Delivery time!

Longitude found! The book has been published, the exhibition has opened, and so far all is going pretty well. Although, of course, there are things I would have liked to have changed or tweaked, I am really pleased with how both look and with the message that is, by and large, coming across.

It’s difficult to get an impression of an exhibition through photographs, rather than actually being there. It is a three or even four dimensional experience that involves light, sound, space and (occasionally) touch as well as objects and text. It surrounds you and you move through it and across it over time. Nevertheless, because it was amazing for me to see it after so long existing only in lists of objects, label text and designers’ drawings, I put up a picture gallery over on The H Word, with captions that offer a whistle-stop tour.

National Maritime Museum's Ships, Clocks and Stars exhibition
The exhibition opens with a large, changing seascape – a scene with no landmarks except the moon and stars – and objects that evoke the risks and rewards of maritime travel. Photograph: National Maritime Museum

The exhibition has been previewed and reviewed positively. Maev Kennedy at the Guardian focused on Hogarth as well as Harrison, noting the rich variety of objects on display. In the Times [£], Libby Purves said that the story “is elegantly and excitingly displayed”.

Richard Dunn, the lead curator (and my co-author), and Katy Barrett did sterling work talking to these and other journalists. They were also interviewed in an excellent slot on Front Row and Richard did a great job on BBC London. I helped out on launch day, and had also written a piece for BBC History Magazine’s July issue. The book has brought in some nice reviews too – there are two on Amazon so far (4 and a very nice 5 star) and this one on Robin’s Reviews, which calls it an “excellent, elegant book”.

All very pleasing, but the work is a long way from over. There are lots of events for Longitude Season at Royal Museums Greenwich. Have a look at the link to see what’s on. I personally (so far…) will be doing the following:

  • There are all sorts of things going on at the “Dark & Stormy” Late at the National Maritime Museum on 24 July, but Richard and I will be there to give gallery tours and/or Pecha Kucha presentations
  • 25-26 July is the Longitude Project conference at the NMM, Longitudes Examined, in which I’ll be on the final discussion panel
  • I will be joining David Barrie, author of Sextant, for a book event and signing at Waterstones Trafalgar Square on 27 August (TBC)
  • On 30 August I will be giving a walking tour to reveal Longitude in Georgian London
  • In an event co-orgainised with the Royal Society on 25 September, I will be joining Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal, in a discussion about the old longitude story and the new Longitude Prize
  • I will be one of a team (including Simon Schaffer and Joe Cain) delivering a Science and Empire study day on 18 October 
  • On 30 October I will be giving one of the Maritime Lectures at the NMM (probably on Nevil Maskelyne’s contribution to the longitude story, since I hope the collection of essays on him that I have edited will be out by then).

I’m looking forward to all of this, but seeing it all written out is a little daunting! A lesson to share is not to take on a new lectureship in the same year as you have to deliver books, exhibitions and a large number of events – I also have a significant amount of preparation to do for my new autumn teaching (not to mention some chapters and reviews to deliver over the summer).

Busy? Just a bit…

Taking (history of) science to town: Manchester meetings

Cross-posted from The H Word blog.

The University of Manchester

For academics, it is conference season. Conferences are, when you stop to think about them, strange events, with their own sets of rituals and performances. Large ones take over the lives of their organisers, though few take over their locations in the way that meetings of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS) did in the 19th century.

Today known as the British Science Association, in the 19th century the BAAS was its annual meeting, usually held in August or September at different cities and towns across Britain, Ireland and, on seven occasions between 1884 and 1929, the Dominions.

Unlike most conferences today, the BAAS meetings attempted to combined the presentation of new scientific research with activities that would interest a wider public. This public was made up of local members of the middling and upper classes and the families of speakers and organisers. In addition, talks were occasionally organised for other groups, such as schoolchildren or working class men.

Both because of the peripatetic nature of the BAAS meetings and because of the wide range of people attending, events beyond the formal disciplinary sessions were a very important part of the whole. Local people, institutions and businesses were extremely keen to show themselves off to the visiting men of science, visitors were keen to see something of the area and all were keen to be entertained as well as informed.

As I may have mentioned in earlier posts, next week I will be at the biggest conference ever held for my discipline and, because it is inManchester and has exceptionally full social and public programmes going alongside its academic programme, I have found the BAAS meetings often in my mind.

Next week at the International Congress for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, there will be 1,700 delegates (huge forhistory of science) and we will be visiting local museums, scientific institutions, leisure facilities and sites. We will have receptions, dinners and performances, some of which are open to anyone in the area with an interest in operas about Turingchemical displaysVictorian science spectaclesbeercomedy and more.

