Archive for March, 2012


Friday, March 30th, 2012

While assembling the exhibition we spent a lot of time thinking about how we use instruments to trace our own lives, and how the images that these instruments create affect our understanding of our lifestyle. Here is an example of one such instrument which did not  make the final grade but is nonetheless a fascinating instrument. It is a pedometer made by H C French in the early 20th century. Although we think of a concern with exercise as a relatively new phenomena, the museum in fact has pedometers dating as far back as the 17th century, some of which were extremely intricate. Early modern doctors such as George Cheyne thought that exercise was important as it promoted the circulation of the four ‘humours’ which made up the body and prevented any obstructions which could cause disease. By the early 20th century an understanding of the relationship between exercise and health existed which was much more in line with modern understandings, with a belief that walking was particularly useful for keeping the heart healthy. This Pedometer could also have been used for measuring distances, the most effective way to measure journeys was to walk them!

This pedometer has a main dial recording yards and three smaller dials for recording miles, tens of miles and thousands of miles. This shows that the owner must’ve been anticipating walking an impressively long way! The pedometer’s insides are still in tact and we can seen that it functioned with a simple swaying method which turned the cogs as the owner walked- not entirely dissimilar from modern pedometers. Using this people of the early twentieth century could trace their everyday journeys, recording every step that they made along the way. It is exciting to imagine the kind of journeys that such a device would’ve recorded and the things that the owner would’ve seen and experienced while using it. Sadly time has left its own trace on this charming object and it is now too rusted and scratched to be put on display.

Protractor, Stencil, and Ruler by Sterling, US, 1940s

Friday, March 30th, 2012


This oddly-shaped tool has many functions!

A keen schoolchild, an innovative engineer, or perhaps a skilled artist may have used this multi-faceted instrument. It has a striking appearance, as the shape is both irregular and beautiful, allowing for multiple functions. This instrument blurs the lines between trace-leaving object and one that has traces left on it. Without the human marks that indicate the angles for the protractor function, the distances for the ruler functions, or the names and sizes of the shapes it could be used to draw, it would be a puzzling and useless instrument indeed. However, it is precisely because those marks have been left on this instrument that we have, and still are, able to use this object for a variety of purposes. Thus, this protractor, stencil, and ruler offers us a glimpse into the interactions between man and instrument in order to create meaning and function. 

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!