On Giant’s Shoulders #61: to iCHSTM and beyond

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Hello, and welcome to On Giant’s Shoulders #61 the monthly online carnival of history of science blogging, this month hosted at the Wellcome Library’s blog.   What follows is a selection of posts from the last month from the world of the history of science (and medicine, and technology).



Given the largest history of science of conference in the UK for a generation begins this weekend, I’ve decided to start this selection with the blog of the International Congress for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (iCHSTM).

The entries on the iCHSTM blog – all from presenters at the conference – have emphasised the variety of scholarship that will be on show.  In the last month, Seb Falk has offered guidance on ‘how to cast a medieval horoscope’; the Early Modern kitchen as a site of experimentation has been revealed by Anita Guerrini; Melanie Keene has elucidated ‘the familiar science’ of 19th century astronomya rediscovered geological manuscript has been revealed by Leucha Veneer and Cherry Lewis; Rebecca P. Scales has taken us for a stroll along the noisy boulevards of 1920s Paris; Nichoals Duvall has highlighted the popularisation of British forensic scientiststhe history of hominin reconstructions  has been the focus of Peter C. Kjærgaard’s attention and Audra J Wolfe has explored the political history of ‘scientific freedom’ in the USA.


A dodo. Etching by J. Le Keux. Wellcome Images V0020723

The history of the concept of the plurality of worlds featured on io9, with the catchy title ‘How Darwin helped invent the idea of aliens’Alfred Russell Wallace is the subject of a new book by John van  Wyhe, whereas over at the Royal Society’s The Repository blog, ‘The Kraken Wakes’, in the form of a post on the work of Ernst Haeckel.  Further investigations of the animal world have included Henry Nicholls on the trail of the ‘Oxford Dodo’, Lisa Smith exploring how the humble beagle was at the centre of a debate about the meaning of civilisation and nature in the eighteenth century, Dolly the sheep (and the lesser known Molly, Megan and Morag) being celebrated by the University of Edinburgh Library’s ‘Towards Dolly’ blog and back at the Royal Society, Clare Button, guest posting on the connections between the RS and the growth of animal genetics in Edinburgh.  


Three doctors in close discussion, their patient being nursed in the next room. Coloured lithograph by C.J. Winter, 1869, after T. Rowlandson. Wellcome Images V0011035

Our colleagues at the National Library of Medicine have joined the blogosphere; Alun Withey on performance and reputation in early modern medicine and 18th century illness narratives; at Early Modern Medicine some curious cupping, satanic seduction and a tale of crime, sex and the Spanish Fly.

The ever-active Recipes Project, this month included a discussion of networked recipes in transit, what it was like to drink spa water in Early Modern England, dipped its toes in the waters of debates over the history of bathing and outlined the dangers of turpentine.  Elsewhere, the healing waters of Schwelm were promoted, the 17th century physician and pharmacist Zerubbabel Endecott was brought into the spotlight; more 17th century home remedies were highlighted and the early modern sex manual that “made Pepys blush” was revealed.

Elsewhere, there was also anatomy at the Royal Society; antibiotics at the Guardian’s H-Word Blog; 19th century attitudes to abortion and family planning explored; cosmetic advice from 1804; duties of asylum attendants and nurses explainedthe praises of the petri dish were sung and more digitisation at the Wellcome Library.


William Thomson, Baron Kelvin. Photograph by T. & R. Annan & Sons. Wellcome Images V0026629

A number of anniversaries have inspired blog posts this month.  Firstly, the births of Lord Kelvin (26th June 1824); Georg Christian Lichtenberg, German scientist, satirist and ‘master of aphorism’ (1st July 1742); French merchant & weaver Joseph Marie Jacquard (inventor of the programmable loom, 7 July 1752); inventor and electrical engineer Nikola Tesla (10th July 1856).  The death of Thomas Harriot (2nd July 1621) was marked by Thony Christie, who argued why Harriot’s name has disappeared from the history of science: “He didn’t publish so he perished”.

