without paying any attention to science, medicine and technology is, frankly, ludicrous.

This history needs to be studied and shared by historians. Whatever else science might or might not be, it is produced, funded, used, enjoyed, feared or ignored by human beings who are shaped by their local and historic circumstances. That remains true of science today every bit as much as of science in the past.

You might spot that I am also a curator (at the Royal Museums Greenwich, comprising the Royal Observatory Greenwich, National Maritime Museum, Queen’s House and Cutty Sark), which means that astronomical instruments, scientific institutions, museum displays and the importance of making these things interesting, entertaining and relevant to audiences will all come into play.

Enough of the throat clearing. Let the history begin!

Apologies for cross-posting

I have come to a decision. In order to keep Teleskopos alive, to have a personal record in one place of all of my posts, and to have a space for commenters who prefer not to register at the Guardian (or to find themselves among those who dwell Below The Line there), I will be cross-posting my posts from The H Word. So as not to inundate you, I’ll start from the beginning today and send them out over the next few days until I’ve caught up.

Apologies for those who’ve already seen the posts, or are multiply subscribed. I do plan also to cross-post my Longitude Blog stuff here and will throw in reviews and some other things that are too academic/personal/irrelevant to post at the Guardian.

On and upwards?! A question for you all

Some of you who follow me on Twitter will by now have heard today’s exciting news, which is the launch of my new blog. Having launched teleskopos only just over a year ago, my main blogging efforts are now migrating over to The H Word on the Guardian Science Blogs network.

The H Word: Higgitt & Heggie is a joint effort with Vanessa Heggie. Today we launched with an introductory post from me – History of Science: Putting the ‘H’ in The H Word – and a rant (her words!) from Vanessa on attitudes forward the history of sex testing at the Olympic games.

I will, of course, continue to blog over on the Longitude Project Blog, and I will cross-post. The question is where: here or  Whewell’s Ghost? And should I cross-post from The H Word – again, here or WG? Like Thony in his recent open question on the future of The Giant’s Shoulders, I want to canvass views.

The main reasons for cross-posting would be to continue this (or WG) as a live blog. This is partly for sentimental reasons, partly because I may have things to say that I don’t feel I want to share with the wider Guardian readership and, chiefly, because I feel there is nice community here that comments intelligently. Are there people here, with sensible and interesting things to say, who would rather have a discussion here (or WG) than on the Guardian site?



Welcome to teleskopos, my new blogging home. I thought it was about time I found a place of my own, although I will be continuing to cross-post at Whewell’s Ghost. It is something of a work-in-progress, as I find my way around WordPress, so I hope that you’ll bear with me as I make elementary errors.

I will be blogging probably about as frequently as I was before, and much on the same themes: my research in history of science, history of science in museums and the relationship between the academic field and more popular formats. Perhaps, with my own blog to run around in, I will start adding other topics and views, reviews and thoughts, short and long. We will see…

A word on the name of the blog. It is, of course, all fancy-shmancy Greek for telescope. Since I work within an historic observatory, researching its heritage and curating some of its telescopes, it seems fair enough, although I will not be sticking to history of instruments or astronomy. There will also, probably, be very little Greek science, but I liked teleskopos because it clearly shows the etymology: ‘far-seeing’. If an astronomical telescope looks back through time as it peers into space, I hope my own little ‘perspective glass’ will facilitate some sort of view on the past.