Sally Shuttleworth on BBC Radio 4

Professor Sally Shuttleworth has been a panellist on two BBC Radio 4 programmes broadcast on 9th March 2017.

For  In Our Time hosted by Melvyn Bragg, Professor Shuttleworth discussed Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel North and South. The programme is available here. 

As part of Radio 4’s Mars season, Professor Shuttleworth was a panellist on “What We Saw from the Ruined House” to discuss HG Wells’ science fiction novel The War of the Worlds. The programme is available here.

 

 

‘Work peculiarly fitting to a lady’: Elizabeth Beckley and the early years of solar photography

The important role played by female photographic assistants in American astronomical observatories at the end of the nineteenth century is now well-known – and, indeed, has recently been popularised by Dava Sobel, in her 2016 book, The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars. These assistants carried out the tedious, but essential work of analysing images of stars and stellar spectra on photographic plates. Some of them became major pioneers of astronomy in their own right – notably Henrietta Leavitt, whose discovery of the period-luminosity law of Cepheid-type variable stars enabled Edwin Hubble and his successors to measure the distance scale of the universe.

KewObservatory

Kew Observatory

Less well-known, however, is the work of British astronomical photographer Elizabeth Beckley (c. 1846-1927), who took photographs of the Sun and analysed the results two decades before Edward Pickering established his team of female assistants at Harvard College Observatory. Elizabeth Beckley worked at Kew Observatory near London, where members of the British Association for the Advancement of Science had set up a ‘photoheliograph’, a small refracting telescope dedicated to photographing the Sun and its mysterious dark spots. In the 1840s, a German pharmacist and amateur astronomer called Heinrich Schwabe had discovered that the number of sunspots visible waxed and waned in a cycle of approximately ten years. Then, in 1852, soldier and geophysicist Edward Sabine found that variations in the Earth’s magnetic field rose and fell in a cycle that coincided exactly with Schwabe’s sunspot cycle. Sabine then persuaded the BAAS to build a dedicated solar telescope and set it up at Kew, where it would be used from 1858 to photograph the Sun every clear day in an effort to understand the interrelation between the sunspot and magnetic cycles.

Putting this plan into practice was not easy, especially as Kew Observatory had a very limited budget. The Kew photoheliograph used what was then the latest photographic technology, a process known as ‘wet collodion’, which enabled sharp images of the Sun to be taken using snapshot exposures lasting tiny fractions of a second. This process, however, was very labour-intensive: the photographic plates had to be prepared immediately before exposure and then exposed and developed while still wet. Therefore, two people were needed to produce solar images: one to aim the telescope and take the pictures, the other to prepare and develop the plates. Yet the observatory did not have sufficient funds to employ two people.

Enter Elizabeth Beckley. Still in her teens when she began photographing the Sun in the 1860s, Elizabeth was the daughter of Kew Observatory’s mechanical engineer, Robert Beckley – himself an important figure in the history of meteorology for his role in developing the Robinson-Beckley anemometer, the familiar device with whirling cups that measures wind speeds on the tops of buildings. In 1870, Elizabeth Beckley married George Mathews Whipple, an assistant at Kew Observatory who became its superintendent in 1876. They had two sons, of whom the eldest, Robert Stewart Whipple (1871-1953), became a noted scientific instrument collector and the founding donor of the Whipple Museum of the History of Science in Cambridge.

In 1865, Elizabeth Beckley’s involvement in solar photography was acknowledged by Warren De La Rue, who had taken a leading role in designing the photoheliograph. De La Rue claimed that solar photography:-

seems to be a work peculiarly fitting to a lady. During the day she watches for opportunities for photographing the Sun with that patience for which the sex is distinguished, and she never lets an opportunity escape her. It is extraordinary that even on very cloudy days, between gaps of cloud, when it would be imagined that it was almost impossible to get a photograph, yet there is always a record at Kew.

