While in Boston recently for our Dissection gig at the Warren Anatomical Museum (Countway Library, HMS), I managed to fit in a visit to see Sara Schechner, curator of Harvard’s Collection of Scientific Instruments. I’ve known Sara for several years and admired her work and energy from afar. Actually, we occupy parallel worlds, hers the history of science; mine the history of medicine. Our commonality resides in the curation of instrument collections, and the challenge and enjoyment of making sense of the artifacts in our care.
Sara’s effort to bring the Harvard collections into the classroom is most impressive. She has creatively integrated material culture (objects) into the conventional print and text-oriented culture across the Harvard curriculum. It’s a daunting endeavor, and requires no small measure of initiative and entrepreneurship. The History of Science Society recognized Sara’s accomplishments in this sphere by the prestigious Joseph H. Hazen Education Prize for innovative teaching both in and outside museums in 2008
In the past decade Sara presided over a relocation of the Harvard collection to a newly constructed (2003) home for the Department of the History of Science, with new storage facilities.
Microscopes in storage
What I really came to see was the permanent interpretive exhibition in the new Putnam Gallery, which opened in 2005. Sara's exhibition, Time, Life, and Matter: Science in Cambridge, on permanent display in the Putnam Gallery of Harvard's Science Center, took first place in the 2007 International Design Awards competition.
So, here are some pics of the Putnam Gallery. You can also look at images of artifacts on display via Waywiser, a new online database.
Time finding: sundials
Section: astronomer’s time
Natural philosophy: optical instruments
Cyclotron control console
Cyclotron bulletin board : staff call list, &c
Next time that you’re in Boston, seek out Harvard’s Putnam Gallery and if possible stop in to say hello to Sara. You’ll be glad you did.