Author Archives: Merel van der Vaart, Associate Curator Public History

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Workshop: A History of Science on TV and at the Museum

BBC Science on Show broadcast from the Museum (credit: Science Museum)

Would you like to explore the linked histories of science on TV and at the Museum? Our ‘Intermedial Science’ project is investigating these aspects of the popular culture of science in Britainin the fifties and sixties (see previous post). We are comparing how topics such as space exploration and atomic energy were put on display at the Museum and presented in television programmes. This AHRC-funded project has been under way since early March this year and has proved very exciting. The Science Museum’s archives hold many hidden treasures, and so little has been written so far on Science TV in post war Britain that we are pretty much walking in uncharted territory. On 20th September, we will be sharing the excitement generated by this research.

BBC Science on Show broadcast from the Museum (credit: Science Museum)

On the day we would like to invite everyone who is interested in learning more about the history of museum display and science on TV to join us for a workshop in which we will present some of our findings, and share first thoughts on the next steps for this fascinating project. It will be the occasion to hear people who made this history, in theScienceMuseumand at the BBC science department, telling us their sides of the story. 

The event, starting early in the afternoon, will be in two parts. The first bit, more suited to people with a specialist interest, will be a research academic workshop. It will involve a presentation of findings from the research and a hands-on session during which participants will be offered the opportunity to reflect on an individual science broadcast. The second part of the day, open to the public, will consist in a ciné-club style session. A Horizon Special will be screened in the presence of former producers and editors of the programme. This will be followed by a roundtable discussion and then a Q & A session during which participants will be invited to reflect on the presentation of science on TV in the past forty years and more.

If you’re interested in attending, please drop us a line at:

This event is part of the Intermedial Science project which has been made possible by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

BPS Curator of Psychology Phil Loring showing participants objects from the medical collection. (Credit: Merel van der Vaart)

Science Museum History Open House

This post was written by Tara Knights, a work placement student with the Research & Public History department  from Sussex University’s MA Art History and Museum Curating.

On Saturday the 16th June, the Research and Public History department organised a History Open House event at the Dana centre. The event showcased how the Science Museum’s collections, library and archives could be valuable resources for people who are researching their local or community heritage. The event was attended by members from local community groups, history societies, arts organisations and subject enthusiasts who had an interest in their Science, Technology, Engineering or Medical heritage.

Associate Curator Merel van der Vaart presenting at History Open House (Credit: Hilary Geoghegan)

The participants were firstly provided with the opportunity to attend two gallery tours of Making the Modern World and the Science and Art of Medicine, where they could explore some of the collections already on display in the Museum. Afterwards there was the opportunity to talk to staff and ask questions about the resources available to them and the ways in which they can be accessed. Please follow this link if you would like to learn more about the collections or wish to search the collections online.

Secondly, the participants were shown around the Science Museum’s Library, where they learnt about two dimensional collections. Not only do these include books and journals, but also original histories, biographies and digital sources.  The Science Museum Library is based inSouth Kensington, but there is also an Archive collection held at Wroughton. Wroughton Library and Archive  contains original scientific, engineering and technology material from the last 500 years.

BPS Curator of Psychology Phil Loring showing participants objects from the medical collection. (Credit: Merel van der Vaart)

The day aroused great interest from the attending participants, and many were surprised with the wide variety of resources that are available in the Museum and Library and Archives beyond the display cases and exhibits.

For participants that were interested in funding opportunities for their research project, an external representative for the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) was invited to talk about the All Our Stories grant scheme. This scheme is a wonderful opportunity for projects that intend to explore, share and celebrate heritage and range from £3,000.-  to £10,000.-. More information about All Our Stories can be found here.