The 8th July saw the anniversary of HMS Beagle’s arrival on St Helena (on that date in 1836) and also the publication of a paper in The Lancet in 1933, setting out the discovery by researchers at the Medical Research Council of the influenza virus, and marked by a guest post by Michael Bresalier on the Guardian’s H Word Blog.


Various types of steam-driven vehicles and flying machines. Coloured photomechanical reproduction after James Seymour after Shortshanks. Wellcome Images V0041005

The qualities of Napoleonic semaphore were hailed by the BBC news website; the invention of radio was the focus of Melvyn Bragg and guests on BBC Radio 4’s ‘In Our Time’ (Bragg also blogged about the episode); the University of Leeds HPS Museum blog highlighted their work on the ‘domesticating electricity’ project; hidden morse code messages were found to be emanating from the Science Museum’s Stories from the Stores Blog; the same blog took us from the history of the computer mouse to the future of computer interfaces); historical concerns over ‘Big Data’ were highlighted by MIT Technology Review and if you are left pessimistic by these developments, fears of technology were shown to be not only a 21st century concern by Rebekah Higgitt.


Astronomy: a 40-foot telescope constructed by William Herschel, in use outdoors. Coloured etching, 19th century. Wellcome Images V0024766

The work of the Board of Longitude Project was summarised on YouTube and the project blog highlighted a new exhibition at the London’s Petrie Museum, by their ‘time-keeper in residence’, A Storm is Blowing.  Meanwhile, the Greenwich Observatory time ball was highlighted on the blog of the Antiquarian Horological Society.

Meanwhile, on Halley’s Log Edmund Halley was involved in one or two legal disputes; Thomas Wright’s The Endless Immensity and Finite View of the Infinite was highlighted on Ptak Books and a more domestic understanding of time keeping – keeping time in the Victorian kitchen – was explored on the Recipes Project.

Fully networked

A number of blogs this month explored notions of networks: social networking in the 1600s in the New York Times; the blog ‘Six Degrees of Francis Bacon: Reassembling the Early Modern Social Network’, looked at attempts to reconstruct the social connections of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle; whilst on a smaller scale, the Sloane Letters honed in on the correspondence between Sir Hans Sloane and an ‘Eighteenth Century Botanist, Silk Merchant and Miner’.


John Dee. Line engraving by F. Cleyn, 1658. Wellcome Images V0001505

The Renaissance Mathematicus highlighted the life and career of Roger Cotes, on whose death Newton was said to remark, “If he had lived, we might have known something”.  A rather more (in)famous mathematician was the subject of another detailed post: John Dee, the ‘Mathematicall Praeface’ and the English School of Mathematics.  One other biographical post to highlight: the ‘Providenita’ blog on the remarkable Nicholas Saunderson.


From the Early Modern Experimental Philosophy blog at the University of Otago, Experimental Philosophy in France; borrowed terms and innovative concepts in Newton’s natural philosophy; Samuel Clarke on arguing a priori.  At Logos, Margaret C Jacob took a long view of anti-science critiques in ‘The Left, Right and Science: Relativists and Materialists’.


A philosopher reading. Oil painting. Wellcome Images V0017680

Historian of psychiatry Edward Shorter’s criticisms of the history of science were strongly rebuffed by Darin Hayton. The online back catalogue of Popular Science, caught the eye of Alice Bell; re-reading Einstein’s collected papers (and discovering his way with fridges); at ‘Hooke’s London’, Felicity Henderson embarks on a sizeable bibliographic search; while Robert Hooke’s drawings of snowflakes are examined in ‘Historian at Work’; the myths and the science of Archimedes were separated in the New York Times; how to teach the history of science the Smithsonian Way; History of Science Society’s new editor offers an introduction; how to learn from both ‘science junk’ and ‘notes and jottings’.

And finally… imagine what would have happened if Elizabeth Sloane had not have raised the alarm

Giants’ Shoulders #62 will be hosted by Dominic Berry  at “A Glonk’s HPS Blog” on 16th August 2013.  Submissions by 15th August.

Ross Macfarlane

Ross Macfarlane is the Research Engagement Officer at the Wellcome Library.

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