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Gemeinsamer Vortrag von:

Liba Taub, University of Cambridge:


Alex Butterworth, University of Sussex


Boris Jardine, University of Cambridge



Scientific instruments give shape to knowledge, and connect cultures of craft, research, education and industry. It has long been clear that the history of instrumentation is central to the history of science, but several factors have hindered the development of synthetic and ambitious narratives. Sources are obscure and heterogeneous, involving manuscript, print (especially ephemera and ‘grey literature’) and surviving artefacts; understanding the use and adaptation of instruments can be extremely challenging, and tends towards local communities and episodes; instruments also straddle the science/technology divide. The UK Arts and Humanities Council-funded project ‘Tools of Knowledge’ will provide a framework for the history of scientific instruments by focusing on the creative communities of the instrument trade in Britain, 1550–1914. Research is grounded in the existing database ‘Scientific Instrument Makers, Observations and Notes’ (SIMON), comprising more than 10,000 records on individual instrument makers and firms from Great Britain and Ireland. To this dataset, much more will be added from existing legacy databases, collections catalogues and new metallurgical research, as well as material newly extracted from historical texts or generated using advanced digital methods. The aggregated data will be remodelled using semantic knowledge representation, to encode expert understanding of the meaning of this data in a machine-readable form and to enable linking and analysis across datasets. For the first time, information about people, places, practices, institutions, materials and objects will be accessible for study in combination and at scale. Textual and graphical interfaces, designed to allow the construction of complex and nuanced queries, will allow researchers to form and test new hypotheses about the relationship between different factors in the lives of the instruments themselves, and the development of the trade. Research generated by the project naturally dovetails with museum collections, adding substantial human and local interest to a vast number of scientific objects. This thirty-month project assembles an interdisciplinary team from the Universities of Cambridge (Professor Liba Taub, Dr Boris Jardine, Dr Joshua Nall), and Sussex (Dr Alex Butterworth) and National Museum Scotland (Dr Rebekah Higgitt) with extensive expertise in the history of science, museum curation, digital methods and visualisation design. The project is in partnership with the Science Museum, London, and Royal Museums, Greenwich, holder of the core SIMON database.

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