On the 21st of August, the Museum launched an extensive information service on the World Wide Web, accessible via the Internet.
A wide range of material is available for consultation and should be of interest not only to the general public but also to students and academics. General information pages provide basic facts about the history of the Museum, its location, collections, opening hours and staff, while others give details of the new Museum Graduate Course, including the complete schedules as defined in University regulations. A full, illustrated list of the Museum’s publications and postcards is also provided, along with automated forms for contacting the Museum’s staff, for making comments, and for submitting requests for further information.
Perhaps the most valuable resources provided are those that are directly concerned with the collections themselves. A complete, ‘virtual’ incarnation of the current special exhibition The Measurers: a Flemish Image of Mathematics in the Sixteenth Century is available, which reproduces in full the text of the catalogue and contains some 150 images of the objects on display. The largest of these, while they may take a few moments to download, reveal a high enough level of detail to make serious examination of the objects worthwhile, even at a distance.
As well as The Measurers, a small exhibition of early photographs has been mounted, which exists only on the Web, covering the three earliest types of photographic processes: the Daguerreotype, Photogenic Drawing and Calotype. Many of these photographs are of great interest and reproduce extremely well in electronic form. In addition to these images, around three dozen more are provided, of instruments, portraits and other illustrations, under the broad banner of an ‘Image Library’.
For those interested in the technicalities, the Museum’s pages are held on ‘Sable’, one of the University’s mainframe computers running the UNIX operating system. At the present time they occupy around 130 megabytes of storage space, 95% of which is allocated to the images. The somewhat fluid state of Internet standards means that it has been judged necessary to provide two versions of every page: one coded to HTML 2 standards and the other to HTML 3 standards – the latter providing for tables, coloured backgrounds, centred text and other razzmatazz. The majority of images are supplied as interlaced GIF files, JPEG files having been rejected, despite their smaller size, due to the inability of some browser programs to deal with them.
The Museum’s World Wide Web pages are located at the address http://www.ox.ac.uk/departments/hooke/ and are available for browsing from remote sites by anyone with access to suitable hardware and software. While they can certainly be read with a text-only browser, best results are obtained by using Netscape 1.1N or higher and a display that renders 64k colours or more.