Reviewed by: Cheryl LaGuardia, Research Librarian, Widener Library, Harvard University
The Science Museum Group (SMG) consists of four United Kingdom national museums: the Science Museum (London), the Museum of Science & Industry (Manchester), the National Railway Museum (York) and the National Media Museum (Bradford). The Science Museum Group Journal (SMGJ) is an online forum showcasing peer-reviewed papers relevant to SMG collections and practice and to the global science museum community. Subjects of material published in the journal include science and its history, material culture, communication, and display and presentation in museums, with authors coming from within and beyond the Group. Interest in and use of museum collections is most deservedly on the rise, and the first two issues of this journal demonstrate very clearly how exciting – and useful – these collections can be for researchers. The editorial in the first issue (by Ian Blatchford, Director of the Science Museum in London) discusses how museums are at last finding a public voice. He calls for “new thinking, discussion and debate [that] will nudge us all into greater creativity.” All of those are to be found here.
In addition to Blatchford’s editorial, Issue One (Spring 2014) contains the articles, “Coming home - Bally’s miniature phrenological specimens” (about a set of 60 small plaster busts used in the 19th century by William Bally in his practice of phrenology), “Reading, writing, drawing and making in the 18th-century instrument trade” (about the instrument-maker George Adams assembling a collection of philosophical instruments for King George III by drawing on a variety of printed books as sources of experiments and instrument designs), “Responding to stories: The 1876 Loan Collection of Scientific Apparatus and the Science Museum” (which describes how, in promoting a huge exhibition and securing the necessary support and resources, leading scientific, cultural and political figures engaged with different public interpretations of science’s past), “Sputnik and the 'scientific revolution' - what happened to social justice?” (in which the author notes “there is far more to science communication and engagement than enthusing people about the wonders of nature/the universe/the human body and so on. In [his] view, science engagement that does not promote…‘far-reaching changes in economic and social attitudes’ is a hollow enterprise”), among others. The issue also has a scholarly book review (of Perfect Mechanics: Instrument Makers at the Royal Society of London in the Eighteenth Century, by Richard Sorrenson), a review of BBC radio’s series Seven Ages of Science, and an obituary and tribute to a Keeper and manager at the Science Museum. Issue Two (Autumn 2014) offers three articles addressing the research behind exhibitions and two articles that explore drawings or photographs of clouds, moons and nebulae, “reminding us how much images add to our understanding of science, and how central science is to our visual heritage” [from Kate Steiner’s editorial for Issue Two]. This issue also contains two scholarly reviews, one a book review of Observing by Hand: Sketching the Nebulae in the Nineteenth Century, by Omar W. Nasim, and the other a review of the National Maritime Museum’s Ships, Clocks & Stars exhibition.
Frankly, it’s exciting to see the scholarship and extensive research that has gone on “behind the scenes” for so long in museums finally brought to light. I confess that I was drawn to this journal because of my fascination with Harvard’s Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments, but having seen all that SMGJ offers, I can only second Ms. Steiner’s expressed “firm belief that there are fertile interstices between different academic disciplines and the work of museums, and that the extraordinary results should be shared.” The Science Museum Group Journal accomplishes that very well. Recommend to researchers in the history of science and related fields.