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Week 3. Collections

This week is all about what happens when people bring a lot of different things into one place, as specimens or artifacts or drawings or descriptions or otherwise. We will explore museums (including the National Museum of Scotland), classifications, data, and what makes some objects ordinary or extraordinary. We will explore some hugely significant local collections, including the National Museum of Scotland and the Notebooks of Charles Lyell.

What to do during week 3

  • Thanks to all who completed the Time-Sensitive bureaucratic task from week 1. If you joined the course late or just haven't done the task yet, please get this done so that our course team can relax about whether everyone has the marking option they are meant to have.
  • Thursday's whole-class learning will include a trip to the National Museum of Scotland! It is free to enter and there is much to explore! You can go on your own or in a self-organised group any time (ideally before Tuesday's class), or you can meet up with a small group of classmates we randomly sort out from 1610 until the museum closes around 1700. However and whenever you go, you should complete the Museum Exercise in as much detail as you have time to do.
  • Thursday's class will therefore meet in our normal location just from 17:00 - 18:00 (5pm - 6pm), starting with a guest conversation with Dr Rebekah Higgitt, Principal Curator of Science at the NMS!
  • Tutorials!! If Timetabling is being slow, find one that works for you, email the tutor to check that it's ok, and show up to that one until it's sorted.
  • The whole city of Edinburgh can be explored as a Collection! Dr Niki Vermeulen, whom you will hopefully meet later in the semester, developed a great website and mobile app called Curious Edinburgh that can help you explore the city from a history of science perspective. Listen to Dr Vermeulen talk about Curious Edinburgh in her 2019 guest lecture.

Lecture Slides

Unit 3 slides (UoE login required)

If you would like to hear more from Dr Oosterhoff (the conversation guest from week 2) and some connections between the week 2 and 3 themes, here is his guest lecture from 2021.


Critical Thinking

Spend a short amount of time thinking about these questions and practice putting your ideas into writing.

  1. Look at the Curious Edinburgh website and/or download the Curious Edinburgh mobile app and have a look at sites related to the history of science near the places where you spend time in the city. Pay a visit to one or more of these sites (there are some good covid-safe outdoor options) and reflect on how its specific location and surroundings contributed to its role in the history of science. If you are not in Edinburgh, how might you find out about comparable sites of interest near you? How can you experience Edinburgh remotely?
  2. Choose a kind of object (plants, trees, street signs, vehicles, graffiti,…) to pay attention to for a few consecutive days. How does paying attention to these objects change your experience of them? What generalizations can you draw about these objects in Edinburgh (or more broadly)? If you make notes or records (photographs, etc.) of these objects, how do your notetaking or recording practices change your view of them as individual objects and as a collection of objects?

How to Use a Text

Choose a(nother) reading excerpt and do the How to Use a Text exercise. Bring questions about this to your tutorial.

Primary Source Exploration

On your student blog, write out your observations from either (or both) the Darwin Correspondence Exercise or Lyell Notebooks Exercise.

Community Building

Read what your classmates have shared and try to make at least one edit in the Florilegium. Use the example page to test things out if you are not feeling like adding to an existing substantive page or creating a new one. You will need to use the login instructions posted on Learn and discussed in week 1.

This is a wonderful week to think about and practice using the Florilegium, a centuries-old form of Collection brought into a format for distinctive 21st-century forms of Collection!

Reading Guide

Definitely have a look at the textbooks if you have not done so yet. Have you found one you like? Choose a portion relevant to any part of the first three weeks and see what it has to say.

There is a lot of readings on this week's list! We will discuss key points from Daston and Park's book as a whole class, as well as a number of ideas from other books on this list.

Some broad categories of readings are:

  • Natural History in different contexts: Marcon, Nappi, Star and Griesemer, Findlen, Fan, Secord, Jardine et al, Yale, Elman, Bil, Kimmerer
  • Science, commerce, collecting, Empire: Smith, MacLeod, Science in the Marketplace, Headrick, Browne, Cooke, Vermeulen, Notes and Records on Banks, Scheibinger, Anderson, Endersby, Roos et al
  • The Enlightenment: Eddy, Hess, Hankins, Emerson, Anderson, Clark et al
  • Museums and objects: Delbourgo, Alberti et al, Waterston, Pearce
  • Atlases: Daston and Galison, Berkowitz, Engelmann
  • Thematic special issues about big data: Limn, Osiris, HSNS


There are fewer prompts than usual for this unit, but each prompt allows a huge variety of possible subjects. Please take this as an opportunity to explore and be creative! You can answer a prompt for multiple subjects if you like! Or answer by comparing two subjects!

A. Identify and discuss an object from the National Museum of Scotland or a site from Curious Edinburgh. Use the questions from the Exercises and the Museum Task and ideas from the lectures and textbooks to connect the object or site to the broader history of science. Do not just say what it is and why it was important; an effective response will demonstrate how you have used themes and ideas from the course to interpret the object or site, and will show what the object or site can tell us about those themes and ideas.

B. Identify and contextualize an example of collection-based knowledge in the history of science, explaining how the collection was created, how its location(s) affect its use and meaning, and how its users have interacted with the collection to propose new understandings of the world. Remember to ground your response in material from the course lectures and readings.

intro/collections.txt · Last modified: 2024/01/26 14:29 by mjb