The Science Museum History Open House was made possible by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Aleks Kolkowski records Aaron Williamson, Camberwell, 2009

Phonographies – Live Wax Cylinder Recordings

Aleks Kolkowski records Aaron Williamson, Camberwell, 2009. (© Helen Petts)

On Wednesday 30 May Sound Artist-in-residence, Aleks Kolkowski, began his series of live demonstrations of wax cylinder recording, using an original hand-cranked Edison phonograph c.1909.  Aleks was joined by the talented Jason Singh, a beatboxer and vocal sculptor, who is currently the Sound Artist-in-residence at the V&A museum. Both residencies are part of Supersonix, an Exhibition Road Cultural Group project.

Aleks gave a fascinating introduction to the process and technology used to inscribe sound onto a wax cylinder; the pressure of sound energy channelled down a large horn makes a Mica membrane flex, pressing a sharp sapphire stylus into the softened wax to literally cut a grove of the sound vibrations. This historical technology was then used to record a series of very modern beatbox performances with Jason testing his full vocal range to mimic instruments and create experimental sonic environments that were captured in the wax.

The success of a wax recording is affected by the quality of the wax and any invisible imperfections that it might hold, so there was great anticipation as the first recording was played back on an antique concert horn.  The effect was quite magical with the wax offering not so much a faithful reproduction of the performance but one that was layered and softened by the recording process.


The series continues with special guests:

Wednesday, 20 June 2012: Mick Jackson – Writer-in-Residence, Science Museum

Wednesday, 27 June 2012: Cheryl Tipp – Wildlife Sounds Curator, Sound Archive, British Library

Thursday, 28 June 2012: Nahum Mantra, Thereminist

Events are free but bookable through the Science Museum bookings line 0870 8704868 or at any sales desk inside the museum (maximum capacity 25 people) 

Aleksander Kolkowski is a composer, violinist, sound artist and researcher born and based in London. His career as a professional musician has spanned over 30 years and, over the past 12 years, Kolkowski has explored the potential of historical sound recording and reproduction technology; combining his unique collection of horned string instruments with gramophones and wax cylinder phonographs, to make contemporary mechanical-acoustic music. This work has been shown across Europe and in the USA, and broadcast by the BBC, WDR, Deutschlandradio and others.

This series is part of his major project Phonographies an archive of contemporary musicians, artists and writers recorded exclusively on wax cylinders.



Two musicians exploring an object from our collection of musical instruments during the Oramics to Electronica project.

Science Museum History Open House – 16 June 2012

Two musicians exploring an object from our collection of musical instruments during the Oramics to Electronica project. (Science Museum)


Are you an arts organisation in search of inspiration?

Is your local history society researching your science and technology heritage?

Or are you a patient group interested in the history of a medical profession or practice?


 The Science Museum wants to encourage community groups, enthusiast groups and local historians to use the museum’s resources as part of their historical research.

 The Museum has a vast collection of objects and archives representing the history of Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine in theUK. When we make exhibitions or carry out research, our collections, library and archive are an important source of information and inspiration. But access to these resources is not limited to Science Museum staff. We regularly support research by students and academics, but also subject enthusiasts and community groups.

 During the Science Museum History Open House  on Saturday 16 June we will give an introduction to the Science Museum’s collections and ways in which they can be accessed. You will hear about projects we have supported in the past and will have the opportunity to explore some of the objects and archive materials that might be relevant to you.

 There will also be a chance to find out more about the All Our Stories grant scheme. With this scheme the Heritage Lottery Fund wants to support community groups who want to explore, share and celebrate their heritage.


 Attendance is free, but places are limited. We advise that a minimum of 2 and a maximum of 4 members of your society or group attend.

Please register by sending an email to

To help us plan the event, please include the name of your group or society and specify your area of interest.


 Members of the British Vintage Wireless Society researching the museum’s collection of early radios. (Science Museum)


The Science Museum has a wide range of historic collections; from steam engine models, to planes, historic domestic appliances and medical equipment. More information about our collections can be found here.

 The Science Museum Library and Archives hold papers of individuals and companies, such as Charles Babbage, Sir Humphry Davy and Hooper & Co (coachbuilders), as well as original printed materials, such as books, papers and patents. Follow this link for more information.