Symposium Report: ‘Doctor, doctor: Global and historical perspectives on the doctor-patient relationship’

ConSciCom team member Alison Moulds discusses the medical humanities symposium she co-organised earlier this year.

Symposium PosterOn 24 March 2017, a one-day symposium – ‘Doctor, doctor: Global and historical perspectives on the doctor-patient relationship’ – was held at St Anne’s College, University of Oxford. It was organised by myself and Sarah Jones, a DPhil Candidate in French. The event was funded by a Medical Humanities programme grant from The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH), the Constructing Scientific Communities project, and St Anne’s College.

The symposium explored practitioner-patient interactions across different cultural contexts and throughout history. From the outset, our aim was to encourage interdisciplinary and international perspectives on medical humanities. We were particularly keen to attract researchers working in languages other than English and on non-Anglophone cultures. Sarah and I were delighted with the response to our call for papers, which far exceeded our expectations.

Our final line-up for the event featured more than 30 speakers, working across a range of disciplines (from Classics to Anthropology, Literature to Sociology) and based in a range of countries (from Italy to Russia, Spain to the United States). There were humanities scholars and clinicians, as well as individuals who bridged the divide or worked in other areas, such as on creative projects. Various career stages were represented in the programme – from Masters and PhD candidates to senior academics working in the medical humanities. The event attracted more than 70 attendees also drawn from diverse backgrounds, from general practice to fine art.

Poster presentations

The symposium opened with a keynote presentation from Dr Anna Elsner, Senior Researcher at the Center for Medical Humanities at the University of Zurich. Elsner’s paper examined the representation of clinical encounters in twentieth-century French literature alongside medical and bioethical research on the physician-patient relationship. The rest of the day was divided into parallel panels on themes ranging from medicine and material culture to institutional experiences of healthcare, and from classical to early modern medicine. Individual papers touched on issues such as medical case reports, cancer narratives, patient photography, and transgender healthcare. During lunch we had two poster presentations from Douglas Morgan and Farah Chowdhury, MSc Medical Humanities students at King’s College London.

Throughout the day there were opportunities for networking and it was wonderful to see colleagues from different disciplines and institutions sharing their interests and establishing connections.

The broad range of papers enabled participants to consider how representations and experiences of illness have changed over time and across different contexts and how patients’ expectations about their healthcare interventions have shifted. It was fascinating to see the different types of sources researchers drew upon in their work; medical textbooks, musical theatre, oral interviews, and archival documents such as court records were all scrutinised for the insights they offered into the medical encounter. Among the major themes arising from the symposium was how the doctor-patient relationship is rarely a 1:1 exchange; instead it takes place against a backdrop of other interactions. Patients also come into contact with nurses and other healthcare practitioners, while doctors interact with the patient’s friends and family. Attendees discussed how both doctors and patients bring personal experiences and attitudes to the specific medical encounter.

After the symposium, we circulated a follow-up survey among attendees to evaluate the event. We received 18 responses, which represented around 25% of attendees. Respondents were asked to rate aspects of the symposium on a scale of 1-6 (from low-high); the event programme received an average score of 5.6. We asked attendees what they enjoyed most about the event, giving them the opportunity of a free-text response. Delegates cited various aspects including the ‘varied programme’, the ‘vibrant and enthusiastic atmosphere’, and the ‘range of disciplines and voices represented’. The multi-disciplinary nature of the event was seen as particularly profitable: when asked whether the event had changed their views, one participant suggested that it was useful to hear from clinicians as they offered insights different from the ‘theoretical’ approach of medical humanities. The paper by Riana Betzler (postdoctoral fellow at the Konrad Lorenz Institute for the Advanced Study of Natural Complex Systems in Austria) was praised by a number of attendees as having challenged their preconceptions about the role of empathy in doctor-patient interactions.

It was a packed day (especially for a Friday!) and one of our key conclusions is that we would have loved to expand the symposium into a longer event. Several delegates suggested they would have enjoyed further opportunities for networking and exchange, while others wished they could have attended more sessions rather than choosing between parallel panels!

Closing remarksThe purpose of the symposium was to create a diverse network of scholars working in the medical humanities and we intend to build on the success of the event. Further details regarding the symposium’s legacy will be announced on the website in due course:

The Victorian origins of ‘space weather’

Today we take it for granted that activity on the Sun causes colourful displays of the aurora (the ‘northern lights’ in the northern hemisphere; the ‘southern lights’ south of the equator) and, in extreme cases, power cuts and disruptions to satellite communications. We now know that the Sun triggers these phenomena through its magnetic field and the stream of subatomic particles it emits, called the ‘solar wind’ – which in turn affects Earth’s magnetic field. We call the state of the solar wind and magnetic activity in the solar system ‘space weather’. Aurorae do not just take place on Earth: they can occur on any planet that has both a magnetic field and an atmosphere. They have been photographed in the atmospheres of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune; more recently, spacecraft have imaged them in the skies of Mars.

