Teaching and research using museum collections

The Department of History and Philosophy of Science is unique in having teaching programmes connected to the Whipple Museum's world-renowned collection of scientific instruments and books. The Museum is regularly used for both undergraduate and graduate teaching at the University of Cambridge and is a centre of research for students and staff.

Islamic manuscripts in display case
Museum display related to Part II History of Science lecture course. Image © Whipple Museum.
The Reserve Gallery of the Whipple Museum
The Reserve Gallery, used for lecture-demonstration classes. Image © Whipple Museum.

Working with the collection

Students are actively encouraged to work with objects in the collection and the undergraduate Part II course includes specific object demonstration classes where students can handle and study the instruments. Lectures and demonstration classes are held in the newly refurbished Reserve Gallery, which provides an ideal space for students to sit down with the objects and interact with them.

Students are also encouraged to produce Case Studies that display their current research or areas of interest in the Whipple's Main Gallery. Other museum displays also complement undergraduate lecture courses, showing instruments and books of the variety described in classroom-taught material.

Starry Messenger

The Whipple Museum has developed Starry Messenger [http://www.hps.cam.ac.uk/starry], an electronic history of astronomy that focuses on the astronomical instruments and practical uses of the subject. The project was directed by Dr Sachiko Kusukawa and Dr Liba Taub, managed by Dr David Chart and supported by Trinity College, Cambridge.

Starry Messenger draws on the rich collection of instruments and books in the Whipple Collection, the Wren Library and the University Library. It aims to make available online some aspects of the early history of astronomy for student use. The project has also provided work experience for the postgraduate students who have contributed to its construction.

Excellence in Teaching and Research

For integrating the Whipple Collection into teaching, Dr Liba Taub [http://www.hps.cam.ac.uk/dept/taub.html], Director and Curator of the Museum, was awarded a Pilkington Teaching Prize [http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/univ/newsletter/1998/aug-sep/5.html] in 1998. These annual prizes are conferred on academic staff to honour excellence in teaching at the University. The following year, Dr Taub was awarded the Joseph H. Hazen Education Prize [http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/univ/newsletter/2000/apr-may/5.html] in recognition of outstanding contributions to the teaching of history of science, by the History of Science Society. She was particularly commended for her innovative use of museum resources in undergraduate and graduate teaching.

Since 1998, the Board of History and Philosophy of Science has awarded the annual Waterman Prize to a student of the Department who has studied objects in the Museum. The prize was created through the generosity of Trevor Philip & Sons to recognise student work that has made the most significant contribution to the understanding of objects in the Whipple Museum's collection during the course of the academic year.

Student looking down an 18th century microscope
An object demonstration class using globes and microscopes from the Whipple's collection. Image © Whipple Museum.

Museum classes for Part II students

The Part II course includes lecture-demonstration museum classes on instruments, models and collections for Papers 1, 2 and 3. Taking place in the relaxed setting of the Reserve Gallery, the classes allow students to study instruments in the collection relating to their lecture courses, including microscopes, globes and surveying equipment. Students can experience for themselves some of the practical problems faced by contemporary practitioners when using instruments.

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