On September 19th, Dickinson science students woke up to a rainy day in Bath. At around 9 a.m. we all left our hostel to board the coach and travel to Avebury, located about an hour away in Wiltshire, England. Many students were very excited to travel to Avebury, as they have heard that you can actually go up and touch the prehistoric rocks, unlike the world famous Stonehenge. When we arrived at Avebury, we all marveled at the extensive land that stretched over the horizon, and we were eager to learn more about this historical place. We began by taking a short walk through the Avebury museum to find out more about the mystical rocks.

Like Stonehenge, Avebury too is a mystery. In the museum, students learned about what the stones at Avebury could have meant, and how the stones were excavated. Avebury is the largest stone circle in the British isles. The reason why Avebury is such an important attraction is because it was said to have been to first time people physically manipulated the land. Although there is very little evidence about the people who lived during the time Avebury was constructed, historians have said that the stones were moved by humans in a significant way. We are separated from the people who may have constructed the stones at Avebury by over 4,000 years (160 generations), so it is very difficult to explain why the stones were placed where they were. One of the most probable ideas was probably for religious sacrifice, or spiritual gatherings. This may have been a place where people came to worship, pray, or meditate.

Avebury was excavated in 1930 by Alexander Keiller. Keiller and his team were responsible for restoring the buried stones to their original placement. Although there was little evidence as to where the stones were actually place, he strategically lifted the stones to where researchers thought the stones stood. He also was responsible for creating the museum to teach people about the possible meanings behind Avebury.

After we visited the museum, students were able to walk around and explore the stones for themselves. Avebury is made up 3 stone circles. We were able to walk around Avebury and see the beauty it had to offer. This was my favorite part of the day. It was very peaceful walking from one circle to the next, as there are many hills and just extensive amounts of land spanning across the horizon. At first, I had a hard team seeing the appeal of Avebury. Since we are so far removed from the people who created Avebury, it was difficult for me to have a deep connection to the land. But as I continued to walk peacefully up and down the hills, from one circle to the next, I was able to soak in the beauty of the place and see that this place was very special to a lot of people. Being able to walk along the hills and admire the land I was looking at, made me realize how special this place was for me too.

Science girls taking a "jumping picture" at Avebury

Exploring the hills of Avebury


We soon departed Avebury, and headed towards Stonehenge. We were all very eager to arrive at Stonehenge because it is a place we have all heard about at one point or another, and we were finally able to see it for ourselves. I found that Stonehenge is very different from Avebury. Although the formation of rocks may have had similar meanings, Stonehenge itself is only once circle of rock formations, while Avebury was composed of three. We were each given little headsets to walk around with to learn more about Stonehenge as we circled the great site.

Stonehenge is Europe’s most famous neolithic monument dating from 2800 BC. While the meaning of Stonehenge is also unknown like Avebury, more historians have attributed the rock formations as a temple to the sun, moon, planets and stars, an astronomical clock. Some also say that Stonehenge was used as a burial site, as there have been human remains found buried beneath the ground. Stonehenge was built in three parts; Stonehenge 1 (Neolithic age), Stonehenge 2 (2100 B.C.), and finally Stonehenge 3 (2000 B.C.). Stonehenge 3 is what we see today when people visit the site. Each stage of the construction of Stonehenge led to what it is today. It began as some dug up holes in the ground with 2 upright rocks, to massive stone placed strategically together, powered by humans.




Yet another infamous "jumping picture" at Stonehenge


I think that Stonehenge and Avebury relate to our course in an interesting way. There is so much mystery behind the construction of these stones, that will possibly never be found out. This is how science works as well. There are lots of unknowns in science, why we do what we do, and why one theory works as opposed to another. Apart from the “mystery” aspect, these sites may have been places for scientific observation. Stonehenge and Avebury quite possibly were sites for exploration of the sun, moon, and stars. Some of our modern teachings of the solar system may have come from these very sites. Since there are so many unknowns that surrounds these two places, it’s hard to connect their significance to our lives today. Some of the students found it difficult to connect to these places since there is so much mysticism behind it. All in all, we each made our own conclusions as to why these stones were place as they were, and although we may never know the mystery behind it all, that’s what makes these places so special. Most things in our modern world are concrete and definite, and we can also search on google for the answer we are looking for. Here, there is none of that, which leads me to believe that there is undoubtedly some beauty in the unknown.

The Old Operating Theater

September 23, 2011

On Thursday, 15 September, we went on a tour of an old hospital, which was used in the 1800’s. From the outside, the building looked like an old church. As we entered, we were led by one of the curators up a spiral, wooden and somewhat rickety staircase; then through a small gift shop. As we continued up a few more stairs, we were led into the museum room, which looked like an old attic. There were all sorts of displays of medical instruments, which were used in19th century medical procedures. We then passed through this room and into the “operating theater”, the name is, to my surprise, not an unusual British phrasing. The room is actually set up like an auditorium with the stage being a small wooden operating table, and the entertainment: live surgeries. The curator spoke to us for an hour about the history of the hospital, which proved to be very interesting, yet somewhat nauseating.
The platforms that we were are sitting on looked as though they would hold about 75 people comfortably, yet during a surgery, the theater would house around 175 people. Other surgeons and aspiring doctors would stand in the front row to learn more about procedures they may later be performing. The descriptions of those procedures were which almost had some of us running for the door. She talked about two of the most common procedures of the day, the removal of kidney stones and limb amputations.
Surgery was a revolutionary idea in the mid 1800’s. There was no form of pain relief, anesthesia, or aniseptic. Patients would have to be held down by four to five large men, so that they would stay still enough during the procedure. The patient was offered a blindfold and gag, but the surgeons preferred that they be alert during the procedure, simply so that they could see the patient was still alive. Nothing was sterilized because people did not understand of what caused infection. The room was filled with people and there was no barrier between the patients and the spectators, which cased even more infections. The focus of the procedures was speed, above all else, because a person’s pain tolerance can only take so much. The procedure to remove a kidney stone was conducted in less than a minute with much accuracy and success. An amputation would be done in less than 20 minutes from the time that the patient entered the theater to the time they would be helped into recovery. This procedure was less successful (roughly 50% survived) due to high infections rates which doctors attributed to the air of the hospital rather than bacteria (which just seems like common sense in the present day). Personally, my favorite part was seeing how far medicine has come in a relatively short period of time.

– Courtney Blinkhorn

On Wednesday, 14 September, we took a coach to the country home of Charles Darwin, located in Downe. We began the tour on the upper level of his house, which current acts as an exhibit showcasing the early works as well as what would become the legacy of Charles Darwin. We learned that Darwin wasn’t an impressive student, and after leaving his medical studies behind, his father attempted to push him into another respectable profession, into the Church. He would eventually leave that path for studies of the natural world and geology. He would finally find his purpose after an almost missed voyage on the H.M.S. Beagle, funded almost entirely by his father.
The upstairs also showcased his elaborate family tree. It was made more complicated after marrying his first cousin, how interesting that he would later learn through his studies how bad inbreeding could be. We walked through several rooms that outlined his impressive journey over 5 years on the Beagle, as well as his first discoveries and his journey to the theory that would forever reserve him a seat in the prestigious group of scientists that would shape human thought. We also had a lot of fun playing in the interactive room that allowed us to experience first hand his theories and its effects. Downstairs we were able to walk through an authentic replication of what his house would have looked like in his time. This enabled us to see what his day-to-day life was like and how his family lived. Our last stop was the gardens where a lot of his experiments were conducted, and a lot of his thoughts were had. This includes the effect of cross-fertilization and inbreeding. We had a lovely walk through his garden and we were able to retrace the walk he would have taken at several points during the day.
Darwin is easily put into the context of our class, not only because he is buried at Westminster Abbey, a site we saw earlier in our travels, but because he completely recreated science, as we knew it. His theory that we all arise from a common ancestor was not new, but it was the first time it had any strong backing. While he would face a lot of backlash, particularly from the Church of England, he was able to distribute his ideas widely. He unintentionally influenced several, including those who would take his idea and apply them to society. For example, his cousin would apply his ideas to create eugenics, an idea that would not allow those with mental or physical disabilities to reproduce, creating a stronger human race. Darwin was very against this. To this day, his theories are taught in schools. While they remain controversial Darwin’s theory of evolution holds in the eyes of most scientists today.

What Rebecca found interesting:

My favorite part of Darwin’s house was his garden, and in particular his sand walk. Darwin would take this walk sometimes several times a day, which allowed him to be at peace with himself, while also observing the world around him. After taking this walk today, it is easy to see how one could become lost in thought from the beauty of the garden and the surrounding area. To be on the property and in the area where he would think about and attempt to prove his life’s work was an incredible opportunity.

What Ruby found interesting:
My favorite part about today was being able to see into the mind and the life of one of the most influential and illustrious scientists in history: Charles Darwin. Not only did he become one of the first to put into words the idea of evolution and survival of the fittest, but he also did so without becoming a bitter recluse. Many scientists of the day caught the eye of the clergy who often did not approve of their research that had the slightest tinge of blasphemy attached to it. Darwin managed to publish his research, make it available to all, and to remain unharmed from from the wrath of the Church. He was not the first to think of the idea that all animals are descended from one single ancestor, but he was the first to harness this idea and put it into an easily understood theory. It was not only scientists that were able to understand Darwin, but average citizens as well. What continued to fascinate me was that, unlike Newton, Darwin was a family man who interacted with society and those in it. Although he had little to do with the high life society such that was present in London, he was involved in his small village of Downe and was a very loving family man. As well as having a long and happy marriage with his wife Emma, he fathered 7 living children and seems to have been very devoted to them. I loved seeing the personal side of such a iconic man and realizing there is more to people than just their achievements.

– Rebecca Patterson & Ruby Stanmyer

Showers in Bath

September 23, 2011

Today we began our first activities for our time in Bath. We got to sleep in, a nice change of pace, and met up outside of the Roman Baths after lunch time. The early afternoon sun was short lived because, as soon as we entered the building and got our audio guides, it started to rain. Although we weren’t surprised to be caught in another rain storm, the weather seemed strangely appropriate for our trip to the Baths. We learned that the warm baths were the result of rainwater from as much as 10,000 years ago being forced to the surface by natural gasses in the earth, being heated in the process. Romans thought the hot water was a gift from the goddess Minerva and would come to bathe in its supposed healing properties. They also came to this site to exercise, worship, make sacrifices to the gods, and socialize. Ruins left behind show evidence of a huge complex with the Great Bath in the center with smaller baths off to the side for separate sex bathing or cold water plunges. There would have also been baths for the sick, places for massages, and rooms similar to modern day saunas.

Besides the baths, there are remains of sacrificial alters, areas of worship, and even tombs of soldiers. The Romans left behind many artifacts on the site that suggest at their way of life, from coins and jewelry, to sacred offerings and messages thrown into the spring for the goddess Minerva.  Another interesting feature of the building was the runoff mechanism built to shuttle excess water from the baths to nearby streams. Although it appears simple, the fact that is still stands and operates today shows the remarkable craftsmanship of the Romans. I think this site attracts so many visitors because it is amazing to see how people used to live and to step foot in a place with so much ancient history.

From the Baths we moved to the William Herschel museum in another sprinkling rain shower. This is the site where William Herschel, with the help of his sister Caroline, discovered the planet Uranus. Herschel originally wanted to be a musician but found that it was a very competitive profession in the city of London where he was living at that time. He landed a much sought after organist position in Britain and brought his sister from Germany to come live with him. There he taught her English, math, and music. One night, after a failed attempt to view the stars with his telescope, he began experimenting making telescopes of his own. He expanded on the current reflector design, making a larger reflector, before finally landing on a tilted reflector to improve the telescope’s magnification. With this self constructed telescope, he began mapping the stars of the sky with Caroline, measuring the distances between them. In 1787, he made his most important scientific contribution by discovering the planet Uranus. His discovery brought him a great deal of recognition and fame in the science community having doubled the known size of space at the time. Caroline Herschel made a name for herself as well, discovering at least 8 comets and publishing William’s works after his death. The museum featured William’s workroom where he handmade the mirrors for his telescopes, a music room with the instruments William played, a drawing room with many letters from William to Caroline and some of William’s publications, and the garden where William would have viewed the sky with his telescopes.

Edward Jenner House

September 21, 2011

Edward Jenner is the man credited with the start of vaccinations, and today our group visited his home in Berkeley, Gloucestershire.  We started the visit by watching a video about Jenner’s life, then walked around the exhibits in his house and explored his gardens.  Throughout the day we learned all about the process that led him to the vaccine against smallpox.

Smallpox was a serious issue when Jenner was growing up, and when he was 8 years old he was a victim of the practice of variolation.  People at the time discovered that if you deliberately infect people with smallpox by inserting it under the skin, the attack is generally milder and less likely to be deadly.  People such as Daniel Sutton began to use this practice, called variolation, because smallpox was so contagious and people thought they would catch the disease anyway.  Back in its high point, smallpox accounted for one out of every three child deaths, and one out of every eleven overall deaths.  Some people think that it was Jenner’s early exposure to smallpox that gave him an interest in it later in life.  At the age of 22 he went to London to study surgery at St. George’s Hospital where he became acquainted with John Hunter.  John Hunter, of the Hunterian museum that we visited earlier in London, was a skilled surgeon who taught Jenner many things about conducting scientific experiments.  Much to the chagrin of John Hunter, Jenner returned to the countryside after his studies in London.  Nevertheless, he remained in close correspondence with Hunter for many years.  One of Jenner’s first scientific projects was to build a hot air balloon.  He succeeded in sending his balloon on a 10 mile journey, and after following it throughout the journey, he met his future wife in the town in which it landed.  He had several other projects before his famous smallpox experiment.  He looked into the fertilizing potential of human blood, which proved not to be useful for growing plants.  He also made a medicine that could be used to induce vomiting.

One day a milkmaid named Sarah Nelms sought treatment from Jenner for her cowpox.  Jenner had known that people who had recovered from cowpox had an immunity to smallpox, so he decided to do a test.  He took some of the liquid from the cowpox sores and injected it into an 8 year old boy named James Phipps.  He allowed the boy to recover from cowpox, then he inoculated the boy with smallpox.  Amazingly, Phipps did not catch smallpox.  Although Jenner did not know why this worked, he had discovered the secret to combating many infectious diseases, which is vaccination.  Jenner knew the significance of his discovery and he submitted a paper to be published in a scientific journal, but it was rejected.  He was so confident that he decided to self publish his results.  His paper was read by many people who were excited to hear about a way to prevent smallpox, but many were skeptical.  Benjamin Moseley wrote many articles about the flaws with Jenner’s paper and how his experiment was not conducted properly.  Despite the opposition, the practice of vaccination began to spread, particularly in France, where Napoleon ordered that the entire French population be vaccinated.  With the beginning of vaccines came the beginning of the anti-vaccine movement.  People knew the vaccine came from cows, and they imagined acquiring slightly cow-like qualities as a result of the injection.  There were also incidents where vaccines became contaminated and instead of being prevented from catching smallpox, people were given smallpox.  At this point, Jenner had received no financial compensation for his amazing discovery.  His friends petitioned parliament and eventually he was awarded £30,000 for his efforts.  Jenner continued to work as the doctor in his town and vaccinated the poor in his “temple of vaccinia” for free.  The temple of vaccinia was a little hut in his back garden.  It was in this hut that James Phipps was first given cowpox.

Jenner was 100 years ahead of the next vaccines, created by Louis Pasteur for protecting against rabies and anthrax.  Since then, vaccines such as measles, mumps, whooping cough, diphtheria, polio, german measles, and tetanus have been used to dramatically decrease the incidence of childhood illnesses.  Smallpox is the first disease to be eradicated by use of vaccination, but it took quite a while.  In 1960 the goal was set to vaccinate 80% of the population, but this ended up being too difficult to carry out.  In 1968 people decided to simply isolate those infected and vaccinate people they came into contact with.  This proved successful and smallpox was declared completely eradicated in 1980, thanks to the initial work of Edward Jenner.

Soho and the Broad Street Pump

September 18, 2011

This is the actual location of the Broad Street Pump

JoOn Monday we travelled down to Soho to see some interesting things.  We navigated to our meeting point for the first time by ourselves.  It wasn’t very difficult, but It felt good to know we grasping London’s public transit system.  We walked through Soho which is now a very posh area but used to be the place where they sent the poor and dying.  Sufferers of the plague were sent to this area, and were often buried where the Ferrari dealers and Marc Jacobs stores now lie.  Later, Soho was used as a place to keep the poor relatively isolated.  Our professor showed us the way in which the streets were designed to allow people to enter more readily than exit.  People in more expensive neighborhoods could easily get to Soho, with their streets having easier access to this section of town, but it was much more difficult for the dwellers of Soho to leave.  Their neighborhood was built to have a sense of encapsulation and furthered the divide between the rich and the poor.

We then went to visit the Broad Street Pump, which is no longer on Broad Street but on Broadwick Street.  We learned that the Cholera outbreak in London happened in 1854.  During this time Cholera was originally thought to be caused by miasma or smell.  London at this period in time was very unsanitary and actually smelly.  Houses often had standing water in their basement allowing mold and fungus to develop.  There was no sanitation system and fecal contamination was very common.  People would use bed pans and eventually dispose of them on the street.  This primitive sanitation system led to more stench and filth.  In addition to this lack of sanitation, there was no running water. London’s citizens had to travel to a pump and bring back fresh water for use in the home. In a world where no one understood germ theory, the theory of miasma made sense.  Where there was stench, there was filth and illness.  This was the prevalent theory of illness during the London’s outbreak of Cholera. 

When John Snow began to investigate outbreaks of Cholera he effectively began the practice of environmental epidemiology.  He went around the Broad Street section of London and found out which residents had Cholera.  He also asked where each of these residents got their water from.  He then plotted this information on a map and discovered very clear trends.  Cholera outbreaks were not necessarily geographically based.  He discovered that residents living on the same street did not all have cholera.  In fact, those who contracted the disease were getting their water from the same source: the Broad Street Pump.  This proved that Cholera was a water-borne disease and challenged the miasma theory. 

There is now a monument to the pump on Broadwick Street.  The actually location of the original pump is marked by a plaque outside the John Snow Pub, and the monument is just across the street.

After dodging a few street obstacles, we found our way into a small museum dedicated to an amazingly influential woman of the 19th century: Florence Nightingale. We’d all probably heard her name before, but few knew her story. With our stethoscopes in hand, we discovered that she was a pioneer, an activist, a revolutionary, and a humanitarian for all 90 years of her life.

Nightingale had the good fortune of being educated from a young age, first by her governesses, then by her father, thanks to being born to an upper-middle class family. In Nightingale’s lifetime, women only received an education if they had the money for private tutoring. Otherwise, women were self-taught. When Nightingale was 11 years old, her father began teaching her mathematics, which was unusual for the Victorian era. This was the beginning of her passion for statistics. Although Ms. Nightingale was a very wise and successful women in her field, she never attended university – in fact, women weren’t formally allowed to attend university in the UK until 1878. Nightingale did manage to get into a vocational school to train to be a nurse, despite her parents disapproval of the stereotypically low class profession. During the cholera epidemic (near and dear to our hearts), Nightingale took the opportunity to practice her new skills and treat cholera patients at Middlesex Hospital in London.

Nightingale’s big debut came during the Crimean War (1853-1856), in which more soldiers were dying from disease and cold than from war wounds. Having female nurses was a revolutionary idea, ye it was the Secretary of State at War who requested Nightingale to lead a team of women nurses to Scutari. The soldiers under the care of Nightingale’s team came to appreciate her greatly because of her deep devotion to them.
Aside from saving lives and being a commendable leader, Nightingale contributed progressive ideas in nursing techniques. She thought it was important to have fresh air flowing through the rooms of the patients- an idea that was built into the design of St. Thomas’ Hospital along with many other of her ideas. She thought this largely because she was a supporter of the miasma theory of germs. We can’t blame her too much as even most of the most educated people at the time were supporters (poor, lonely John Snow).
Also, once she returned home from the Crimean War, she pursued her curiosity to know why the hospital in Scutari had significantly more deaths than all other hospitals in the area. She was a natural epidemiologist in a time before epidemiology was an official field. Aid by William Farr –one of the first British epidemiologists, as told in Ghost Maps- and Sidney Herbert, Nightingale collected and analyzed statistics of her hospital during the war.
Florence Nightingale revolutionized nursing. She gained respect for the nursing profession through the respect given to her, and she claimed a field in science for women.

Henry Wellcome became famous after he began selling medicines in “tabloid” form.  These pills were innovative because they were easy to swallow and each was the correct dose, which meant that medicines became much easier for patients to manage.  Wellcome was also an avid collector of objects related to medicine, both past and present.  A portion of the 500 items in his collection was on display in the exhibit entitled “Medicine Man”

Two of the items that our tour guide spoke about were related to cholera, the subject of The Ghost Map.  One of these items was a disease mask from Sri Lanka.  This 18th century mask was worn by the Shaman during a ritual that was meant to drive out the demon causing diarrhea.  Its blue color and sunken eyes may be representative of the last stage of cholera during which the body becomes even more dehydrated and the face becomes blue and leathery.  The image entitled “Monster Soup” was also related to cholera.  A woman is dropping her teacup in horror as she views the contents of the Thames water.  The etching was produced in 1828 in Britain when the river was polluted by sewage.  Since the population of London got their drinking water from the river, the pollution led to outbreaks of waterborne diseases, such as cholera.

Some of the medical tools in the gallery that were modern in their day seem almost idiotic now.  It is surprising to me that anyone could have survived these efforts by doctors to cure their patients.  The tobacco resuscitator was intended to revive drowning victims by pumping tobacco smoke into the mouth or rectum.  Another common medical practice was bloodletting.  For almost two thousand years, doctors bled their patients to prevent or cure disease.  In ancient Greece it was believed that illness was caused by an imbalance of the four humours, one of which was blood.  By removing excess blood the humours could again become balanced.  This practice continued into the 19th century, even though the belief in the humours did not.  Phrenology was another popular belief during the Victorian Era.  At the time, people thought that by feeling the bumps on someone’s skull you could tell something about his or her personality and intelligence.  Families could have a potential groom examined to decide whether he was an agreeable match.  The technique is now known to be unfounded and inaccurate.

The other exhibit entitled “Medicine Now” focused on more contemporary medical challenges in the form of art.  One of the objects that I found interesting was the malaria curtain.  It had inexpensive but potentially ineffective pills near the bottom within reach, and more expensive pills in the middle, and out of reach were the expensive pills that were the most effective.  I think this form of presentation was effective in communicating the impossibility of obtaining the effective drugs for many malaria patients.  A nearby display contained some of the various drugs available for malaria.  It also included counterfeit malaria drugs and showed several ways to tell that the holographic stamp was a fake.

I thought the picture of the woman with phantom limb was very effective in expressing how she felt.  She was sitting in an armchair with her left arm laying on the armrest.  In real life she would have a stump, but the artist has edited the photo to include the parts of her amputated hand and arm that she can still feel.  Her left hand is larger than the right because it feels larger, and it has the ring on it because she can still feel her ring even though her hand is gone.  Around her wrist her arm is shrunken because she does not have any phantom limb sensation from her wrist.  I think it is fascinating that woman is still aware of her hand and the ring that she used to wear.

I thought the sculpture entitled “I can’t help the way I feel” was a powerful way to depict the emotions relating to body image.  The body has no gender and is made up primarily of large bulges of flesh covering where the arms and head would be located normally.  I like that it can be expressive of multiple viewpoints, both the person who feels overweight and the person who sees someone who is overweight.  It is so vivid that when you look at it you can almost see what emotions the people must be feeling.  Disgust and shame are the two most palpable for me when I look at it, as well as pity for the painful sores on the legs.  Another angle that is not as obvious is that of eating disorders.  Some people feel as if they are growing fatter by the second when in actuality they are losing weight.  This sculpture was my favorite part of the gallery because of its ability to display emotions of so many different perspectives.

The afternoon was devoted to the Science Museum, a huge place in South Kensington neighboring the Natural History Museum and the Victoria & Albert.  The Science Museum has a diverse array of exhibits including space exploration, history of flight, advances of the Industrial Revolution, and genetics, just to name a few of the larger set ups. The place was legitimately packed with information, which made it confusing to navigate at times, but it also means there was something there for everyone. It would have been a mistake for our History of Science group to not visit, and I know I’m not the only one who could have spent much more time there exploring.

One of the exhibits most directly related to the themes of the class was Science in the 18th Century. It consisted of one long room filled with shelves of instruments made and used during the times, focusing on the popularization of science through lectures and demonstrations at the direction of King George III. The elaborate silver microscope (complete with a sculptural couple and coated in flowery designs) made by George Adams is the first object you encounter, and it sets the tone for the exhibit. The way the material was presented, the exhibit seemed to portray science as a novelty or favored past time solely of the wealthy upper class, though this is not entirely true. The bias to the collection might come from the fact that the fancier instruments were less likely to be used much, but more likely to have been preserved and kept. From our previous museum trips, astrolabes and like devices were easy to spot even amongst all the shiny brass and polished wood.

The exhibit I found the most interesting was all the way up on the top floor, called The Science and Art of Medicine. The contents of that room and the quantity of information displayed could have been an entire museum in itself. And in a way, it is- the majority of the medical objects came from the collection of Henry Wellcome, with whom we had just become familiar with that morning.  Peering at old microscopes and microtomes, viewers could follow the development of histology, and cell and germ theory. Other subjects covered include the development of hematology, organic chemistry, biochemistry and the requirements of medical education. And those were just the ones I liked best, as the same room also covered the medical science all the way from Roman times to the present, including medical practices from places outside of Europe and the Western tradition. I just love seeing the development of microscopes with their different styles and designs, and beyond that the ideas they represent.  Without microscopes there is so much life we wouldn’t be aware of, from bacteria to the cell types that make up our varied tissues. The application of chemistry in biology is similarly awe-inspiring in that with it we can begin to unravel the complex inner workings of life at the cellular level which in turn applies upward into daily life in the form of diet, pharmacology, and hygiene.

The final activity of the day was seeing Doctor Faustus. Tickets were handed out in the morning, and we each made our way over to Shakespeare’s Globe Theater for the 7:30 showing. Written by Christopher Marlowe, but published in 1604, after his death, the play predates Isaac Newton and the science we have been focusing on. Based on a German folktale, Doctor Faustus contains strong religious and moral messages that its contemporary audience would have felt more keenly.  The man Faustus turns away from the learning of Logic, Medicine, Law and Divinity instead selling his soul to the devil for 24 years of power and pleasure.

The play has an interesting place in the dialogue of the history of science as the pursuit of knowledge is a prominent theme, right alongside sin. Faustus uses his deal to ask questions of the stars and who made the earth (not how).  The church saw much of science as blasphemous as the magic and satanic worship portrayed in the play.  The tension between science and the church has been present in the lives of some of the scientists about which we have been learning, like Linnaeus, and everyone is familiar with the fate of Galileo. In his observations on geology Linnaeus thought the earth as much older than the church prescribed, and “would gladly have believed the earth was older than the Chinese had claimed, had the Holy Scriptures suffered it.”  Linnaeus ran into the same when working on his naming scheme, he wrote “if I were to call man ape or vice versa, I should bring down all the theologians on my head. But perhaps I should still do it according to the rules of science.” [Quotes from Science: A History by John Gribbin, pp 219; 221.]

Overall, it was an good performance filled with boisterous characters in interesting costumes, fun stage effects and was informative of the attitudes of the time in which it was written. Going to the Globe Theater for a show was a lot of fun. As an added British culture bonus, the actor Arthur Darvill, who currently is a main character of the long-running BBC sci-fi Doctor Who, played the devil Mephistopheles.

This morning, much like the past few mornings, greeted us with a cloudy sky and chilly breezes. However, unlike the past nine days, we were headed out of London. Greenwich is a small town south of the Thames, best known as the home of the Prime Meridian, the 0° longitude line. The observatory was built in 1675-1676 for the use of the Astronomer Royal, a position which was created around the same time and initially filled by John Flamsteed. King Charles II ordered that the construction of the observatory cost no more than £500, which in those days wasn’t as much as one might expect. It was designed by Christopher Wren, who also designed St. Paul’s cathedral. We were able to walk through original building, now called Flamsteed house, but we were on a set path and not permitted to touch any furniture, which was on loan from the Victoria and Albert museum. The original furniture belonging to Flamsteed, as well as two original Tompion clocks (one of the first and most important English clockmakers) was sold by his widow after his death. Although it was designed by Wren, a notable feature of the house is that the rooms are very plain; there is little decoration throughout the house, with white walls and recycled wood paneling. One interesting fact about the original building is that Wren, to cut costs, used the foundation of an old hunting lodge as the basis for the Octagonal Room. Unfortunately, this room was completely useless for star mapping because the points due north and due south did not have windows, but walls (a clear north-south axis is necessary to judge where a star passes at a certain point in time. Therefore, Flamsteed had a series of rooms built, called the Garden Sheds, which he used for observations and now house a Victorian-era telescope and a gift shop. After this, we entered the Time & Longitude gallery, which told the story of the quest to determine east-west distance at sea. Dava Sobel’s book Longitude, a dramatized account of this period, was part of our required reading this summer, so our group was able to appreciate the importance of many of the collected artifacts. Among these objects were the four sea-clocks constructed by John Harrison between 1730 and 1759. We also climbed to the telescope dome, which houses the largest telescope in Britain. Fun fact: the dome was originally made of papier maché, but was replaced after the Blitz. Later, we had free time to look around, take lots of pictures on the prime meridian, and eat lunch before our next activity.

  • The view of the National Maritime Museum, Queen’s House, and Royal Naval Academy from the Observatory.

My favorite part of the morning was getting to see H1-H4. It’s one thing to read about a series of clocks (which, to be totally honest, was not the most thrilling thing I did this summer), but completely another to stand in front of these engineering marvels. As I looked at them, I knew that they impacted history in such a significant way that many of the innovations used in their creation make our modern electronic devices possible.

H-4, the clock that made possible the determination of longitude at sea.

Visiting Oxford

September 10, 2011

Today we visited the town of Oxford, home of the University of Oxford. According to legend, the story of this picturesque town sixty miles outside of London began with a princess known as St Frideswide. Despite of her intentions of becoming a nun, a man of royal background desperately wanted her and chased her in the woods as she cried to God for help. Subsequently, the man lost his sight, allowing her to run to safety. So pious was this princess that she prayed for his sight again and went into what is now Oxford, or “Ford of the Oxen”, to start a monastery.

The first stop in our tour was Marty’s Memorial. Located in Oxford’s busiest areas, this monument was built in the 1840’s to commemorate one of Oxford’s most tragic events in history. In 1555, two bishops and one archbishop were convicted of heresy in a trial at the famous Church of St Mary the Virgin. These three men we put in prison and then burnt at stake for the whole town to see for simply expressing their beliefs.

The Church of St Mary the Virgin, which was built in the twelfth century, is now considered one of England’s most beautiful churches. The building is decorated with meticulous spires and pinnacles, which are part of Oxford’s traditional look. From the tower, which is the church oldest structure, hang gargoyles and statues of saints, some of which were not part of the original construct.

After climbing the tower’s tight staircase, Oxford’s most breathtaking vistas, from its medieval heart to the green hills surrounding it, unfold. This bird’s eye view makes the design of Oxford’s colleges more evident, which tells the story of a town growing annoyed and tired of the University’s elite students flooding their streets with an air of superiority and perhaps speaking Latin (Prof. Crouch suggested). Their buildings are arranged in a rectangular shape, surrounded by a solid wall, leaving space for courtyard in the center. This design, called a “quadrangle” or “quad.” was originally employed in New College in an attempt to protect its students, who for the first time had their residences, classes and facilities within the same perimeter, from the angry townspeople. New College also features numerous gargoyles in its façade, with lead pipes running through them.

Another building that can be fully appreciated from the tower is the Radcliffe Camera or the Reading Camera, built in the first half of the 18th century. John Radcliffe, who worked for monarchs William and Mary, wanted to build a library in the University but died beforehand. His plans were continued after his death and for many years the University tried to find the most suitable architect. Among the candidates was Christopher Wren. Finally, James Gibbs, another famous architect of Scottish background, was selected. Today the Radcliffe Camera stands as one of the most majestic and famous buildings in Oxford.

Across from the Reading Camera is one of the oldest colleges, Brasenose College. This college is home to the oldest boat club in the world, which is still fully active today. The college’s Coat of Arms is famous for being the most complex and perhaps one of the most beautiful in the University, containing a unicorn and a crowned lion. William Golding attended this school before becoming the author of Lord of the Flies. Another famous man to go through this college was a “gentle giant” called John Middleton who was nine feet tall. He visited Brasenose in the 17th century and got a life-size portrait, which still stands in the Brasenose chapel.

We walked passed Blackwell bookstore, a brand that has been in United Kingdom for more than 120 years. Blackwell has developed from one tiny book store that could serve only 3 customers at a time to the biggest chain brand in the country.

The Sheldonian Theater is the first building designed by Christopher Wren, the great architect who at that time was a professor of Mathematics in the University.  This was Oxford’s first secular building, built in Roman style, which is quite different from Wren’s other works, e.g. St. Paul’s Cathedral. Interestingly, Sheldonian Theater has never functioned as a real theater. It is mostly known for holding Oxford ceremonies and a handful of musicals. This is where Oxford people gather together to discuss contemporary issues, receive their degrees, and award prizes.

The Bodalian Library is the main research and copyright deposit library of Oxford University. Along with 5 other libraries in the country, including the British Library, which we visited on our first day in London, the Bodalian Library owns a copy of every book produced in the United Kingdom for copyright purposes. It has a typical Greek gate with decorations leading you to look up to the status of sacred figures on the top of the gate. Study rooms for different subjects are available for students around the building.

The Examination School of Oxford is comparatively new. It was built because the college buildings were too cold and uncomfortable for final exams. One thing we noticed about Oxford is that it is a school that still pays much attention to their traditions. Even until today, students are required to wear a special gown to enter the building for their finals.

For their free time, students visited the Museum of the History of Science. It is a small building, but the collection covers a big range of subjects. Two things were really impressive. In the Eccentricity collection, which their newest collection of odd or unusual things, holds various Chinese type writers. The Chinese type writer is one of the four Chinese inventions that change the history of the world. It is very smartly designed so that the figures can be rearranged and printing is so much easier. The other one, of course, was Einstein’s Blackboard.

Finally, Prof. Crouch bought drinks for all the students and John at the famous pub named Eagle and Child. With around 400 years, this pub has been frequented by many of Oxford’s scholars. Two “regulars” were C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, who were really good friends and perhaps discussed about hobbits and speaking animals while drinking ale in the pub. This place was truly awesome and a great way to end our beautiful day in Oxford.