We strongly associate pictures of aurorae on other planets, as well as terms like ‘space weather’ and ‘solar wind’, very much with the space age. However, the possibility of detecting aurorae on other planets – and, by implication, the existence of the Sun’s influence throughout the solar system – was first suggested by two British astronomers working in the mid-nineteenth century: Balfour Stewart (1828-1887) and Edward Sabine (1788-1883).

A correlation between aurorae and the Earth’s magnetic field had been known since the eighteenth century, when Anders Celsius (best known for the Celsius temperature scale) and Olof Hiorter noticed frequent and wild oscillations in the direction of magnetic north during an auroral display. In the 1830s, the astronomer and scientific polymath John Herschel (1792-1871) undertook a systematic study of sunspots while on a four-year observing expedition at the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. In 1837, he noticed a peak in both sunspot and auroral activity and thought that it would be worth investigating whether a correlation between these two phenomena applied more generally. Six years later, German apothecary and astronomer Heinrich Schwabe discovered that the number of sunspots waxed and waned in a ten-year cycle. Then, in 1852, Sabine discovered a similar periodicity in the Earth’s magnetic field and noticed that it coincided exactly with Schwabe’s sunspot cycle. Herschel saw this discovery as confirmation of a link between sunspots and aurorae, and he now suggested that the ‘red clouds’ seen during a solar eclipse (now known as solar prominences) might be ‘reposing auroral masses’.

In response to Sabine’s discovery, the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS) set up a solar telescope and a suite of magnetic instruments in the Association’s observatory at Kew, to further investigate this correlation. The solar telescope, known as the Kew ‘photoheliograph’, took pictures of the Sun every clear day so that sunspot activity could be compared with the magnetic readings. (See separate article and associated video on the ConSciCom web pages about Elizabeth Beckley’s role in solar photography at Kew.)

In 1859, Balfour Stewart became superintendent of Kew Observatory. On 1 September that year, just two months after Stewart took up his post, the astronomers Richard Carrington and Richard Hodgson independently noticed a pair of bright lights appear above a large sunspot group, only to disappear a few minutes later. The timing of this explosion on the Sun, now known to have been a solar flare, coincided exactly with a jump in the traces produced by the magnetic instruments at Kew, and triggered Stewart’s interest in connections between solar activity and terrestrial magnetism.

In the early 1860s, Stewart and Sabine engaged in a lively correspondence on the nature of the newly-discovered Sun-Earth connections. In an August 1862 letter to Sabine, Stewart revived (without acknowledgement) Herschel’s 1852 assertion that the red clouds seen during eclipses might be aurorae on the Sun. In his reply to Stewart, Sabine took the speculation further, suggesting that the solar ‘aurorae’ triggered aurorae on Earth and wondered whether ‘all the planets participate in such appearances, though we may never attain to their observation’. Stewart, in turn, suggested a variety of observational evidence in favour of the red solar clouds being aurorae, including the fact that, as with sunspots, their greatest frequency coincided with periods of magnetic disturbance on Earth. As to Sabine’s suggestion that aurorae might occur on all the planets, Stewart wondered whether ‘perhaps Mr De La Rue could photograph one [of the planets] during an Aurora and ascertain this’.

Warren De La Rue (1815-1889) was then Britain’s leading pioneer of astronomical photography. He was instrumental in designing the Kew photoheliograph and was famous for his photographs of the Moon. Neither De La Rue’s nor anyone else’s photographic technology was then capable of photographing aurorae on other planets, but since 1979 spacecraft, including the Hubble Space Telescope, have photographed aurorae around the poles of Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune (though scientists believe that Jupiter’s aurorae are due primarily to the interaction of the planet’s magnetic field with its volcanic satellite Io rather than the solar wind).


Figure 1. Aurora around the southern pole of Saturn, photographed with the Hubble Space Telescope. Image courtesy J. T. Trauger (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) and NASA.

Although Sabine and Stewart’s prediction had to wait more than a century to be vindicated, their logic was correct: something emanating from the Sun was influencing the entire solar system at the same time. We now know that this ‘solar wind’ is made up of charged subatomic particles that become tangled in planetary magnetic fields and cause their atmospheres to glow with auroral light. What, however, could these two visionaries have had in mind in 1862, when the smallest particle known to exist was the hydrogen atom?

