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Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Ministry on the Move: Museum of the History of Science Oxford

We may be suckers for London’s incredible offer but sometimes we do leave the big smoke in search of some of the UK’s other museum treasures, it’s no lie most of our holidays are dominated by a museum loving search. My recent weekend away in Oxford was no different to any other, it was all about museums – and a bit of food and drink too.

Pitt Rivers Museum 
As you’ll be aware Oxford has an incredible amount of richness to offer when it comes to museums, the Ashmolean, The Museum of Oxford and the Bodleian provide a great cultural offer. Then of course there is the Pitt Rivers, as an anthropology graduate and arrow lover (early career projects) the Pitt Rivers often feels like the resting point for my soul, especially as its dark and jam packed with ethnography. Nonetheless, I’m not going to urge you guys to visit,  if you haven’t been already there is no doubt that there is a deep desire to go already and check out the collection of one of the founding fathers of Anthropology.

Oxford University Museum of Natural History
There’s also a lot of time to be had in the Oxford UniversityMuseum of Natural History,   featuring the exciting and expected dinosaur skeletons, some awesome taxidermy and on this occasion we became enthralled with the rock collection. The institution may have been slammed recently for its claim that exhibits are being destroyed due to the lack of UV filters on the glass roof but let’s just remember that this is a very valid and necessary point, increased temperature and sunlight can indeed destroy objects as our conservation friends will tell you so let’s support them in their application to Oxford City Council and increased the awareness of conservation of museum collections!

But today we want to talk to you about the Museum of the Historyof Science. It’s the world’s oldest purpose built museum (1683!) that hosts a stunning collection of objects relating to the history of Science.

Entering the museum is a bit of a maze, as you would suspect Oxford is a pretty busy tourist town and free museums occupy much of their time. However, I was initially pleased to see the front of house staff, under considerable strain from the crowds remain incredibly chipper and welcomed us into the space full of dazzling showcases of sundials, astrolabes and navigation equipment.

Lewis Carroll's wet plate photographic kit
The whole collection is fascinating and luxurious,  but it’s in the basement where the fun really begins. The main room is an ornate cavern with wooden showcases and pink backed cabinets filled with glorious scientific specimens including ornate drug jars telescopes and experimenting kits. It’s in this gallery that you too find objects belonging to Lewis Carroll and Einstein. In a showcase you’ll see a wooden box of vials and bottles – a wet plate photographic equipment box belonging to Lewis Carroll whose interest in photography included photographing family friend Alice Lidell the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland. On the wall sits Einsteins blackboard (so iconic it has its own Wikipedia page!) the board of which was used when he was lecturing in Oxford, obviously their use is for short term documentation of presentations yet when already a celebrity Einstein came to oxford in 1931 it was preserved and acquired by the Museum of the History of Science Oxford and has become their most iconic objects.
Museum of the History of Science 

But one of my favourite things about this museum is that they recognise that they may be a little inaccessible for many and thus since 1995 have been creating virtual versions of their exhibitions for those who are unable to visit. Firstly, this is a bloody lovely thing to do and secondly, I think it’s a really great way to preserve temporary exhibitions for future research and reflection. I particularly like The Star Holder: Lives of the Astrolabe exhibition 

If you’re heading out west definitely stop by this great City for a day or a whole weekend and take  time to visit the great museums it offers. If you do get a chance to visit also head to Beerd for great pizzas and craft beer. But if not, don’t worry, be sure to check out the online exhibitions from the Museum of the History of Science


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