It is likely that Sabine had some part in employing Miss Beckley, for there is evidence that he wanted Robert Beckley himself to select an assistant to help him with the photographic work. It seems that Beckley, not having the money to employ a full-time assistant, used his daughter as casual labour. Significantly, Elizabeth Beckley’s name does not appear on any of the observatory’s annual salary lists. Yet a diary kept at Kew in the 1860s reveals occasional payments of £5 to ‘Miss Beckley’, suggesting that she was paid piecemeal.

Kew_Photoheliograph_SM_small

Photoheliograph

Indeed, it is not difficult to imagine a father-daughter partnership at work in photographing the Sun at Kew. De La Rue’s article quoted here suggests that Elizabeth might have watched for precious intervals of clear sky and operated the photoheliograph, while her father prepared the plates and developed them after exposure. It is also possible, though, that this team effort worked the other way round, with the father taking the photographs and the daughter working in the darkroom.

In any case, this seems to be the earliest example of a woman being employed in the day-to-day work of astronomical photography. Although women did not have a recognised role in scientific photography in the 1860s, they were very active by then in the burgeoning field of commercial photography. Some prominent portrait photographers of the mid-nineteenth century were women – such as Julia Margaret Cameron, who took portraits of many prominent people of the time, including the elderly Sir John Herschel. Also, by the early 1870s, many assistants working in photographic studios were women.

Elizabeth Beckley’s work might therefore have reflected a contemporary trend, though her work as an astronomical photographer was pioneering in the 1860s – especially when we consider evidence that in addition to taking the photographs, she helped to analyse the results. Those results were used by the observatory’s director, Balfour Stewart, to make tentative correlations between planetary alignments and sunspot activity, and to effectively predict what we now call the ‘solar wind’, a flow of matter and energy from the Sun that causes ‘storms’ in the Earth’s magnetic field and displays of the aurora borealis or northern lights. Elizabeth Beckley’s photographic work played a direct role in establishing the modern science of solar-terrestrial physics.

Watch an interview with Dr Lee Macdonald on Elizabeth Beckley for International Women’s Day:

Happy birthday, Science Gossip!

Well, Science Gossip is a self-determined toddler at 2 years old today. It feels like it was only yesterday that sciencegossip.org was launched onto the wide citizen science world! But looking back, we can see that in the last twenty-four months, we have done a whole lot.

You all – the wonderful volunteers on the Web – have done a really amazing job – completing 16 Victorian natural history periodicals, which accounts for over 150,000 completed pages with 540,000+ classifications. Had I attempted to discover and classify illustrations as a lone historian, I wouldn’t have even got through a tenth of these pages.

journalofquekett208quek_0551The periodicals you have all been classifying represent some of the most important sites for nineteenth century natural history. My task in the following year is to start writing a book-length account of how the illustrations, illustrators and species classifications that you have discovered can help to tell a story about the importance of images to practices and processes of observing and communicating knowledge about the natural world. As I write this account, I plan on bringing questions that arise out of the data back to the experts on ‘talk’ – so stay tuned on talk.sciencegossip.org if you are interested in participating in these discussions.

What’s Next?

The current batch of periodicals that we have up should keep us going for a bit longer. Of the six journals left to classify, four are over 65% finished, and the remaining two are hovering at around 10% complete. Our two geology periodicals are very close to finishing, with only 10% left to go – so with a little group effort we should be able to get two more complete very soon.

What happens after we finish all of the current periodicals is up to you. We have already started a discussion on Talk about what the next tranche of periodicals could be. Join that discussion here!

screen-shot-2017-03-01-at-18-17-25 The Biodiversity Heritage Library – which has been the source for all the images and periodicals we have been classifying over the last two years – still has thousands of unclassified books and journals which are full of interesting, but currently hidden, images. The research decision on which sources we – as a community – should work on next is in your hands. This is the essence of citizen science.

With all the knowledge and expertise you have developed over the last two years identifying and classifying images – it only makes sense that the direction of the research becomes community-, rather than individually, driven.

I can’t wait to see what we’ll all do next!

