Archive for the ‘Instruments that leave traces…’ Category

Waxed-Paper Photo-Meteographic Recordings from the Radcliffe Observatory

Sunday, April 1st, 2012


These baro-, thermo-, anemo-, and electrograms were recorded using meteorological instruments at the Radcliffe Observatory (currently, the main building of Green Templeton College) from 1861-1874. They were recorded on waxed-paper using a method developed by William Crookes in 1854 when he was a meteorological assistant at the observatory (1854-1856). Crookes was particularly interested in how the new technology of photography could be applied to scientific endeavors. 

Though there are few traces left on these images to tell us how to interpret them correctly, we know based on their packaging to which meteorological phenomenon each of the images relates. The different waxed-paper recordings are stored in envelops that are labeled with the type of “gram” they contain. As examples, here (top image) is an example of an electrogram:


And here is an example of a barogram:


The file also contains “sun-recordings” which trace the intensity of the sun on certain days, by positioning a cardboard cutting with markings and having the sun burn through it over the course of the day. Here, is one such example:


We find these traces particularly haunting because they record something so transient: the daily weather. No two days are exactly the same, and it is difficult for us to retrospectively determine with any sort of accuracy past weather on a specific day. Though these objects are not entirely useful since we are lacking the knowledge necessary to read them properly, we do have a vague understanding of what they are trying to convey due to the markings on the images themselves and the envelopes that contain them. Using these waxed-paper photo-meteographic recordings (and sun-recordings), we can get a glimpse into Oxford’s very own forecast of over a century ago!



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.