Stewart’s work makes it clear that he believed solar emissions travelled through an invisible, all-pervading medium called the ‘ether’. In the mid-nineteenth century, with the rise of the wave theory of light, such a medium had become a popular way of explaining how light travelled through space. In the forefront of this ether physics was Stewart’s contemporary and fellow Scot, James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879), whose electromagnetic theory described mathematically how light is an electrical and magnetic wave that propagates through this hypothetical ether. The ether was needed in the wave theory of light, because as a wave, light needed something to propagate through, just as sound requires air in which to travel.

Moreover Stewart, a staunch Christian believer, saw the ether as a convenient way of explaining the newly-discovered law of the conservation of energy without compromising the religious doctrine that the universe would one day come to an end. The ether provided a repository into which all the energy in the universe would eventually be dissipated, leaving the universe ultimately devoid of light and heat.

Stewart believed that as the planets changed their positions relative to the Sun, they moved through this ether and drew energy out of the Sun, causing magnetic effects that gave rise to sunspots and, as a consequence, aurorae. According to Stewart, the ether meant that the Sun and planets were tightly bound to one another, so that the motion of one body would have an effect on the others. Over the 1860s and 1870s, he used the solar results at Kew to develop some increasingly elaborate theories that attempted to correlate the positions of planets in their orbits with variations in sunspot activity. At the same time, he built experiments to find evidence for the ether, by measuring the heating of a disc spinning rapidly in a vacuum, eliminating friction with the air as a source of heat.

Watch a short video taken in 2007 by the STEREO A spacecraft, showing the tail of Comet Encke being buffeted by the solar wind – thought by Balfour Stewart and his contemporaries to be due to the ether. (Courtesy of NASA/STEREO.)

Both these approaches had inconclusive results. Stewart claimed to have detected heating in his spinning disc experiments, though modern scientists believe that this was due to the less-than-perfect vacuum attainable with the equipment of the mid-nineteenth century. After 1905, the ether theory gradually became discredited by Albert Einstein’s special theory of relativity. This painted a new picture of how light waves travel through space, dispensing with the notion of an ether.

However, the story of Balfour Stewart’s researches into solar-terrestrial physics has one ironic twist. In 1870, Stewart left Kew to become professor of ‘natural philosophy’ (now called physics) at Owens College in Manchester (now the University of Manchester). One of his students at Manchester was a young Joseph John (‘J. J.’) Thomson, who in 1897 would discover the electron – the first of the subatomic particles now known to make up the solar wind.

Dr Lee Macdonald is a historian of science in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, specialising in the history of astronomy and the physical sciences. In addition to working part-time for the Constructing Scientific Communities project, Lee works as Research Facilitator at the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford.

The Conversationalist Podcast – Episode 1: ‘Conversazione’

ConSciCom is very excited to introduce our new podcast series, The Conversationalist, an audio programme modeled on the Victorian tradition of ‘conversazione,’ public events that brought together science, arts, and the general public. At this podcast cocktail party, we invite experts on the history of science to tell us intriguing tales from the past that reveal how scientific knowledge has developed and changed and how ordinary people have contributed to scientific discovery.

Just as natural knowledge had been part of the coffee-house culture in the eighteenth century, so, in the Victorian era, science operated in the public gaze. The conversazione, Italian for conversation, was one of the principal forums where the Victorian public came together to discuss and learn about the latest scientific discoveries and advancements. Held in public spaces such as town halls and scientific institutes, they were a panoply of nineteenth-century urban middle-class life, displaying the civic pride of bustling provincial town and cities or the regal refinement of metropolitan institutions like the Royal Society.

Cornhill-Conversazione (1)

Conversazione: Science and Art, illustration by Richard Doyle

In this wonderful wood engraving by the Victorian illustrator Richard Doyle, entitled ‘Conversazione: Science and Art,’ we witness ‘literary lions, artistic celebrities, famous lecturers upon science, distinguished inventors in mechanics, discoverers of planets’ who all ‘talk to one another, exchange ideas, or criticise some new invention, or drink tea’ (no cocktails here!). In a grand room ‘fitted up with all kinds of curious, interesting, and instructive objects,’ a ‘traveller is expounding, with the aid of a plan of the bones, and a full-length portrait of the creature in a complete state, the manners, customs, and personal appearance of the very latest discovery in natural history,’ while portraits of ‘the last thing out in the way of pre-Adamite monsters are also to be seen, being a portion of one toe, in a fossil state, of a new species of megatherium—very rare.’ There are also ‘microscopes through which you may gaze at the wondrous beauties to be seen in the foot of a frog,’ and there is ‘an electric battery in one corner of the room, at which ladies and gentlemen may be shocked as much as they like’ (Richard Doyle ‘Conversazione: Science and Art’, Cornhill Magazine 6 (1862), 269–70).

