Ontario Hydro’s “Museum of Electrical Progress”

A snapshot of a (relatively) completed portion of the “Museum of Electrical Progress”, taken in 1976, months before its closure.

I recently wrote a report for the Canada Science and Technology Museum about the history of Ontario Hydro’s little-known “Museum of Electrical Progress”, a museum (or rather collection of electrical instruments and apparatus) that was under development from 1963-77 and was located in Etobicoke (present-day Toronto, known nowadays for being the home of our illustrious mayor). If you have ten pages worth of time, I encourage you to check it out – it’s a neat slice of local/institutional history and a great example (or rather a cautionary tale) of what (not) to do when creating a museum.

The museum was an initiative advocated for by Ontario Hydro commissioner Lt-Col. A. A. Kennedy, spearheaded by public relations manager Ted E. Dietrich and worked on by a handful of retired Ontario Hydro employees. The idea was to amass an admirable collection of electrical artifacts and create a public museum showcasing the past, present, and future of electricity in Ontario. It was proposed and lobbied for in the mid-1960s, an optimistic time when Ontario Hydro was telling Ontarians to “Live Better Electrically”, before the rising prices, emergent conservation ethic, inflation, and other problems that beset the energy industry caused it to change it’s perspective in the 1970s.

The Museum’s “Tree of Light”, which portrayed different electric lights as branches across the spectrum, corresponding their frequencies to everyday uses. The Museum’s collection of electric lamps was largely catalogued by Arthur G. Plumpton, a retired Ontario Hydro employee who devoted his remaining years to the lamp collection, which would later be named after him.

Initially the Museum of Electrical Progress received tremendous support, with several towns in Ontario vying to have it located in their municipality. An impressive collection of material was gathered from across North America (and from as far away as Australia), but the funding and support for the Museum never quite came through. A Hydro “Hall of Memory” was eventually eventually erected at great expense at Niagara Falls: a piece of institutional propaganda produced for the Canadian centennial, the Hall of Memory included a sort of scaled-down museum. Despite moving to a new building in 1971 the full museum was never completed and opened to the public. In continued on, under-funded but nevertheless in development, until 1977, when it (and the Hall of Memory) were shuttered for good in the wake of severe budget cuts.

Fortunately, most of the Ontario Hydro collection was moved to the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa, where it now happily resides. No history of the Museum has ever been written, so, to better understand this collection, the Museum commissioned the report from me. Thankfully, they have given me permission to make this report freely available on my website. 

Perhaps the most completed room of the Museum, displaying turn-of-the-century electrical technology. On the right wall is a painted street scene, complete with electric streetcars running alongside automobiles and horse-drawn carriages.

It was a pleasure to research the Museum and I hope you enjoy reading about it.

A History of the Ontario Hydro Museum of Electrical Progress


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My review of Feynman (2011) is now in Annals of Science

Well, well, well!

It looks like my review Ottaviani and Myrick’s 2011 graphic biography of Richard Feynman, first published online in 2012, has finally made it into a volume of Annals of Science!

This calls for a celebration! And by celebration, I mean providing everyone with a link to my personal copy of this article.

(Usual academic disclaimer here, please cite from the original, yadda yadda yadda).

Enjoy! I’ll leave the final word to the man himself:

Feynman, 2011. Lifted from here


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“Museums and Scientific Material Culture at the University of Toronto” now available online

Good news!

I’m pleased to announce the online publication of a co-authored article by Erich Weidenhammer and myself, “Museums and Scientific Material Culture at the University of Toronto“. This article will appear in the journal Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science.

This article is on a subject near and dear to my heart: the various attempts to create a curated collection of historic scientific instruments at the University of Toronto, including the current efforts to do this spearheaded by the University of Toronto Scientific Instrument Collection.

Here’s the paper’s abstract:

“Since its foundation in the mid-nineteenth century, the University of Toronto has accumulated a substantial number of historically-significant scientific objects. As Canada’s largest research university, much of this material is of national significance. Despite numerous attempts since the late 1970s to establish a universal policy for the preservation and safeguarding of scientific apparatus, the survival of Toronto’s scientific material heritage has depended partly on the initiatives of dedicated individuals, partly on luck.

The following examination seeks a comprehensive history of the material culture of science at the University, focussing on scientific instrumentation and natural history collections. It examines the circumstances under which some material survives and traces efforts to develop a curated collection, concluding with some recent progress in acquiring storage and developing an online catalogue. It argues that early university science museums formed an important venue through which the University fulfilled its public function of studying the frontier and assisting the expansion of the colonies. Likewise, a curated collection of historical scientific material may provide a means for the University and the public to understand the place of a research university within its community and culture.”

