Impact Case Study 4: Using Place to Promote Understanding of Science and its History
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Leeds
Unit of AssessmentPhilosophy
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Studies In Human Society: Policy and Administration
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
Summary of the impact
This case study demonstrates how a concern with the significance of place
in the history of science, technology and medicine, as addressed in
research carried out by Graeme Gooday, Jonathan Topham and
Gregory Radick since 1998, forms the basis of three initiatives
over the period 1/1/2008 to 31/7/2013: first, a reappraisal of scientific,
medical and technological collections held in Leeds-area museums, in
collaboration with curators; secondly, the use of the University's own
collections to promote understanding of science and its history among
local citizens and schoolchildren, and thirdly the application and
transmission of this approach at the national level and beyond.
Traditionally science assigns little epistemic importance to place. On
this view, it makes no difference where an observation is made, or a
theory formulated, or a claim about nature considered, because scientific
knowledge is universally true. Challenging this customary dismissal has
been one of the most important developments in historical writing about
science, technology and medicine in the last quarter century. Researchers
at the University of Leeds, in particular Graeme Gooday (at Leeds
since 1994) and Jonathan Topham (at Leeds since 1999), have been
at the forefront of these developments.
Beginning with a now-classic 1998 paper on how nineteenth-century
laboratory scientists made their labs credible as windows onto reality (1),
Gooday has steadily expanded his interest in place, most recently
in studies of the role of apparently non-scientific locales in the rise of
electrical technology. He has shown, for example, how surprisingly
important theatres and aristocratic homes were in Britain in the
late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century as places that glamorized
electric lighting (2) while also serving to reassure (albeit also
occasionally alarm) the public about the risks (3). Electricity
was thus "domesticated" twice over, for it was only through the
electrification of such places that many people came to think of
electricity as unthreatening.
Topham's primary research agenda, laid out in a widely cited
historiographical paper published in 2000 (4), has been to explore
the critical role of the processes and practices of print communication in
understanding the acceptance, rejection, and appropriation of scientific
knowledge claims in different localities. His most recent paper in this
area examines the difficulties of interchange between Britain and France
during the Napoleonic wars, showing how British responses to French work
were conditioned by what Topham calls the "technicians of print":
the typically non-scientific people, from publishers and printers to
booksellers and translators, whose locally variable practices conditioned
what got to be read by whom and in what form (5). In common with Topham's
other studies, this paper has contributed to a reorientation towards
understanding knowledge-making in science as a process that is inherently
Gregory Radick (at Leeds since 2000), has also engaged with
place, notably in an award-winning book on the origin-of-language debates
since Darwin (6). This was original in emphasizing experiments in
"the field" — here, the African landscapes inhabited by monkeys — as the
source of authority in resolving debates about the origins of language.
To advance their collective concern with place in science, Gooday,
Radick and Topham in 2006 initiated two long-term projects
that have turned Leeds itself into a kind of research laboratory for
testing the value of this geographic approach to scientific knowledge. One
is a growing set of collaborative relationships with Leeds-area museums (i-iii).
The other is the creation of a University of Leeds Museum of the History
of Science, Technology and Medicine (`Leeds HSTM Museum'), making use of
University collections within public displays and education events, both
on and off campus (iv).
References to the research
Books, articles and chapters:
(1) Graeme Gooday, "The Premisses of Premises: Spatial Issues in the
Historical Construction of Laboratory Credibility", in Making Space
for Science: Territorial Themes in the Shaping of Knowledge, eds.
Jon Agar and Crosbie Smith (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 1998), pp.
216- 245. 9 citations in Google Scholar. Available on request.
(2) Graeme Gooday, Domesticating Electricity: Technology, Uncertainty
and Gender, 1880-1914 (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2008). 8
citations in Google Scholar. Available on request.
(3) Graeme Gooday, "Electricity and the Sociable Circulation of Fear and
Fearlessness", in Geographies of Nineteenth-Century Science, eds.
Charles Withers and David Livingstone (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 2011), pp. 203-228. Included in REF 2.
