Museum of the History of Science

(This is being posted from Istanbul, with some delay because of problems with the wi-fi.)

This small museum is one of the minor gems of the university city of Oxford. It was founded in 1924 as the result of a donation of a collection of scientific instruments to the University, but the building in which it is housed was completed in 1683, and claims to be “the world’s oldest surviving purpose-built museum building”. It stands next to the Sheldonian Theatre in Broad Street, part of the cluster of old stone buildings to which residents direct tourists who ask the perplexing question “Where is the University?”

Museum of the History of Science

I went along with Neill on Friday, the day after the Wallis day. It is free, and you are welcome to take photographs as long as you don’t use flash; if you try to escape without visiting all three floors, the man at the desk gently but firmly directs you back in.

The museum has an astonishing collection of astrolabes, armillary spheres, and sundials. One I noticed appeared to be a double orrery; one side displayed the motions of the Ptolemaic universe, the other the Copernican. There was a “pocket sundial”, hardly larger than a watch, with a compass to enable the user to orient it correctly. There is a microscope made for George III, solid silver and of incredible baroque design.

But some of the most interesting artefacts were downstairs in the basement. These included Lewis Carroll’s camera case, with all his chemicals for developing and fixing film; Lawrence of Arabia’s camera; and the blackboard on which Einstein wrote when he lectured in Oxford in 1931.


About Peter Cameron

I count all the things that need to be counted.
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