Category Archives: Exhibitions

In Print Exhibition Now in the Entrance Gallery

The In Print exhibition, currently in the entrance gallery, is a selection of the interesting prints we’ve come across as part of the Making Prints Public project. This exhibition is one of two print related exhibitions in the museum at the moment, with Comets, Meteors and Fireballs in the basement gallery.


If you come to see In Print you may be initially surprised by what appears to be holes in the top of the prints in the tall glass cases at the front of the exhibition. This is the first time that the museum has used a magnet-mounting technique (instead of framing the prints). The holes are actually tiny neodymium magnets which we have used to clamp the prints against custom-made steel paper covered mounts. Magnetic strips were also used to hold on display labels.

The Making Prints Public project has been cataloguing, digitising and tweeting the museum’s print collection over 7 months. Many of the prints were taken from R.T. Gunther’s own personal collection, the Hope Portrait Collection, the Gabb collection and the Radcliffe Observatory collection. There were also items donated by John de Monins Johnson (1882–1956), printer, ephemerist, and classical scholar, and by Lewis Evans (1755–1827), mathematician, astronomer and sundial enthusiast.


A digital version of In Print can be found here. It closes on 11 June 2014.

Story Makers: Ways of Measuring and Seeing

A reflection on the Story Makers Project 2013/4
by Helen Edwards

Helen EdwardsAs an Arts Psychotherapist I am constantly fascinated and surprised by ways in which artistic engagement may breathe life into, and make visible, resources and ideas previously dormant. I have been Project Lead for one such initiative, Story Makers, which has been managed by Fusion Arts and funded by Children in Need since its conception. Through Story Makers, arts-based support, in partnership with museums, has been offered to children with speech and language difficulties in Primary Schools in Oxford each year since 2010.

Following on from a partnership with the Ashmolean Museum and then the Pitt Rivers Museum, I was very curious to develop Story Makers to work with the Museum of the History of Science. Having explored the capacities of ideas drawn from dialogues between Art and Archaeology, and Art and Anthropology, to hold, communicate and convey human experiences, I was very drawn to explore how ideas from science could be tapped into too.

dscf2678I felt such approaches could help children realise the details and learnt structures of the knowledge they hold about their worlds. Giving attention and thought to the operating of such ways of structuring and expressing their experience of the world, it may be possible to try out new ones, and realise the power of their own creativity and imagination. In my view these are essential tools, transferable to most areas of problem solving.

The idea for this year’s process – Ways of Measuring and Seeing – emerged through the study of collections in the Museum. I had been considering for a while the ways in which the body learns a sensory map of the world and the incorporation of somatic, body based maps of measuring space.  For example, how in the night if one gets up for a glass of water, even in the dark there is an innate knowledge of the number of stairs, length of the hallway, location of a glass and tap, without visual confirmation.

dscf2690A felt sense of orientation in the world may underpin and create a sense of balance and security and I felt fascinated to see how this might link with the historical development of anthropomorphic measuring systems – the measuring of the world based on human body parts, such as hands, feet and fathoms, a fathom original being based on the width of a man’s open arms. Discussions with the primary education officer at the Museum, Michelle Holloway, were incredibly fruitful. Together we thought about combining work with measuring instruments in the Museum with activities to support the children’s enquiry.

The children ranged from excited to very concerned about their visits to the Museum. Some had visited either with family, or with school groups, whereas others had never visited. For them, this was going into a land of the unknown, this external journey representing the border they were crossing internally, a big leap of faith for both children and adults. The project was both personally and artistically exciting and challenging, shepherding and heralding new ideas as they arrived, encouraging the new inventors to breathe belief into their ideas.

dscf2694The huge, light spaces of the museum galleries were so different to many of the small classrooms and buildings more familiar to these groups. The fragile glass cases and many beautiful, old instruments and devices, so carefully crafted by their makers, echoed the new ideas emerging from these developing children. The children had questions about these makers in their endeavour to try and understand the social and emotional nature of their lives. Each Story Maker participant drew from and built on ideas from their imagination, and the process of working with the Museum lead to an extraordinary collection of new characters of invention, with their own unique stories, communicating new understanding and awareness of their worlds and innate creativity.

Prints collection project update… over 1200 items catalogued!


German woodcut, cutting from book.

The researcher-cataloguer team at MHS have now finished cataloguing the prints collection, thanks to funding from the Arts Council England under the Designation Development Fund. We are now putting together an exhibition for the museum for early 2014.

Engraved by W. Bromley, London, 1797

Joseph Priestley, engraved by W. Bromley, London, 1797

We’ve been excited and amused by much of what we’ve uncovered while cataloguing over 1200 prints in the collection. It includes a range of popular techniques for making prints from the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries, including woodcuts, different styles of engravings, made using copper and steel, in line and stipple treatments, lithographs, and methods of hand and machine colouring in using inks and watercolours.

The prints collection was physically curated by our archivist, Tony Simcock, into subject-based folders over the years. Themes included astronomy, architecture, aeronautics, medicine, chemistry, pharmacy. You can see from looking in each folder how subjects have been depicted and treated in illustration over time, such as the depictions of laboratories from satires of an alchemist’s lab to a modern chemistry lab.

William Harvey,  engraved by J. Houbraken after Bemmel, Amsterdam, 1739

William Harvey, engraved by J. Houbraken after Bemmel, Amsterdam, 1739

Within the prints collection, there is a special collection of portraits of scientists. Many of these are engravings, mainly in line and stipple, created after older portraits and likenesses. Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century portraits of natural philosophers, astronomers, astrologers, antiquaries, surgeons, botanists and alchemists are often line engraved and represented in cartouches or as busts surrounded by representations of their subject (such as William Harvey Inv. No. 14459). Some of these include allegorical imagery, as the example of Joseph Priestley shows (Inv. No. 97347).

John Evans, engraved by Godfrey after Bulfinch, London, 1776

John Evans, engraved by Godfrey after Bulfinch, London, 1776

Some of the likenesses are less flattering: the example of John Evans (Inv. No. 33472), a seventeenth-century astrologer who was as famous for his debauched lifestyle as he was for his skills in mathematics, and can be seen here in an early nineteenth century stipple engraving.




Before the exhibition we will sharing interesting items on Twitter – do take a look via the new @MHSCollections account!