You can access an official version of the article here or the “in press” edition for free hereHowever, when citing this work, please use the official version. 

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Unknown: A Workshop

This post originally appeared on www.utsic.org, the homepage of the University of Toronto Scientific Instrument Collection. You can see it here.

Recently, the University of Toronto Scientific Instrument Collection had the pleasure of running a workshop on unidentified scientific instruments. This workshop was held at “Materiality: Objects and Idioms in Historical Studies of Science and Technology“, a conference held at York University, which ran from May 2-4, 2013.

As the UTSIC blog has previously discussed, there are a number of unidentified instruments in our collection. As a small, student-run project, we have decided not to focus our efforts on identifying each and every last object, but instead to catalogue, photograph, and post these objects online so that we can rely on the expertise of the broader community.

At the “Materiality” conference, the UTSIC held a workshop where attendees could inspect, explore, and puzzle over seventeen unidentified instruments. This gave us the opportunity to draw upon the expertise of others in order to help figure out what some of these objects are, while also allowing participants an exciting opportunity to physically and intellectually interact with truly unknown scientific objects. As you can see from the pictures below, the workshop was a hit as participants really got into pondering over what some of the bizarre instruments that lay before them might be.

“Materiality” attendees taking a crack at our unidentified instruments

It is common practice for “material culture” workshops to be held where participants explore an unknown object. Commonly, after participants have been given an opportunity to guess what the object is and what it might have been used for, its true nature and purpose are revealed. In fact, such a workshop was also held at the York “Materiality” conference by David Pantalony of the Canada Science and Technology Museum, which featured broken instruments, including some (such as a signal marker pen and a reed pipe) from the UTSIC. Our workshop was similar but with added twist that there was no grand “reveal” at the end: we really didn’t know what any of these objects were!

Brass, glass, and wood: mystery comes in many materials.

It appears that our decision to crowd-source has paid off. At the conference several of these instruments were identified, including a memory drum, and a peripheral vision test. A few days afterwards, we received some input from a visitor to our online catalogue, who helped identify, among other instruments, a saccharimeter, and a microwave generator. Still, there are many more objects that need identification, and as we continue to catalogue and photograph our collection we’ll continue to flag all of our “unidentified” instruments so that others can help us better understand them. 

Pondering the mysterious wheel (2011.ihpst.3)

Puzzling over object 2011.psy.3

Inspecting the red solution of the (now-identified) saccharimeter (2009.ph.267)

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Dissertation completed!

It’s official: I am now Ari Gross, PhD.

On May 10 2013 I successfully defended my doctoral dissertation, “Form and Function: Seeing, Knowing, and Reasoning with Diagrams in the Practice of Science”. It’s very much a history and philosophy of science dissertation, which investigates factors that shape scientific diagrams whose referents are invisible in order to gain insight into outstanding issues in the philosophy of scientific representation.

I’ve included my more extended abstract below. You can also read my entire dissertation here, if you like.


Abstract for Form and Function 

In virtue of what do scientific diagrams acquire their epistemic legitimacy? Which factors serve to validate schematic visual representations, rendering them useful and accepted components of scientific practice?

This thesis addresses the epistemic legitimacy of scientific diagrams by investigating a variety of diagrams whose referents are “invisible”, that is, whose targets either cannot be seen, lack physical form, or have no material analogue. In focusing on such images, we shall gain insight into the factors that shape the forms that practicing scientists give to their diagrams and shed light on contemporary issues in the philosophy of scientific models and representations.

In this work, common factors underscoring the epistemic legitimacy of scientific diagrams are identified through three in-depth historical case studies. First, we consider several diagrammatic approaches to visualizing chemical structure that emerged around the 1860s, especially the competing approaches of August Kekulé and Alexander Crum Brown, and investigate the factors that led to the enduring success of Crum Brown’s visual representations and the corresponding abandonment of Kekulé’s. Second, we examine a spectrum of stereochemical diagrams and material models produced from the 1870s to the early 20th century, particularly those produced by J. H. van ‘t Hoff, and consider the factors that determined the forms given to representations of three-dimensional structures of chemical compounds. Third, we explore the diagrammatic approaches taken by physicist Richard Feynman in his mid-20th century lectures on quantum electrodynamics, paying close attention to his diagrams’ stylistic commonalities and dissimilarities as well as their ability to mediate between various aspects of the practice of physics.

