Museum Graduate Course


From 1996 to 2006, the Museum offered a one-year taught course for graduate students, in the ‘History of Science: Instruments, Museums, Science, Technology’.

Students were awarded the degree of Master of Science from the University of Oxford, after following a course of lectures and demonstrations, sitting a written examination and preparing a dissertation.

The main focus of the course was the role of instruments in the history of science and technology from ancient times to the early twentieth century. It also covered collecting and the place of museums in the history of science. Students had the opportunities to become involved with the Museum’s programmes of documentation, display and exhibitions.

Dr Jim Bennett and Dr Stephen Johnston taught the course in collaboration with Robert Fox, Professor of the History of Science, other members of the Faculty of Modern History and guest speakers. In addition to lectures, the course was supported by demonstrations, seminars and visits.

Student Exhibitions

Students on the Museum’s M.Sc. course were encouraged to create both virtual exhibitions, for which space was provided on the Museum’s web site, and real displays in the Museum itself. Both kinds of presentation derived from individual and group research projects and, it was hoped, were not constrained by the opinions and prejudices of the Museum staff.

Student exhibitions can be found on the museum’s exhibitions page

Museum Graduate Group Photos

1997-98 Students Group photo and student e-mail addresses

1997-1998 Museum Graduate Group Photo

Left to right: Jan Tapdrup, Denmark; Dana Freiburger, United States; Thierry Lalande, France; Rebecca Lancaster, UK; Enda Leaney, Ireland; Owain Davies, Wales; Terje Brundtland, Norway

1996-97 Students Group photo and student e-mail addresses

1996-1997 Student & Staff Group Photo

Back row: Dr Willem Hackmann, Edward Bellamy, Giles Hudson
Intermediate: Dr Stephen Johnston
Middle row: Jonathan Sills, Lowell Bradshaw, Paola Bertucci, Ilaria Meliconi, Dr Jim Bennett
Front: Camille Frémontier

Graduate Course Syllabus

Syllabus, as described in the regulations printed in the Oxford University Gazette of 11th May, 1995, are as follows:

Board of the Faculty of Modern History M.Sc. in History of Science: Instruments, Museums, Science, Technology. With effect from 1 October 1996 (for first examination in 1997). In Examination Decrees, 1994, p. 688, after l. 45 insert:

History of Science: Instruments, Museums, Science, Technology

  1. Candidates must follow for three terms a course of instruction arranged by the Museum of the History of Science and as prescribed in Schedule A and will, when entering for the examination, be required to produce a certificate from their supervisor to this effect.
  2. The examination will be in two parts as follows. Part I: Written examination as prescribed in Schedule B below. Candidates will be required to sit all three papers. Part II: A dissertation of not more than 15,000 words, including footnotes and appendices, but excluding bibliography, on a topic approved by the candidate’s supervisor and by the Committee for the History of Science and Technology (or its chairman on behalf of the committee). Dissertation titles must be approved before the first day of Trinity Term in the year in which the examination is taken. The dissertation must be delivered not later than noon on the last Monday in September of the year in which the examination is taken to the Clerk of the Schools, Examination Schools, High Street, Oxford, together with a statement that the dissertation is the candidate’s own work except where otherwise indicated. Where approval has been given by the committee, the dissertation work may include a practical museum project or a computer project. In such cases the record of the work will be presented in an appropriate form and a reduced word limit for the written submission will be set by the committee on the recommendation of the candidate’s supervisor.
  3. Each candidate must attend an oral examination unless excused by the examiners.
  4. The examiners may award a distinction for excellence in the whole examination.
  5. A candidate who fails the examination will be permitted to retake it on one further occasion only, not later than one year after the initial attempt.

Schedule A

(i) Introduction to the histories of science, technology, and instrumentation: historiographies of science, technology, and instrumentation; instruments as an historical resource; the histories of collections, museums, and museologies with particular reference to science.

(ii) Mathematical instruments to 1600: ancient and medieval astronomical instruments, including the armillary sphere, astrolabe, torquetum, quadrant, etc; the mathematical arts in the Renaissance and the rapid development of instrumentation from the later fifteenth century; the expanded domain of mathematical practice in astronomy, navigation, surveying, drawing, calculations, etc.

(iii) Instruments of the seventeenth century: the new categories of optical and natural philosophical instruments and their conceptual and methodological implications; the telescope, including its application to measuring instruments, the microscope, the thermometer, the air-pump, the barometer and magnetic instruments; the role of instrumentation for experiment and mecahnical philosophy.

(iv) Instrumentation, 1700-1850: the rise of fashionable natural philosophy in England, France, and the Netherlands; the growth of new instrument markets and new traditions of making and marketing; electricity, optics, and experimental practice; the evolution of the microscope and telescope and their changing roles in amateur and professional practices; the development of mathematical instruments through agencies of the state, such as national observatories, longitude commissions, and national surveys; the rise to dominance of London math-ematical makers and the subsequent challenges from makers in Paris and in centres in Germany.

(v) Scientific instruments in the modern age: laboratory and industrial studies with particular reference to physics; photography, spectroscopy, and astrophysics; electrical measuring instruments, electrical technology, telegraphy, and radio; instruments in the biological and human sciences; the changing relationship between the scientist and the instrument maker.

(vi) Science collections today: the documentation and management of science historical collections and their use in education and museum display.

Schedule B

(i) Science, technology, and instrumentation to 1700.

(ii) Science, technology, and instrumentation, 1700-1850.

(iii) Science, technology, and instrumentation since 1850.