Please come, please tell your friends, please read the programme!

Manchester is the place to do it, evidently. Meetings there scored the highest attendance of all 19th-century BAAS meetings. In 1861 there were 3,138 delegates (25% of whom were women and 0.5% overseas delegates – percentages that will be very different for ICHSM next week!) and in 1887 this had risen to 3,838 (although, with science in the process of professionalising, it’s interesting to note that women were now just 13% of attendees).

In 1861 the Manchester Guardian reported that the available excursions included an invitation to Worsley New Hall, the seat of the Earl of Ellesmere, and plenty to reflect the region’s industrial might and natural resources. There were the Worsley Coal Mines and Astley Deep Pits, where members would be accompanied and addressed by an interesting mixture of company representatives, government officials and scientific gentlemen. They added,

other excursions will be to the salt mines near Northwich… the glass and chemical works at St. Helens; the copper mines at Alderley; the Manchester Waterworks, from Woodhead downwards; and Buxton.

A very large number of business premises were listed as open to the inspection of delegates, and locals created displays of everything from watercolours to geological specimens. There was also an “exhibition of plants and flowers at the Botanical Gardens, Old Trafford” and it was reported that

A number of noblemen and gentlemen have promised to contribute to the show; and there is a fine specimen of the Victoria Regia in bloom. The band of the 1st Royals will be in attendance.

The 19th-century BAAS meetings were an event for a city in a way that conferences today simply are not. Of course the BAAS now holds not annual meetings but the British Science Festival, and it is festivals that have largely taken on the outward-looking role that most conferences have foregone.

One reason that conferences are less visible than they might otherwise be is that they are held within universities or specialist conference venues. Back in 19th century, BAAS meetings in Manchester took over a whole range of public and private buildings. Organising such a range of people, dignitaries and institutions was a logistical nightmare, but it was clear that no one could fail to notice when the British Ass rolled into town.

The local organisers of next week’s International Congress are to be congratulated for bringing some of this festival spirit back to a Manchester conference.

Big, better, best? The Manchester Congress takes history of science to the next level

Cross-posted from The H Word blog, where this post first appeared 9 May 2013, a couple of months ahead of this summer’s International Congress for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine.


Jodrell Bank observatory, near Manchester

Back in November I blogged about the unique gathering that will be taking place this July in Manchester. It is now confirmed that the International Congress of History of Science Technology and Medicine(ICHSTM) will be the largest ever meeting of scholars in the field.

The topic, “Knowledge at work”, is intentionally inclusive. It has broughtthe organisers over 1,600 individual papers, presented within 434 themed sessions. More than 1,800 participants are expected. While this is peanuts for some supermassive science, technology or industry conferences, it is huge for HSTM.

ICHSTM includes symposia organised by a number of commissions that sit within the Division of History of Science and Technology of the International Union for the History and Philosophy of Science (IUHPS/DHST). They give a good indication of the breadth and diversity of the academic programme, including Ancient and Medieval Astronomy, modern Chemistry and PhysicsEast AsiaIslamic Societies and thePacific CircleMeteorologyOceanographyMathematics and Scientific InstrumentsBibliographyHistory of Technology, and Gender Studies.

On top of these symposia, and those from other learned societies in the field, are sessions organised by individuals. These are equally varied, and no list on a short post can really do justice to the range of topics and historical periods that will be considered by a very international set of speakers. It will be impossible for individual conference attendees to take in more than a fraction of the sessions and, indeed, of the extra-curricular events and trips. Getting a sense of the state of HSTM as an international field will necessarily be an impressionistic business.

There will, however, also be a strong British flavour to the Congress, with local sights, history and culture there to be taken advantage of. In addition, several of the special sessions speak to current hot topics that, although of undoubted importance in other countries, have been of particular concern to academics in the UK. For example, although details are not yet finalised, issues such as scholarly publishing, the PhD process and the academic jobs market will be under discussion.

One area that, it seems to me, is receiving particular attention at this Congress is the relationship between academic history of science and other disciplines, audiences, users and interested groups. This trend may be underscored by the Impact agenda and a sense that public funding needs to be justified, but it is clear that many historians of science neither feel that they can, nor want to, sit in ivory towers.

Several events surrounding the Congress are intended to explore history of science in other formats, such as music and theatre, and/or to reach a wider public. As well as performances, and an event recreating how science has been performed to the public in the past, the Congress will host a public lecture by the winner of the BSHS’s Dingle Prize, awarded biannually to the author of a book on the history of science, technology and medicine aimed at a general audience.

