Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

One Mystery Solved! Two to go…

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

The traces team would like to extend our appreciation to three museum patrons who have successfully identified one of the three unknown objects in the ‘instruments without a trace’ case.

Mr. Nick Davies was the first to suggest that object #10948, the  unidentified pivoted metal plates, had something to do with Braille writing in a blog comment.

Alexander S. Mentis, Major, U.S. Army, directed us to several websites which showed us how a Braille slate was used with a stylus to emboss paper.  It was our first bit of visual evidence.

Mrs. Celia G Kellett kindly emailed the museum, sharing her experience using the Braille writing frame.  She also included some wonderful photos including a teaching handbook.  Mrs. Kellett had the following story to share :

“I immediately recognised the object, 10948, as a Braille Writing frame.
My attachments show photographs, which I took last night, of the Braille
Frame and Braille Teaching Handbook, which were given to me by my blind
piano teacher circa 1956/7, and the Girl Guides badge I received upon
reaching a basic standard of reading and writing braille. The frame
holds the paper whilst letters are punched by a series of dots, working
from left to right. Such frames are still in use today, but more modern
ones are available.”


Braille Frame, punch, and Braille Handbook


Braille Frame, punch and system



The MHS can now add this information to the object record.  Many thanks to Mr. Davies, Major Mentis, and Mrs. Kellett for making this possible.

Can you help us build on this success by discovering the uses and stories for our other two mystery objects?  Please feel free to leave any ideas in the blog comments.



Who left these traces?

Sunday, May 6th, 2012

While collecting the instruments for the exhibit, a question often crossed our minds: “Who are the people who left traces on these objects?”  For some of the objects, it is unknown who left the traces while others are associated with specific individuals. In our search to find out more about the people who may have left these traces, we were able to locate information on one person in particular, Mr. Frank Arthur Bellamy (initials F.A.B. on the instruments).

F.A. Bellamy  was born in Oxford in 1863 to a family that later became very involved with the Radcliffe Observatory. Two of his brothers worked as assistants at the Observatory as did Mr. Bellamy. While working at the Observatory under E.J. Stone, Mr. Bellamy focused on meridian work as well as meteorology. The initials F.A.B appear on two of our exhibit items. The first is the Euclidian geometric model that was most likely part of a group of instruments used by the Savilian Professor of Astronomy. Mr. Bellamy, after his time at the Radcliffe observatory, worked with H.H. Turner who was a Savilian professor of Astronomy at Oxford. Perhaps it was during his time working with Professor Turner that Bellamy became acquainted with this instrument and allowed him to identify it and have it restored (interestingly, it was restrung by his niece, Ethel F. Bellamy who also worked in the Radcliffe Observatory). The other trace left by Mr. Bellamy was on the unidentified piece of wood that only reads “Keep/of historical interest/F.A.B.”  In addition to working with Professors at Oxford, Bellamy was, himself, a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and published his own articles in scholarly journals.

These traces help us understand the history of some of the objects (such as the Geometric model) while also allowing us to learn about the man, F.A. Bellamy, who wrote them. In this way, traces can ensure not only that instruments will be remembered and kept but that people who create the traces can be remembered as well.


Sources for this post can be found in obituaries for F.A. Bellamy here and here. He was also in a list of recently deceased fellow in the monthly notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, which can be found here.  An Obituary for Ethel F Bellamy, F.A. Bellamy’s niece, can be found here.

Opening Traces

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

On April 23, 2012, 30 people gathered at the History of Science Museum in Oxford to celebrate the opening of Traces.


Pictured above are the proud organizers of the exhibit, who were overwhelmed by the turnout and the positive response to the objects and narrative after their months of hard work.


We were also very excited about how many people had comments about the different objects and their organization in this particular exhibit. People found the Objects Without Trace section especially thought-provoking, as we had hoped. We have already received multiple comments on the blog with suggestions as to what these mysterious instruments might have done, and who may have used them.


All in all, it was a great night full of discussion, wine, and appreciation for these historical objects. We are sad that the curating process is over, but excited to continue this work through our blog and see how other visitors react to Traces!

Practice Makes Perfect

Monday, April 23rd, 2012


On April 2, 2012, while the museum was closed to the public, we got together to assemble the “Traces” exhibit.  Since most of the items came from storage, it was our first time to see them in person.  There were some surprises.  Some things, like the penicillin samples, were much smaller than expected.  Others, like the recording voltmeter, were much larger.  We settled on the layout for the three cases.  We also made a list of supports/mounts needed to display the artifacts in the best way possible.  Label sizes were defined and fun was had by all.  Hopefully this will pay off when we set up the exhibit in its final form!

