Thesis ID: CBB573710314

Getting Down to Brass & Wax: The Material Culture of Physics at Canadian Universities, 1890-1939 (2023)

unapi

This thesis explores the scientific apparatus of physics at Canadian universities from 1890 to the onset of World War Two. It is divided into two complementary sections. The first section adopts a collections and material culture approach to analyze the accumulations of historical apparatus that emerged at departments of physics. Through considering how artifacts in these environments avoid destruction, how they come to form collections, and the implications of these processes for the surviving artifacts as evidence of the scientific past, it complicates existing accounts of these narratives. It examines the close and definitive relationship these collections have to their home departments and how they are shaped over time, most notably by technical members of staff. This dissertation concludes that collected sets of surviving artifacts at university departments form a particularly rich historical source due to their shared history, while simultaneously noting the importance of fully considering these collections’ formations and evolution through to the present day. The second section of the dissertation offers a materially-focused history of experimental and practical physics as it emerged and matured in Canada. Informed directly by the material remnants of each university’s physics programme and the discussion in the first section, it traces shifts in thinking about teaching and research in physics relevant to both Canadian and international contexts. This includes the use of imported instruments to establish legitimacy away from scientific centres, the early influence of engineering and technical programmes, the rapid developments in research and teaching in the period following the First World War, and the central importance of department workshops, technical skills, and makers throughout this period. Together, these themes contribute to a history of physics in Canada in which materiality, in the form of equipment and laboratory spaces, played a definitive role. This dissertation demonstrates the ability of large sets of seemingly mundane scientific artifacts help establish a useful narrative history, and reveal new details about less-well recorded elements of the history of science, such as the role of technical staff. As such, it represents a model for future work examining the large quantity of historic scientific material at university departments.

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Authors & Contributors
Greenslade, Thomas B., Jr.
Bigg, Charlotte
Cohen, Montague
Delft, Dirk van
Espahangizi, Kijan Malte
Heering, Peter
Journals
Rittenhouse: Journal of the American Scientific Instrument Enterprise
Gewina
Isis: International Review Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
Annals of Science: The History of Science and Technology
Mitteilungen der Gesellschaft Deutscher Chemiker, Fachgruppe Geschichte der Chemie
Physics in Perspective
Publishers
Manchester. University
Franz Steiner Verlag
T. R. E. G.
Fordham University
Pavia University Press
Concepts
Scientific apparatus and instruments
Universities and colleges
Physics
Science education and teaching
Chemistry
Museums
People
Kamerlingh Onnes, Heike
Ockham, William of
Rutherford, Ernest, 1st Baron
Time Periods
19th century
20th century, early
20th century
18th century
20th century, late
Medieval
Places
Italy
Brazil
Great Britain
Paris (France)
Mexico
New York (U.S.)
Institutions
McGill University
Ferrara. Università
University of São Paolo
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