Among the 31 thematic strands identified by the Congress’s organisers, the ones on “Science communication and education”, and on “Museums and heritage” look particularly full and exiting. Symposia in these themes include Science, technology and medicine in the public sphereMedicine in the mediaResearch in science museums and Science and technology museums in context.

The role of social media in public engagement is the focus of a special session that I have organised. I am particularly pleased that, through discussion on Twitter, I managed to create a session that opens the meeting up, both in terms of location and discipline. We will be linking with the Science in Public conference, which happens to be taking place simultaneously in Nottingham, and, since the session will be taking place in virtual space, there can also be contributions from speakers, and perhaps discussants, who have not managed to travel to Manchester.

This interest in reaching and hearing from beyond our usual audiences is also evident in this blog. As in the first post by Jamie Stark, some of the attendees will be posting introductions to their papers. As well as advertising their session (and lets face it, every session will have plentiful and stiff competition!), it is hoped that the blog will create a greater profile for the Congress, generate interest in the field and help start the conversation before delegates even begin to gather.

During and after the meeting, the ICHSTM website will host videos, interviews, and recordings of selected papers. Already up and running are the Twitter account (@ichstm2013) and Facebook page. Although this will be the largest ever gathering of historians of science, technology and medicine, we are greedy enough to want to pull in even more people, and for more than just one week in the summer.

I first tweeted from a history of science conference in 2010. There were precious few professional historians of science on Twitter to join us online, although it meant that I found there were other people interested to hear what we were saying in our conference halls and seminar rooms. This Congress will be a whole new experience: there will be live tweeting, live feeds and session recordings galore. It is, perhaps, a coming of age for history of science, at least in terms of social media.

This was also cross-posted on the ICHSTM blog, which you should take a look at to see posts on many of the papers given and events that took place in Manchester during the Congress. The recording of the Google Hangout used for the Social Media and Public Engagement Manchester-Nottingham-USA link-up can be found among the videos here (start at 01:44).

Report on Oceanic Enterprise conference

On 25-26 January, several members of the Longitude Project team were in California for our conference at the Huntington Library, Oceanic Enterprise: Location, Longitude, and Maritime Cultures 1770-1830. It was an extremely enjoyable and interesting meeting, which I attempted to summarise in a post over on the Longitude Project blog. (It’s worth clicking on the link to see Simon Werrett’s appropriately themed fantasy conference dinner menu, if not my ramblings.)

Historians of science look forward to a unique gathering

Cross-posted from The H Word.
Jodrell Bank, the radio telescope

This Friday sees the deadline for submissions to what will be the largest ever meeting of historians of science in the UK, and almost certainly the largest for at least a generation to come.

Last Friday already saw the closing date for organised symposiums within the International Congress of History of Science, Technology and Medicine, and the organisers tweeted:

 has just received its 1000th symposium paper abstract. 23 Nov 12

With the individual submissions still to come in, this promises to be huge for the history of science, which usually counts conference delegates in the 10s or 100s.

The event is taking place next year, 22-28 July 2013, in Manchester. It is officially hosted by the British Society for the History of Science, and is being co-ordinated locally by members of the University of Manchester’s Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine.

As well as an extremely full academic programme, the website promises to show off the history of science, technology and medicine in Manchester, “the original ‘shock city’ of the Industrial Revolution” withdisplays, events and tours, including to Jodrell Bank, the radio telescope of which has been appropriated to the event’s logo.

There will also be a “fringe” that will include films, music, theatre and performance, aimed at the public as well as delegates. Importantly, there may [edit – this is unconfirmed as yet!] also be an entire pub, the Jabez Clegg, handed over for the conference, selling, I’ve been promised, unique and appropriately-named cask beers. (It helps that the Manchester department includes a postgrad with experience of organising beer festivals and a historian of brewing.)

As well as being large, the Congress, an activity of the Division of History of Science and Technology of the International Union of History and Philosophy of Science, will, of course, be very international. It will be an important opportunity for scholars working within very different contexts to get together. This is the 24th such Congress – they take place every four years, with recent meetings having been held in Mexico City (2001), Beijing (2005) and Budapest (2009). It has not been in the UK since Edinburgh in 1977.

Probably the most famous of all the International Congresses of the History of Science was the second, in London in 1931. It was here thatBoris Hessen delivered his paper, “The Soci-Economic Roots of Newton’s Principia“.

