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Home » Museum of the month » Museum of the Month: Science Museum, London.

Museum of the Month: Science Museum, London.

Cooke & Wheatstone five-needle telegraph

Cooke and Wheatstone five-needle telegraph

By Adrian James Kirwan

The Science Museum, London, was founded in 1857 as part of the South Kensington Museum, becoming an independent entity in 1909. Its foundation can be traced back to the Great Exhibition of 1851; this generated both the interest and money needed to found the museum. From early in the museum’s existence it was acquiring items of interest to the history of science and technology, including an early Boulton and Watt beam engine and Stephenson’s revolutionary locomotive ‘Rocket’.

Spread over a number of floors the Science Museum is divided into galleries which focus on different aspects of the history of science, technology and medicine. These include ‘Glimpses of Medical History’, ‘The Science and Art of Medicine’ and ‘Making the Modern World’. The displays vary in their focus with some concentrating on the historical collections and providing context to their creation and use while others are more concerned with the museum’s other central aim: the education and promotion of the sciences. Therefore while some displays are concerned with the preservation and contextualisation of the museum’s vast collection of historical scientific, technological and medical instruments and objects, other displays are much more interactive. These displays are more concerned with engaging and entertaining the museums younger visitors. The amount of children who were at the museum, and enjoying the experience, was definitely a defining feature.


NeXT computer which Tim Berners-Lee used in the 1980s to develop the World Wide Web

An example of the many displays on offer is the new ‘Information Age’ gallery. This gallery traces the development of telecommunications technology with displays ranging from one of the first Cooke and Wheatstone five-needle telegraphs to satellites (in this case a real satellite rather than a replicate). Not only is there an amazing range of unique and rare telecommunication apparatus but the gallery is very successful in contextualising their development, use and the impact that these technologies had on society. A highlight is inclusion of the NeXT computer which Tim Berners-Lee used in the 1980s to develop the World Wide Web; for a brief moment in time this computer was the only server in operation and therefore it was the World Wide Web. The gallery uses multiple methods to engage the public including written panels accompanying displays, audio-visual, interactive computer panels and the availability of good, old-fashion guides to expand the visitor’s knowledge and understanding of the role that telecommunications played in the development of the modern world. The ‘Information Age’ gallery has an accompanying website which can be found at http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/online_science/explore_our_collections/information_age.

Entry to the museum is free and it is well serviced by the tube and bus routes. Several other museums are also located in the immediate area. More information can be found on the Science Museum’s website http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/home.aspx.



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