The Collection is delighted to showcase our latest acquisitions in this space. We thank the private individuals, institutions, and departments of Harvard University for helping us to build our Collection.
For more information about making a gift or transfer to the Collection, please contact Dr. Sara J. Schechner, David P. Wheatland Curator of the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In 1964, Harvard Graduate School of Design students Lionel Spiro (AB ’60, MArch ’63) and Blair Brown (AB ’62, MArch ’67) could not find a dependable retailer for drafting equipment and materials. So they formed their own business and opened their own store to address the need. For decades, Spiro and Brown’s Charrette Corporation supplied New England’s and the nation’s architects, graphic designers, and artists with state-of-the-art equipment.
Mr. Spiro was kind enough in 2015 to donate a group of drafting, drawing, and architectural supplies to CHSI from his private collection. Many of these supplies were regularly sold through Charrette. Mr. Spiro also visited CHSI in 2015 to tell some stories and provide additional information about these objects, which can be found in the Waywiser records where applicable.
This package includes several fine astronomical regulators and pocket watches in the Collection.
Created by students in the course “Nature on Display” in the Department of the History of Science (Professor Janet Browne), this exhibit is oriented around a single type of instrument, the microscope. The ones we have chosen were used by a diverse set of people for differing purposes. From homemade microscopes and small, portable lenses used by amateurs to examine specimens in the field to fancier models used by famous Harvard professors and great American novelists, these instruments reveal more than meets the eye
to watch a brief movie illustrating the process involved in creating More Than Meets the Eye
**Curated by Prof. Jimena Canales and the students in her HS 126 course. (See the instruments in this collection for the students' individual contributions.)**
While the word “fact” comes from the Latin factum a noun derived from facere which means to do or to make, this exhibit explores why in modern usage this term often conveys the opposite: facts are not made but they are "out there”. What is the relation between scientific facts and the instruments that are used to produce them? What is a fact? The Matter of Fact temporary exhibit analyzes important facts of nature and the instruments associated with the discovery, invention or maintenance of facts. We look at how scholars have dealt with questions of fact in the past and how they can still provide us with tools for thinking about them. Some famous facts, and some famous arguments for or against them, serve as the backdrop for each of the original contributions to the exhibit.
Fact (1): Water boils at 100 degrees Celsius
Almost all thermometers show that water boils at 100 degrees Celsius (or its equivalent of 212 degrees Fahrenheit). But what happens if you mix equal amounts of freezing water (0 degrees) and boiling water (100 degrees)? If the “capacity of water for receiving heat,
continues permanent at all temperatures between freezing and boiling points” then we can assume that a thermometer should read 50 degrees. Yet different thermometers give different values: while mercury thermometers generally give 50 degrees, alcohol ones give approximately 44, and water ones can give as little as 26. Does this mean that the mercury thermometer is the most accurate? Or does it mean that the real temperature of the mixture is not necessarily “halfway” between freezing and boiling?
What is a scientific fact? While the word "fact" comes from the Latin factum a noun derived from facere which means to do or to make, this word often conveys the opposite: facts are not made but they are simply out there, passively waiting to be discovered.
"A fact is a fact," explained the philosopher and mathematician Henri Poincaré to point out that they were not the be-all and end-all of science. The fabric of our world is not "black with fact and white with convention," claimed the philosopher W.V.O. Quine, but rather "pale gray." "Facts," claimed the sociologist of science Harry Collins, are like "ships in a bottle," painstakingly constructed to seem as if no one could have made them. "Facts," insisted the historian of science Bruno Latour, "are like frozen vegetables," they need a bevy of support networks to survive and thrive. "Facts," reminded us the historian of science Lorraine Daston, "are nothing like rocks," combating a century-long portrayal of them as hard, obstinate and even brutish.
Our exhibit no longer asks "Do facts exist?" but instead examines how certain facts come to be and strengthen while others wither and wane. It displays a world that is no longer "black with fact and white with convention," but that is also certainly not "pale gray" either. It reveals how facts have become sacred. By bringing them into a space of common use (and placing them next to the scientific instruments with which they are so closely associated), we explore how they can also be profaned.Objects selected by students in the course “The Matter of Fact” in the Department of the History of Science (Professor Jimena Canales).
To learn more about their exhibit, visit this website
Fall 2009 - Fall 2010
Sensations of Tone: Acoustic Instruments and the Sight of Sound
This exhibition accompanied "Sensations of Tone: Wave physics and the creative arts," a musical program and panel discussion held in the Special Exhibition Gallery. The exhibition focused on acoustic instruments from the 19th century that made sound waves visible and tangible.