Magic Lantern and Science Workshop: 17 March 2017

The Constructing Scientific Communities, Diseases of Modern Life and the Million Pictures projects are pleased to announce a special workshop, hosted at London’s Royal Institution, to consider the multiple relationships that existed between popular science and the magic lantern, with an emphasis on the long nineteenth century. Papers will consider magic lantern slides, instruments, and instrument makers, as well as considering issues of curation and performance.

A special attraction will be Jeremy Brooker’s evening entertainment concerning John Tyndall’s celebrated lectures at the Royal Institution. All workshop attendees will be also welcome to join this public lecture without charge.

Attendance is free, but space is limited. To attend, email: gb224@le.ac.uk by March 1st, 2017

A copy of the event poster is available here

Programme

9:30-10:15 – Coffee on arrival

10:15-10:30 – Introductory Comments. Sally Shuttleworth (University of Oxford) and Geoff Belknap (Leicester University), Constructing Scientific Communities Project. 

10:30-12:00 – Panel 1: Approaches to Science and the Magic Lantern

  • Iwan Morus (University of Aberystwyth), ‘Seeing the Light: Fact and Artefact in Victorian Lantern Culture’
  • Sarah Dellmann (Utrecht University),  ‘Images of Science and Scientists: Lantern Slides of Excursions from Utrecht University, NL (c. 1900-1950)’
  • Emily Hayes (Exeter University), ‘Fashioned by physics: the ‘scope and methods’ of Halford Mackinder’s geographical imagination’

12:00-1:00 – Lunch

1:00-2:30 – Panel 2: Magic Lanterns and Museums/Curation

  • Charlotte New and Meagan Smith (Royal Institution), ‘Shedding light on yesterday: Highlighting the slide collections of the RI and relevant preservation’
  • Frank Gray (Screen archive South-east, Brighton), ‘Working with Archive Collections: Development, Access and Historical Context’
  • Phil Wickham (Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, University of Exeter), ‘Lanterna Magicka: The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum and its lantern collections’

2:30-3:00 – Coffee break

3:00-4:30 – Panel 3: Materiality of the lantern

  • Phillip Roberts (York University), ‘Science and Media in the Industrial Revolution: Instrument Makers and the Magic Lantern Trade’
  • Kelly Wilder (De Montfort University), ‘From Lantern Slides to Powerpoint: Photography and the Materiality of Projection’
  • Deac Rossell (Goldsmiths College), ‘Changing Places: Tracking Magic Lantern Culture from Physics to Chemistry to Cinema’

4:30-4:45 – Closing Remarks. Joe Kember and Richard Crangle (Exeter University), Million Pictures Project.

6:00-7:00 – Drinks Reception

7:00-8:30 – Evening lantern show for the general public:

  • Jeremy Brooker, A Light on Albemarle Street: John Tyndall and the Magic Lantern

The talk is part of a programme of events to celebrate the European Research Council’s 10th anniversary week from 13-20 March.  More information on the anniversary is available on the ERC’s website.

erc-10th-birthday

 

 

Doctor, Doctor: Global and Historical Perspectives on the Doctor-Patient Relationship – One-day Symposium – Registration now open

We are pleased to announce that registration for the one-day symposium on global and historical perspectives on the doctor-patient relationship is now open. The event is being held at St Anne’s College (University of Oxford) on 24 March 2017.

You can sign up here. Tickets are £30 for standard delegates and £20 for concessions. This includes lunch, refreshments and a drinks reception. Please note that there are separate registration options for speakers and delegates – do ensure you select the right one.

A draft copy of the programme is available to download here: doctor-doctor-symposium-programme. The keynote speaker is Anna Elsner (University of Zürich).

This one-day symposium is generously supported by St Anne’s College, The Oxford Research Centre for the Humanities (TORCH) through a Medical Humanities Programme Grant, and the Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded project Constructing Scientific Communities.

The symposium is organised by Alison Moulds (St Anne’s) – DPhil Candidate on Constructing Scientific Communities – and Sarah Jones (Oriel). You can contact them here: doctorpatient17@torch.ox.ac.uk.

For more details, visit the symposium website: https://doctorpatient2017.wordpress.com/.