Finally, this thesis concludes by considering several common factors regarding the epistemic legitimacy of scientific diagrams that can be identified in these case studies, including the importance of a bijective relationship between scientists’ understanding of their diagrams and of their diagrams’ referents, the utility of diagrams for productively reasoning about their referents, and ability of certain diagrams to reduce scientists’ cognitive burden, especially through visual similarities. These factors serve to unite divergent approaches to the philosophy of scientific models and representation and reorient contemporary debates concerning representation towards an integrated historical-philosophical methodology.

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Bigelow in the Basement: Medical Instrument Hunting in the Wild

This post originally appeared on www.utsic.org, the homepage of the University of Toronto Scientific Instrument Collection. You can see it here.

One of the great pleasures of trying to piece together the complex and disparate elements that are the University of Toronto’s material scientific history is getting to go on strange expeditions to remote parts of campus. Recently the UTSIC was given a rare opportunity to plunge into the dark recesses of an old church basement and discover what first appeared to abandoned elements of some long-forgotten horror film, but in reality include fascinating objects from Canada’s medical history.

88 College street West, once a church, is now occupied by the Standardized Patient Program (SPP), which trains healthy individuals to act as realistic patients for the benefit of medical professionals in training. While the ground floor of the building is used by the SPP the basement has been long abandoned. At the request of the SPP’s Nancy McNaughton, and with the help of a Santa-capped Dave Finn, the building engineer, the directors of UTSIC were given a first-hand tour of the strange objects that can be found in the old church basement.

The first object we encountered was a mysterious chair on a small stage. This chair appears to be an ordinary barber’s chair modified with a metal head and back rest. It sits on an elevated platform and can be spun fully around. All potential clues regarding its origin and function have long since been removed from the room, leaving us completely stumped as to what it possibly could have been used for and by whom.

The mysterious chair

Close up of the brace on the back of the chair

Across the corridor from the chair is a room lined entirely with cork. Inside the room is a dusty mess populated with instruments and other objects. While we did not sort through this room in too much detail we nevertheless did manage to find several scientific objects including microscope bulbs, a photoelectric cell, a metal animal cage, components of an ether pump, an electric switch, a microtome (perhaps used, as Dave suggested, for slicing bone – although how he knew this exactly is unclear) and a large machine later identified to be an ECG machine (more on this below). We also found a recipe for a formalin solution and a box of glassware.

Paul contemplating the ECG machine

An electromanometer

An animal cage

A box of mouldy glassware

Building engineer Dave Finn uses his umbrella to describe a microtome

Components of an ether pump. Bottle reads “Bottle to be used for ETHER only.”

We had a few clues available for trying to figure out what these objects were and where they came from (it was quite apparent that this basement was never itself a laboratory). For starters, some of the glassware was dated. One of the pieces of glassware appeared to contain (or have contained) a solution that was initially frozen in May 27, 1957. However, given the advanced mouldy state of the contents of several of these glasses, we declined a more thorough investigation.

Frozen May 27, 1957

Progress was finally made when we noticed a box marked “W. G. Bigelow, Room 64, Dept. of Surgery”. This suggested that the owner of this equipment may be Wilfred Gordon Bigelow (1913-2005), a famed Toronto heart surgeon and researcher known for pioneering the electric pacemaker and the development of novel techniques for open heart surgery, especially inducing bodies into a hypothermic state in order to perform the surgery. After consulting several of Bigelow’s publications from the 1950s as well as his memoirs I was soon able to confidently identify the ECG machine. In fact, this machine (assuming that it is the same one) can be seen in one of Bigelow’s publications, reproduced below.

Dr. Bigelow’s publications set-up for hypothermic heart surgery. Note the ECG machine, labelled “A”, on the right. From Bigelow et al. “General Hypothermia for Experimental Intracardiac Surgery”. Annals of Surgery. September, 1950. p. 533.

The ECG machine in 88 College St. W.

This ECG machine, referred to as a “continuous cathode-ray electrocardiograph”, was manufactured by Smith and Stone, a nearby company based out of Georgetown Ontario, which produced these machines between 1947-54. A much-better preserved ECG machine can be found at the Flickr site of the Canada Science and Technology Museum. I suspect that Dr. Bigelow acquired this ECG machine fairly early in their production since, according to his memoirs, he and his team were using an experimental model given to them by an associate (John A Hopps, who also worked with Bigelow on the pacemaker) before it was widely adopted by medical researchers. Could this instrument be a prototype model of the Smith and Stone ECGs? When we return to the machine we’ll look for a serial number and other clues to find out.