As the title suggests, this presented science as something that did not stand aloof from its social and economic context. It has been considered foundational for research into the relationship between science and society, or “external” rather than “internal” history of science. Certainly, it was remarkable at the time, being a full-blown Marxist account, which concluded:

The great historical significance of the method created by Marx lies in the fact that knowledge is not regarded as the passive, contemplative perception of reality, but as the means for actively reconstructing it. For the proletariat science is a means and instrument for this reconstruction. That is why we are not afraid to expose the “terrestrial origin” of science, its close connection to the mode of production of material existence. Only such a conception of science can truly liberate it from those fetters in which it is inevitably trapped in bourgeois class society.

Such international gatherings have often been stages on which politics can be performed. It was not just Hessen, but a whole set of Soviet delegates who took the audience by surprise in 1931. Their papers were gathered together and published as Science at the Crossroads, by Nikolai Bukharin. It was to provoke heated debate, touching a nerve in a time of crisis of capitalism in the west.

I am told by old hands that Cold War politics coloured the Congresses of the 70s and 80s. Things have changed again, but I suspect that there will be lively interest in the diversity that continues to exist when the field is seen at its broadest. The British organisers, naturally, are interested in showcasing the wealth of resources and scholarship that can be found in Manchester and the UK. Beyond that, it would be great if the size of the event can help raise awareness of the discipline.

I will be there, as one of the co-organisers of a symposium on current history of science research taking place in, or in partnership with, museums. There is plenty to choose from: Arabic science, paleontological specimens, radio communication, Chinese natural knowledge, science at war, theology and science, ancient astronomy, east-west encounters, gender and knowledge, mathematical institutions, and much, much more – including the history of the sauna and new insights into bicycle history.

More information:
Follow @ichstm2013 and #ichstm

iCHSTM2013 logo

Preparing for the Three Societies (US, British, Canadian joint history of science meeting)

I have now reached Philadelphia, continuing research on Lewis and Clark (see previous post) and awaiting the Three Societies meeting, which starts on Wednesday. I am part of a session relating to the Longitude Project, called ‘Defining the Instrumental: Navigation, Longitude and Science at Sea in the 18th Century’. The full programme of the meeting can be found here, and I have posted the session and paper abstracts over on the Longitude Project Blog.

The Three Societies meeting is a quadrennial joint meeting of the History of Science SocietyBritish Society for the History of Science and Canadian Society for the History and Philosophy of Science, hosted by each society in turn. There is a St Louis Cardinals baseball bat that is ceremonially handed over from one society president to the next, which must have started life at the HSS-hosted event of 2000, at the Hyatt Union Station, St Louis (it was hot then, too – the British delegates found it tough going!).

This was not, however, the first of these meetings. You’ll see from the list here that a joint HSS-BSHS meeting was held in Manchester in 1988 and that the three societies have met up since then in Toronto (1992), Edinburgh (1996), St Louis (2000), Halifax, Nova Scotia (2004), Oxford (2008) and now Philadelphia (2012).

I have been in this business long enough to have been to three of these meetings, which is a sobering thought. The previous two mark important junctures in my life. At Halifax (a lovely place, if you haven’t been, full of pubs, book shops and maritime history) I was in possession of a brand new doctorate and, although unemployed, happy to be presenting on new, spin-off research.

Before the Oxford meeting I got my postdoc job in Edinburgh, but by summer 2008 I was a (relatively) new mother and starting a brand new career as a curator. Apart from a talk at the NMM, this was my come-back gig. On the back of my research on the history of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, I joined a session organised by Aileen Fyfe on ‘Science and Victorian Tourism’.

Aileen was a much newer mother than I was at that meeting. There is a photograph in the relevant issue  of Viewpoint, the BSHS newsletter, recording the fact that three of us (me, Aileen and Emily Winterburn) were there at the meeting with babies. We were all recipients of the BSHS’s Care Grants, which allowed us to pay for childcare during the sessions themselves. Kudos to Emily, though, who gave her talk with her baby in a sling!

Not sure that this 2012 meeting marks such a transition point, unless it is the large amount of time I’ve been away sans little one. I’m certainly looking forward to the talks, tours and sociability. More anon.

A great Devonian conference

Last week saw the annual conference of the British Society for the History of Science, held at the University of Exeter. I have been going to these conferences for the last nine years and have always enjoyed them as convivial and intellectually stimulating occasions. As with all large(ish) general conferences with several parallel sessions there can be negatives: it’s hard work, there are usually a few annoing clashes in scheduling, and there is too little time for discussion during the sessions. However, historians of science are a friendly bunch and it is very easy to catch the person whose paper you had to miss to find out more, and to have discussions over lunch, dinner, drinks and into the night. All the better this year that the backdrop to such conversations was this glorious:

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