(4) Jonathan R. Topham, "Scientific Publishing and the Reading of Science
in Nineteenth-Century Britain: A Historiographical Survey and Guide to
Sources", Studies in History and Philosophy of Science A 31(4)
(2000): 559-612 DOI: 10.1016/S0039-3681(00)00030-3. 41 citations in Google
Scholar. Available on request.
(5) Jonathan R. Topham, "Science, Print, and Crossing Borders: Importing
French Science Books into Britain, 1789-1815", in Geographies of
Nineteenth-Century Science, eds. Charles Withers and David
Livingstone (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011), pp. 311-44. Included
in REF 2.
(6) Gregory Radick, The Simian Tongue: The Long Debate about Animal
Language (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007). Awarded the
2010 Suzanne J. Levinson Prize of the History of Science Society for best
book in the history of the life sciences and natural history. Available
(i) AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award with Gooday as PI: "The Medical
Instrument Trade Catalogue in Britain, 1880-1914: Its Changing Form, Role
and Significance in Technologizing Healthcare", with the Thackray Museum,
2006-9, ca. £45,000 (Topham as co-I).
(ii) AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award with Topham as PI: "Subscription
Libraries as Agents of Cultural Transformation in the Age of Revolutions:
The Case of Leeds, 1768-1832", with the Leeds Library, 2010-13, ca.
(iii) AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Awards with Radick as PI: "A History of
the Scientific Collections of the Leeds Museum, 1819-1921: Acquiring,
Interpreting and Presenting the Natural World in the English Industrial
City", with Leeds Museums and Galleries, 2007-13, ca. £50,000 (Topham as
co- I); "Industrial Illness in Cultural Context: `La Maladie de Bradford'
in Local, National and Global Contexts (1875-1919)", with the Thackray
Museum, 2008-11, ca. £50,000.
(iv) A range of small external research grants in support of the Leeds
HSTM Museum, from the British Society for the History of Science, the
Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society, and other bodies.
Details of the impact
The impact was initially focused on localities in Leeds and West
Yorkshire, with University staff and students working together with museum
professionals to optimise the educational potential of science, technology
and medicine collections through geographically informed research.
Subsequently, the adaptation of similar research-based approaches in the
museums sector on a national scale has built on the success of these
initiatives,including further collaborations and the development of public
A) Yorkshire Museums and their Staff
Through strategic targeting of funding, especially of the AHRC's CDA
scheme, Gooday, Topham and Radick developed collaborations
with curators and other museum professionals to train Leeds- based PhD
students. Their subsequent research revealed new place-based value in the
collections of three local museums:
Thackray Museum: Claire Jones (PhD 2006-10) helped staff
to understand their medical trade catalogues (the largest collection in
Europe) as historical objects in their own right. In a post- project
interview, the Joint CEO reported that Jones's work had enabled the
Thackray "to consider ways in which greater public access to the
catalogues might be facilitated" (A).
Leeds City Museum: Mark Steadman (PhD 2007-13) identified several
extinct specimens hitherto unrecognized in the museum's collections,
including a complete skeleton of the moa. In interview, the Head of
Collections reported that Steadman's research had influenced "the
development of learning programmes for formal and informal audiences,
identifying areas for further research, and sparking further public
enquiries." There were even benefits for the professional
development of staff, including a curator whose published paper on the moa
"would have been impossible without [Steadman's] research." (B)
Stephen Beaumont Museum: Mike Finn (PhD 2008-12) has collaborated
with this Wakefield museum, holding items from the former West Riding
Asylum. Using its pathology records, Finn has shown how the asylum's daily
practices were interwoven with research on brain function which made it
famous in the 1870s. In a post-project interview, it was reported that
Finn's research "had bolstered work on constructing a business case to
advocate support for the museum", and that, "the museum is now
able to develop interpretation that juxtaposes historical with
contemporary experiences of mental health treatment." Finn has
continued this collaboration with AHRC impact funding. (C)
B) Leeds-area Public Audiences via the Leeds HSTM Museum
The HSTM Museum (http://arts.leeds.ac.uk/museum-of-hstm/)
, under the Directorship of Claire Jones, has been used to enhance
public engagement with the history of science focused on local themes.