Choosing A Typeface

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

As we get closer to the opening of our exhibit we must turn our attentions to the trace that we will leave on this project: our exhibition labels. Though seemingly a minor point, choosing the typeface for these labels is proving difficult. The labels are not large, and as such we must pick a font that is legible and clear, even if printed in small letters. Moreover, we do not want a font that is too flashy, lest it detract from the message on the label, or the objects in the exhibit itself.

We have decided to limit ourselves to the easily accessible MS Word font collection. So far, the fonts Georgia, Perpetua, Garamond, Didot, and Bell MT have all been listed as possible contenders for our final typeface. 

What do you think? E-mail us at if you have any suggestions or opinions. We’d love to hear from you! 

Designing a Logo

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

While waiting for a train the other day, I looked up at some of the advertisements lining the walls of the station.  Most of the ads tempted you to some diversion or other – a play, a ride in the London Eye, or a museum exhibit.  The stations between Oxford and London had quite a few museum events touted in posters on the walls and it got me thinking about the importance of branding and graphic design.  Images and their arrangement on posters, web, and publications are an essential element to encouraging the public to come through a museum’s doors.

Our blog is only a few weeks old, and our object list for the exhibit still nascent, but we thought it was important to have graphics associated with our theme.  Hiring a graphic designer was not an option, as our little venture is cash poor.  That being said, it is also resource rich.  We not only have the incredible staff at the museum supporting us, but a network of friends and family to draw upon.  In this vein, our illustrator, Alexis Frederick-Frost, is donating his time to help our project.


The banner at the top of the home page is one of the two options he gave us after receiving the incredibly vague directions: “We need something that says ‘traces’.”  The alternative is pictured above.  We did not choose it only because we thought the Morse code reference may be lost to most people.

I thought I would also include a picture of his notebook, where he brainstormed ideas.



And one of the more whimsical versions of the logo which was later done up in photoshop in Velvet Underground/Andy Warhol style…


Making it all fit

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012


The size and orientation of three cases in the main gallery reserved for our exhibit are a major driving force behind the selection of objects for display.  To make sure we have enough room for our chosen artifacts, a model was made in Google SketchUp.  So far, our choices seem to fit, but this is just budgeting for space.  We need to consider the aesthetic appearance as well as the logistics of placement. For example, we do not want something small and hard to see at the bottom of the case.  Consequently, things still have to be shuffled around.

Currently, we are planning on the right case (as pictured) to contain the objects that leave traces.  The left case will have instruments with traces of use on them.  The middle case contains the objects with no trace, which is why the woman is lost in her thoughts considering them.  What could they be?…  The inventory numbers are included where possible, so check out the museum database and tell us what you think.

Piecing together an exhibit

Monday, March 19th, 2012



Three historians, one med student, and a physicist walk into a coffee shop…

It might sound like the beginning of a bad joke but no – it is the beginning of our exhibit planning.  We started meeting regularly in Hilary term and kicked off our brainstorming sessions by concentrating on the theme of traces.  We searched the museum database, consumed caffeine and produced a preliminary list of objects that we wanted to include.


We took our ideas to the MHS and have started the process of selecting objects for the exhibit.  This process, which we hope to share with you, is an interesting one.  One minute you are laughing (see Anna and Phil in the photo with a very patient Assistant Keeper, Stephen, in the foreground) and the next you are arguing, staunchly and unflinchingly advocating for one of the instruments you selected to be included. Negotiations are primarily based on space constraints.  We have three cases for our three themes.   In the coming weeks we hope to use this blog to include some of the objects that either will not fit in the cases or cannot be displayed for some other reason.  Some of the artifacts are just plain quirky, others mysterious, and some too fragile for display. We cannot wait until our objects are dusted off, removed from storage, and are on display to be shared with you.

The Blog goes live!

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

So today the Traces website was born- we hope that you enjoy it as we document our journey through the curation process. And if you fancy it, please feel free to leave any traces of your own, either by leaving comments or by emailing us at

Welcome to Traces!

Sunday, March 4th, 2012

Traces is an exhibit taking place at the Musem of the History of Science, Oxford from the 24th April – 24th June 2012.

We hope you enjoy the site!