In March 1997, a replica of the HMB Endeavour arrived in the UK from Australia.…
history of science
Tim Sherratt, review of Treasures of the Museum, Victoria, Australia and Land Nation People: Stories from the National Museum of Australia, in Historical Records of Australian Science, vol. 16, no. 1, 2005, pp. 122-125.
Australia is blessed, it seems, with a frightening abundance of treasures. A quick survey of our cultural institutions reveals an escalating ‘treasures race’, as libraries, museums, and archives bombard the public with accounts of their rarest, most beautiful, and most interesting items. The State Library of Victoria, for example, has published a lavish description of its ‘treasures’, and features them prominently on its redesigned website. The National Library of Australia also has an online display of its most treasured holdings, hoping to bring in sponsorship for a permanent ‘treasures gallery’. Meanwhile, the ‘Treasures Gallery’ at the National Archives of Australia is already up and running, while the South Australian Museum guides visitors around a ‘treasures trail’. The Australian Museum recently presented their ‘treasures’ in a special exhibition, and even the University of Melbourne has catalogued the highlights of its collections in a glossy book of ‘treasures’. Celebrating its 150th birthday, the Museum of Victoria has made an impressive entry into the fray, with a well-designed treasures website, a treasures trail for visitors, and a beautiful volume simply entitled Treasures of the Museum. Read MoreTreasures
The development and use of the atomic bomb was a turning point in history. It seems so obvious—the world was changed, a new age dawned. But this was not the first turning point, nor the last. History is littered with critical moments, crossroads, watersheds and points of decision. Each brings a new sense of urgency, each draws renewed attention to the fate of humankind, but the moment soon passes and the urgency fades…until next time. Read MoreAtomic wonderland
Learned friends, a little over twelve months ago, I had the honour of addressing another distinguished gathering. My subject on that occasion was a rather unusual artefact that my colleagues and I had discovered – an item we came to call ‘The Cabinet of Curiosities‘. In the intervening months we have continued our researches into this object and have uncovered some disturbing facts. To be blunt, I believe that we have unearthed evidence of a widespread and long-standing conspiracy. Read MoreA conspiracy reveal’d
On Sunday I was listening to the local ABC station, 2CN, when a bloke came on talking about “unsung heroes” of Australian history. Apparently it’s a regular spot, and it so happened that the two heroes being sung on Sunday were scientists – Ferdinand von Mueller the botanist, and John Tebbutt, the astronomer. However, my initial pleasure at having scientists included in such a forum, quickly turned to frustration. Read MoreUnsung heroes
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?