In 1956, the head of the Atomic Energy Commission, Lewis Strauss, declared that the United States was waging a "Cold War of the Classroom" against the Soviet Union. By the mid-1950s, it was increasingly evident among politicians and national leaders that global supremacy was not simply a matter of military prowess. The United States would also need to train generations of Americans capable of defending and promoting the values of the "free" world. Such sentiments turned the nation's classrooms into a Cold War crucible, forging citizens with the habits, virtues and skills required to successfully confront a range of intellectual, moral, and political challenges.
Cold War in The Classroom uses archival film, photographs, models, laboratory demonstrations, and period textbooks to explore the meaning and nature of scientific pedagogy during this unique period in American and world history. Guest curators Jeremy Blatter and Christopher Phillips have transformed the CHSI Special Exhibitions Gallery into a mid-century classroom that tells the story of a nation with a mission, one in which science education became a crucial weapon of politics and society.
The Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments holds significant instruments that were taken to Arequipa, Peru by the Harvard College Observatory between 1889 and 1900 for use in photographing stars in order to analyze and catalog them. Many of these instruments were telescopes made by Alvan Clark & Sons of Cambridgeport, Massachusetts.
Related photographs, field notes, letters, and other documents have been put online by the Harvard University Library Open Collections Program at Harvard College Observatory Expedition: Boyden Station, Arequipa, Peru, 1889–1927
. This website is part of Expeditions & Discoveries
, which features nine major expeditions with strong Harvard connections and significant holdings among the University's repositories.
Samuel Williams, professor of mathematics and natural philosophy, led the first solar eclipse expedition in North America in 1780. He traveled to Penobscot Bay, Maine, which was behind enemy lines during the American Revolution. The expedition was endorsed by Harvard and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and had the support of the General Court of Massachusetts. The General Court authorized the use of a state galley for the trip. The Board of War financed the expedition.
According to the published account in 1785, Williams took a 2-foot reflecting telescope by Short, magnifying 90x with a micrometer by Dollond (0002); a 1-foot reflecting telescope by Short, magnifying 55x (0053) with a Dollond micrometer (0059); an astronomical quadrant by Sisson (0061); an Ellicott clock (0070); a 4-foot achromatic telescope by Dollond, magnifying 40x; a 1-foot reflecting telescope by Nairne, magnifying 55x; and Fahrenheit's thermometer. (The whereabouts of the last 3 are unknown.) Although they are not mentioned in Williams's report, he likely took the Martin octant (0007) and Nairne azimuth compass (0095).
In 1980, 200 years after the eclipse, a group of Harvard students and curator Ebenezer Gay re-enacted the expedition to Maine. They took the above instruments, with the exception of the Short reflector of 1-foot focal length. They added a variation compass and dip circle by Nairne (0025, 0026), and surveyor's level by Martin (0068) in the belief that they were perhaps used in 1780.
TRANSITS OF VENUS are rare astronomical alignments in which the planet Venus crosses the face of the Sun as seen from Earth. They occur in pairs (eight years apart) separated at intervals of 105.5 and 121.5 years.
In 1717, astronomer Edmond Halley explained how simultaneous observations of a transit from far flung places could be used to calculate the distance from the Earth to the Sun. He urged astronomers to collaborate in order to determine the dimensions of the solar system–one of the great unsolved problems of the day!
In response, many astronomers sailed to remote parts of the world in order to observe the transits of 1761 and 1769. Harvard professor John Winthrop observed the first from St. John's, Newfoundland, and the second from Cambridge with the instruments shown here.
Research behind Enemy Lines
In 1761, John Winthrop was the only observer of the Transit of Venus in North America. The event was not visible from Cambridge, so Winthrop sailed to Newfoundland, taking two students and College apparatus behind enemy lines during the French and Indian War. The General Court of Massachusetts Bay financed the expedition and gave Winthrop letters of safe passage.
When Benjamin Franklin urged John Winthrop to go to Lake Superior in 1769 to observe the Transit of Venus, Winthrop had a problem–no money! The General Court, which had funded Winthrop's transit expedition in 1761, did not exist in 1769. It had been dissolved by the British governor for its support of patriot, Samuel Adams and his protest against taxation without representation.
So Winthrop sought money from General Thomas Gage, the British commander-in-chief, but Gage was too busy moving warships and troops into Boston in order to keep the peace. Gage offered wilderness guides but no funding.
When the expedition collapsed, Winthrop decided to observe the Transit of Venus from Harvard Yard. He used new instruments acquired in London with Franklin's help.
On September 2, 1960, David P. Wheatland ordered a Wild research microscope, model M20 KGS along with a comprehensive assortment of accessories and nearly all the attachments offered. He told the Wild vendor that:
"It is intended to use all these for comparison, demonstration, and some for investigation. Eventually perhaps other basic instruments may be ordered and the accessories distributed among them. We are anxious therefore to have the list as complete as possible to make all the tests and optical experiments."
Mr. Wheatland also ordered a complete set of brochures for the library.
Visit this special collection to see the diversity and range of equipment that could be bought with a research microscope in the mid-20th century.