Such events were at times eclectic and mesmerising and at times bizarre and boring. In our (eclectic and mesmerising!) first episode of The Conversationalist, we discuss conversazione with Professor Sally Shuttleworth and Professor Gowan Dawson. We ask what conversazione reveal about Victorian culture and science and also what we can learn from them today. And at the end of each episode, we check in with our podcast bartenders for a recipe or a story about the food and drink that so often sustained the vibrant conversations that characterised Victorian conversazione.

Listen on SoundCloud.

The Material Culture of Citizen Science: Workshop Friday 12 May at St Anne’s College

The Material Culture of Citizen Science

Friday 12 May 2017

9.00 – 5.30

Seminar Room 8

St Anne’s College, Oxford

In recent years, citizen science has flourished in and out of the academy. Across the globe, via projects such as   Zooniverse, socially and intellectually-engaged members of the public contribute in crucial ways to the making of new scientific knowledge. Within academic discourse, scholars have embraced the term “citizen science” as a   heuristic analytical tool for thinking about activity both past and present.  Thus far, historical scholarship on citizen   science has tended to focus on people and institutions. This workshop extends the current conversation by  examining and reflecting upon the technologies and materials that have enabled citizen science to flourish. What are the practical means that fostered the break down of the divisions between professional and non-professional    science? What kinds of technologies and materials can be identified, and how did they shape the interactions among participants and thus, the production, circulation and use of scientific knowledge, in the digital age and before? Citizen Science practitioners, researchers from the Oxford-based project ‘Constructing Scientific  Communities: Citizen Science in the 19th and 21st Centuries’, and  members of the Max Planck working group “Working With Paper: Gendered Practices in the History of Knowledge” will discuss these questions in historical perspective.  In particular, our conversations will concentrate on the use of paper as a central means to mediate between  seemingly divergent actors and spaces and those digital technologies that have replaced it.

Programme: The workshop programme is available here 

Registration: This is a closed workshop, but a limited number of free places are available to book. If you would like to book a place, please contact Alyson Slade on no later than 5.00 p.m. on Wednesday 3 May 2017 who will then confirm the place. Please also indicate if there are any dietary requirements.



Connecting with the Crowd Conference: 16th June 2017 at the Natural History Museum, London

Conference: Connecting with the Crowd

Date: Friday 16th June 2017

Time: 10:00-17:00

Venue: The Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London, SW7 5BD

This one day cross-disciplinary conference aims to explore best practices and new perspectives on crowdsourcing citizen science.

This event is jointly sponsored by the British Ecological Society through their Special Interest Group for Citizen Science, and the Constructing Scientific Communities Project.

Register Here

Crowdsourcing projects and platforms abound, involving over one million citizen scientists in the analysis or interpretation of images and data online. This conference will showcase the latest tools, technologies and approaches available to engage and collaborate with diverse audiences online.

Key elements of the event will be to share lessons learned, and to explore collaborations with social science researchers to understand who makes up ‘the crowd’, how we can best reach, engage and connect with them, and how effective they are at crowdsourcing research data.

This event provides a networking and professional development opportunity for researchers and students from the fields of science, social science and the arts and humanities, as well as practitioners in science communication, citizen science and crowdsourcing.


Keynote speakers include Chris Lintott, Professor of Astrophysics and co-founder of the Zooniverse crowdsourcing platform, University of Oxford.

Call for abstracts for speed talks: We have allocated time within the conference for a number of five minute speed talks and would like to invite delegates to submit proposals. Speed talks can introduce a crowdsourcing project, share lessons learned, share experiences of using a particular tool or technology, reflect on strategies to recruit, retain or connect with ‘the crowd’, or cover any other aspect of crowdsourcing you’d like to share. We really want to make this an opportunity for a diverse range of people and projects to share their experiences. Please send a 200-word abstract including the title and the names and institutions of the contributing authors to  by 5 May 2017

The conference will also feature interactive formats including a chance to meet platform developers and leaders over a coffee, and a collaborative ‘Wish List’ Wall where we invite all attendees to share their needs and desires for new tools, apps or functionality on existing platforms to support new crowdsourcing projects, or extend existing ones.


Booking is required. £22.50 – Full fee. £15 – Students / retired / unemployed / BES members.

The conference fee includes lunch and morning/afternoon refreshments.

Registration deadline for early booking rates is 17:00 on Friday 12 May 2017. After this date, tickets (if available) will increase in price. Places are limited so please register now! Deadline is May 28th!

Please contact Kath Castillo on with any queries.

To download the event flyer, please click here.




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.


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.



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:

Dr Lee Macdonald is a historian of science in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, specialising in the history of astronomy and the physical sciences. In addition to working part-time for the Constructing Scientific Communities project, Lee works as Research Facilitator at the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford.

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 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 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: by March 1st, 2017

A copy of the event poster is available here


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.




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:

For more details, visit the symposium website: