Historical Precedents of Popular Involvement with Science (and
Improvements in Instruments
The early days of microscopy were full of activity by 'amateurs' -
people whose main job was something else.
Major innovations in instrumentation and in advancing knowledge of what
was seen came from the work of these individuals
(Images derived from Bradbury,S Evolution of the
Microscope. Oxford: Pergammon Press, 1967)
|Adaptation of Telescope for
| Italian Brass Microscopes
Widespread Interest in Science
New Science was also diffused
by public demonstrations. This was especially the case in public
anatomy lessons. Scientist and layman alike were invited to
witness the dissection of human cadavers. The body of a criminal would
be brought to the lecture hall and the surgeon would dissect the body,
announcing and displaying organs as they were removed from the body.
Throughout major European cities
there were wealthy men who, with lots of free time on their hands,
would dabble in science. These were the virtuosi -- the amateur
scientists. These men oftentimes made original contributions to
scientific endeavor. They also supplied organizations like the
Society with needed funds.
By 1700, science had become an
issue of public discourse. The bottom
line, I suppose, was that science worked! It was wonderful, miraculous
and spectacular. For the 17th century scientist -- a Galileo, a
or the virtuosi -- science produced the Baconian vision that anything
was indeed possible. Science itself gave an immense boost to the
general European belief in human progress, a belief perhaps initiated
by the general awakening of European thought in the 12th century.
Lecture 7 The Medieval Synthesis and the Secularization of Human
Knowledge: The Scientific Revolution, 1642-1730 (2)
|Bonnani - Horizontal Microscope
|Lucernal microscope (designed to
Microscopes as Parlor Instruments
(Adornment beyond functional necessity)
|Adam's microscope (created for
King George III)
|Hooke Microscope (created by
Public Presentation and Diversion
The American Philosophical Society
(APS) was one of several institutions founded and fostered by Benjamin
Franklin. In 1743, he circulated a letter, titled “A Proposal for
Promoting Useful Knowledge among the British Plantations in America,”
which solicited interest in founding a society of correspondence so
that members who were separated from each other by great distances
could keep current on the latest developments in “natural philosophy,”
the term which, in that day, meant any kind of physical science as well
The scientific instruments from
Benjamin Franklin’s time were used not just by a few intellectuals and
scientists in a backroom laboratory, but by everyone, as this exhibit
shows. The ferment and excitement over discovering new things with
these instruments was clearly so widespread that it was sometimes
difficult to distinguish between science, the application of science in
the form of new technology, and daily entertainment.
The parlors, or living rooms, were
much different places in the 18th and 19th Century than they are today.
Often the parlors displayed globes, a microscope, or an electrical
machine. The most popular parlor activities were those that combined
advanced technology with fun.
Text describing exhibit on the APS
People would go on trips to collect samples to look at in their
|Narine 'chest microscope'
for field observations 1747
An evening at the microscope - a
popular form of entertainment
The growth in the number of visitors to Dorset coast coincided with a
fashionable interest in natural history and collecting specimens
between 1820 and 1870. Seashells, sea anemones or any marine creature
that could be brought back to an indoor aquarium, as well as plants
such as ferns, and of course fossils, were all popular. Natural History Societies flourished
and it was part of the attributes of being a gentleman that he should
be able to talk knowledgeably about the latest scientific discoveries.
While women were not permitted to attend these meetings, apart from the
occasional ‘ladies evenings’, an interest in natural history was
thought very suitable way for women to spend their leisure providing
fresh air, exercise, and of course, education.
from Settlements and Society -