 

Scientists and their diaries: Events at the Royal Society

On Friday 27 January 2017, the Constructing Scientific Communities project is holding two events in association with the Royal Society.

The Royal Society is at 6-9 Carlton House Terrace, London, SW1Y 5AG. Travel and practical information is available here.

12.00 – 17.30.  Workshop: Scientists and their diaries

The full programme for the workshop is here. Attendance is free and includes sandwich lunch and afternoon tea, but booking is essential. If you would like to attend, please email library@royalsociety.org to reserve a place.

18.00 – 19.00. Why We Write: Public Evening Event

The workshop will be followed by a public event on Why We Write, with Professor Sunetra Gupta. Workshop attendees are most welcome to stay on for this. Further details are available on the Royal Society Events page.

 

 

A Lamp in One Hand and a Measuring Tape in the Other

Guest blogger and ConSciCom intern Lea Beiermann recalls the highlights of her four-month stay at the University of Leicester.

When I arrived in Leicester in early September I only had a vague idea of what I would be doing during the upcoming months. I had read a number of publications by ConSciCom researchers over the summer (for example Gowan Dawson’s new book) and had a rough idea of what the project was about – but I did not know yet what I would be able to contribute. Shortly after I arrived, it was agreed that I would mainly assist Geoff Belknap in his research on illustrations in nineteenth-century science periodicals.

Continue reading

Science, Medicine and Culture in the Nineteenth Century: Seminars for Hilary Term 2017

 

John Atkinson Grimshaw, At the Park Gate (1878)

John Atkinson Grimshaw, At the Park Gate (1878)

Our programme for Hilary Term 2017 is now announced with two seminars at St Anne’s College.

Drinks will be served after each seminar. All welcome, no booking is required.

Wednesday 1 February 2017 (Week 3)

Professor Barbara Taylor, Queen Mary University of London

Pathologies of Solitude

5.30 – 7.00, Seminar Room 3, St Anne’s College

Solitude today is a serious health concern. Loneliness is identified as a major contributor to illness, especially among the elderly and people with mental disorders. Conversely, fears are expressed about a decline in young people’s capacity for solitariness, in this digitally-connected age. Modern people, in other words, are either too solitary or not solitary enough: a paradoxical situation with potentially serious consequences for individual and social wellbeing.  Such concerns are not new. Solitude has always been problematic. From antiquity on it has been portrayed in dichotomous ways: as a higher state of being, free from worldly vice, and as an unnatural, debilitating condition. ‘Whosoever delights in solitude’, an Aristotelean epigram ran, ‘is either a beast or a god’. In the premodern world, only the god-like – saints, philosophers – were entitled to solitude. For the rest of humankind, occasional solitude – for prayer, contemplation, restoration – was part of a well-balanced life, but a reclusive existence was unhuman and productive of many evils: misanthropy, melancholy, superstition, madness.  Every age produces its versions of these anxieties. But a decisive turning point came in the late eighteenth-nineteenth century when the social and attitudinal changes associated with the rise of ‘commercial civilisation’ prompted an unprecedented level of concern about solitude and its associated pathologies: a concern which has continued unabated – although some of its emphases have changed – right up to the present.

In this paper Professor Taylor outlines this history, with particular emphasis on nineteenth-century developments.  She is putting together a research project on the Pathologies of Solitude, 18th-21st Centuries, and would welcome the opportunity to discuss the scope and aims of the project.

Wednesday 22 February 2017 (Week 6)

Dr Helena Ifill, University of Sheffield

Medical Authority, (pseudo)Science and the Explained Supernatural in Late Victorian Female Gothic Fiction

5.30 – 7.00, Seminar Room 3, St Anne’s College.

Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s short story ‘Good Lady Ducayne’ and Florence Marryat’s novel The Blood of the Vampire were published at much the same time as Bram Stoker’s best-selling Dracula. But these “vampire” stories do not feature the kind of blood-sucking fiend we may expect. Instead they offer alternative visions of vampirism which lead to a questioning of “expert” medical authority, doctor-patient power relations, and the efficacy of modern medical science.