Article ID: CBB584024838

‘A method for safe transmission’: The microscope slides of the American Postal Microscopical Club (2021)


In the 1870s, microscopy societies began to proliferate in the United States. Most of these societies attracted microscopists from surrounding cities, but the American Postal Microscopical Club, modelled on the British Postal Microscopical Society, used the postal system to connect microscopists scattered across the country. Club members exchanged microscope slides and notes following a chain-letter system. The main objective of the club was to teach its members how to make permanent slides. Preparation and mounting methods required technical skill, which was, as even club members had to admit, difficult to learn without personal instruction. Yet members developed ways to share craft knowledge through the post. Drawing on the private notes of a member and published reports on the slides circulated, this paper challenges the widespread assumption that the generation of craft knowledge depended on the co-location of artisans. It argues that microscopists’ knowledge of preparation methods was intertwined with their skill in building and navigating information infrastructures, and that by tracing these infrastructures we gain a better understanding of how craft knowledge travelled in the late nineteenth century.

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Authors & Contributors
Roos, Anna Marie Eleanor
Manning, Gideon
Dick, Steven J.
Schickore, Jutta
Bohning, James J.
Goldstein, Daniel
Archives of Natural History
Endeavour: Review of the Progress of Science
Bulletin for the History of Chemistry
Isis: International Review Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
British Journal for the History of Science
Studium: Tijdschrift voor Wetenschaps- en Universiteitgeschiedenis
Springer International Publishing
Cambridge University Press
Tredition Science
Tinta da China
Scientific communities; interprofessional relations
Correspondence and corresponding
Knowledge circulation
Societies; institutions; academies
Scientific apparatus and instruments
Social networks
Leeuwenhoek, Antoni van
Cesi, Federico
Darwin, Charles Robert
Bates, Henry Walter
Warington, Robert
Liebig, Justus von
Time Periods
19th century
17th century
18th century
20th century, early
20th century
Early modern
United States
Great Britain
United Kingdom
Midwestern states (U.S.)
Royal Society of London
United States Naval Observatory
American Chemical Society
Davenport Academy of Natural Sciences (Iowa, U.S.)
Accademia del Cimento, Florence
Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei (Rome)

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