These Posts are by:

Tim Sherratt

I'm a historian and hacker who researches the possibilities and politics of digital cultural collections.

January 29, 1989 /
Tim Sherratt, ‘Making science for whom?’, Antithesis, vol. 2, no. 2, 1988/9, pp. 13-18.


The title of this book, Australian Science in the making, strikes me as somewhat ambiguous. In one sense it seems to indicate an ongoing process of creation, while in the other it appears retrospective, reflecting on the establishment or achievement of science in Australia. The difference is significant, I believe, for the two interpretations suggest disparate views about the nature and development of science. The former implies that a continual process of construction and negotiation is involved in producing what we know as ‘science’. Science is a process, or an activity, rather than a discrete entity. There is room, then, in this interpretation, for the work of the social historian or political reformer, who seeks to highlight the cultural roots and social implications of a science. The latter view, however, assumes that there are certain criteria which, when met, enable one to recognize science as ‘made’ or established. Such criteria would be formulated with reference to some fixed model of what science is, and would thus emphasize fulfilment or attainment of that model. This inherently conservative view clearly imposes limits upon the study of science, and thus upon any discussion of its social role. Nonetheless, I would argue, it is this latter conception of science which is embedded in the structure and much of the content of this volume. This raises important questions about the way science is perceived in Australian society, and indeed about the role of the history of science in maintaining such perceptions. Read MoreMaking science for whom?

December 1, 1985 /
Tim Sherratt, ‘“A political inconvenience”:Australian scientists as the British atomic weapons tests, 1952-3’, Historical Records of Australian Science, vol. 6, no. 2, December 1985, pp. 137-152


Then there was a great flash that reached the far horizon. Even Dr Penney, who had witnessed the first historic cataclysm in the desert at Almagordo and later seen a bomb burst over Japan, described the scene as ‘terrifying’ as he turned around to find the frigate Plym had vanished and to see a great greyish-black cloud shooting up thousands of feet into the air and ever-growing in size.1

In the Monte Bello Islands off the coast of Western Australia on 3 October 1952, Dr William Penney watched as an atomic device for which he was largely responsible vaporised a test ship and sent thousands of tonnes of water erupting into the air. His programme had been successful; Britain was now a fully-fledged nuclear power. Read MoreA political inconvenience

  1. Leonard Bertin, Atom Harvest (London, 1955), 154. []
November 15, 1985 /
Tim Sherratt, ‘Australian scientists at the British atomic tests’, in Robyn Williams (editor), Science Show 2, Nelson, 1985, pp. 216-9. Broadcast on ABC Science Show, 11 May 1985.


The radioactive dust had barely settled on the devastated cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki when, in November 1945, Winston Churchill proclaimed: ‘This I take is already agreed, we should make atomic bombs.’ It was, and they did – seven years later Britain exploded its first atomic bomb in the Monte Bello Islands off the coast of Western Australia. In the years that followed, Australia hosted another eleven such tests at three different sites – Monte Bello, Emu Field and Maralinga. Thirty years later we are still attempting to count the costs. Read MoreAustralian scientists at the British atomic tests