Objects from the collections are publically displayed around the
University campus, and are used off-site in jointly curated exhibitions.
Public lectures and educational resources relating to collections by Gooday
and others are available online. (D)
Bragg and X-ray crystallography: In March 2013, Museum staff
presented a programme of events for school, adult and family audiences in
connection with the University's celebrations of the invention of X-ray
crystallography and as part of the Leeds Festival of Science and National
Science and Engineering Week. (E) Supported by the Wellcome Trust,
the programme was extended to run at Leeds City Museum in July 2013, and
prompted a BBC Radio 4 interview with Visiting Fellow Dr Kersten Hall,
along with two Leeds-based senior academics, in which historical aspects
of the Bragg's work were discussed (F).
"Lights on at Lotherton": In July 2012, Museum staff collaborated
with staff at Leeds Museums and Galleries (LMG) on a new form of school
science instruction inspired by Gooday's `Domesticating
Electricity' research. In the pilot workshop held at Lotherton Hall,
nineteen year-5 pupils from Grange Farm Primary in Seacroft (an area of
multiple deprivation) took a worksheet tour of the house and its
electrical furnishings, handled vintage electrical apparatus from the HSTM
collections, made lampshades and took part in a debate. One of the
teachers commented: "The pupils found it fascinating to see how
electricity was incorporated into the home ... We, as teachers, also
learned a lot and have now incorporated elements of the workshop ...
into [our] own teaching." (G) Lotherton Hall staff have
incorporated elements of Gooday's research within a new permanent
exhibition about electricity in the country home (attracting 6797 visitors
in June and 5044 in July 2013), for which he presented a complementary
public talk in May 2013. A `science comic' of the domestication of
electricity has also been produced as a further educational resource. (H)
C) Applying the Leeds Model Nationally
Further events and collaborations have extended the reach of the impact,
to the national level. Thus, Jones presented a paper (now
published) on the Leeds approach to museum professionals tasked with
interpreting academic heritage at the Universeum conference in Norway
(June 2012). The workshop `University Engagement with Museums and
Audiences' was also convened at Leeds in conjunction with the Science
Museum in January 2013 as part of AHRC-funded research network, `Public
History of STEM'. In July 2013 the School hosted the Science, Technology
& Industry Subject Specialist Network Conference (funded by Arts
Council England), which included a presentation by Gooday and
tours of the HSTM on-campus displays. In addition, since October
2012, Gooday and MacDonald have worked on the Kew Observatory, in
partnership with the Royal Society, resulting in an online resource that
won first prize in the British Society for History of Science's 'Travel
Guide' competition in July 2013 (I). Looking to the future, the
success of the Lotherton Hall project has attracted the attention of
Cragside (National Trust), expressing interest in an initiative for using
NT country houses to teach electrical science.
Sources to corroborate the impact
(A) Joint CEO, Thackray Museum, Leeds, interview summary available
(B) Head of Collections, Leeds Museums and Galleries, interview
summary available upon request
(C) Service Improvement and Business Development Manager,
Southwest Yorkshire NHS Trust, interview summary available upon request.
(D) A selection of videos from lectures and demonstrations
relating to the Leeds HSTM Museum, and viewer numbers, can be found at:
http://www.youtube.com/user/hpsmuseumleeds (accessed 24/09/13).
(E) See: http://www.leeds.ac.uk/festivalofscience/
(accessed 24/09/13) and:
(F) A summary of the interview on the Radio 4 news programme `PM'
can be found at: http://www.leeds.ac.uk/arts/news/article/3527/leeds_father_and_son_pioneers_of_x-
ray_crystallography_featured_on_radio_4 (accessed 24/09/13).
(G) Year 5 teacher at Grange Farm Primary School, Leeds,
testimonial available upon request.
(I) The prize, awarded at the International Congress on the
History of Science, Technology and Medicine in Manchester (21-28 July
2013), was for MacDonald's Travel Guide entry: