The material culture of science has always been an object of investigation for historians of science, but in the last two decades the study of scientific objects has significantly expanded in scope and scale, giving rise to novel sets of questions and increasingly rich methodological and interpretative frameworks in both history of science and other cognate disciplines in HPS/STS scholarship. This “material turn” has renewed the interest of scholars in scientific instruments and their many roles. Instruments may be measurement devices, experimental apparatuses, models, means to generate new phenomena, or extensions of the senses. But the study of material culture has now grown into an encompassing field that also includes rhetorical displays, pedagogical devices, samples from nature, and even entire laboratories. This expansion to the broader spectrum of material culture has led to an increase in interdisciplinary interactions that now encompass the history of science, medicine and technology, the philosophy and social studies of science, embodied cognition researches, archaeology, history of art, and museum studies.
The range of opportunities offered by artifact-based studies of the material culture of science challenges modern historical scholarship as it demands an increasingly multi-disciplinary conversations and familiarity with a broad range of methodologies. This can be bewildering at first. Our goal is to offer graduate students a better appreciation of the research opportunities and strategies that material culture can offer to HPS/STS scholarship. Conversely we wish to show them how textual based scholarship in HPS/STS can inform material culture based museum practices. With this bilateral approach in mind, a student training partnership between Harvard’s Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments (Department of the History of Science), one of the world’s
leading academic collection of scientific instruments (http://chsi.harvard.edu/), and CIRST (Centre interuniversitaire de recherche sur la science et la technologie www.cirst.uqam.ca), North America’s biggest and most interdisciplinary research center in HPS/STS seems ideally suited.