Knowing that the equipment is Bigelow’s also helps explain the metal animal cage and ether pump. Bigelow’s early experiments involved extracting chemical compounds from groundhogs in order to discover the physiological basis of their hibernating states, and subsequently cooling sedated animals (mostly dogs) to low temperatures in order to operate on them. It’s likely that Bigelow’s items were moved to the church basement for sake-keeping when his lab, located in room 64 in the Banting Building (right next door to the church) was finally cleared out.

Having discovered these instruments, the next step for the UTSIC is to acquire and catalogue these instruments. Only once they are removed from the dusty church basement can we really begin to look at them in a methodical way.

Additionally, I decided to consult our old card catalogue inventory of scientific and medical instruments that was taken from about 1978-80. Completed by Joy Smith under the supervision of IHPST director Bruce Sinclair, this catalogue was supposed to form the basis of a new “Museum of the History of Science at the University of Toronto”, although this was ultimately not to be. Nevertheless, this catalogue has proven quite useful, as it often contains provenance information about some of the instruments in UTSIC’s care. However, it also stands as a sad reminder of how little there remains from even a few decades ago, since some items in the catalogue are unfortunately nowhere to be found and were most likely discarded over the years.

Card depicting a Smith & Stone ECG machine (1980)

Consulting the card catalogue, I found that, in 1980, there was a significant number of instruments related to Dr. Bigelow, including the original pacemaker, held between the University of Toronto and the Toronto General Hospital (either in their Cardiovascular Museum or in their Elizabeth Wing). Many (but perhaps not all) of these instruments were later gathered into the ill-fated Canadian Museum of Health and Medicine (CMHM), run by what would become the University Health Network, which closed down in 1999. Upon closure, the CMHM collections were dispersed to the Museum of Healthcare in Kingston, the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame in London, the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa, the Royal Ontario Museum, the Osler Library in Montreal, and the Woodland Cultural Centre in Brantford.

Given that these instruments (especially the ECG machine) were never acquired by any of these collections, it is likely that these were never part of the CMHM, and were thus never dispersed with the rest of Bigelow’s objects. Like so many instruments, they likely slipped through the cracks of collection.

In any case, the UTSIC will proceed to acquire these objects and do a further inventory of our old card catalogue to see which of Bigelow’s instruments listed in the now-decades-old inventory can be accounted for. With knowledge of these instruments, perhaps in we may organize an exhibition in the future, either physical or online (or both) around them and their relevant research and institutional history. Unfortunately, if rumours are true, it is quite likely that many of these instruments were discarded or irretrievably lost over the years. Still, at least we can make an effort to get a sense of the still-extant Bigelow collection.

Although the identification of (at least some of) these objects’ as Bigelow’s is a great discovery, more research remains to be done. What purpose did they serve and what research were they used as a part of? What kind of stories can they be used to tell about the state of cardiovascular medical research in Ontario in the early 1950s? And, even though no one believes it belongs to Bigelow, what’s the story behind that bizarre chair?

Yet more work to do for the UTSIC.

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“Visualizing the Invisible: Historic Representations of Matter”

Hi everybody,

The Chemical Heritage Foundation recently released a short video of me explaining several chemical diagrams that appear on the interior walls of their building.

In retrospect, I probably should have gone for a haircut before filming it…



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Art at the Chemical Heritage Foundation

The fact that Philadelphia affords the curious visitor with a keen interest in history an abundance of riches is no surprise. Aside from all the historical buildings associated with the birth of the American state (the expansive network of buildings that compose the Independence National Historical Park), there are countless museums of every kind. From  museums that highlight local history (such as the Philadelphia History Museum) to those that focus on the certain ethnic and national groups and their place in American history (the National Museum of American Jewish History, the African American Museum in Philadelphia, the American Swedish Historical Museum), Philly seems to have it all. I don’t want to seem like a cheerleader here, but I was pretty impressed (if not somewhat overwhelmed) by the options during my three months there.

Historians of science will take a special liking to Philadelphia since it is home to the American Philosophical Society, America’s best-known 18th century (natural) philosophical organization, as well as a number of science-related museums and collections (the Academy of Natural Sciences, the Franklin Institute, the Wagner Free Institute of Science, the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, and, of course, the Chemical Heritage Foundation, where I spent most of my time). The attentive traveler, rambling around town, will notice a few other artifacts with relevance to the history of science, such as the “Kopernik” sculpture celebrating the astronomical achievements of Nicolaus Copernicus or the painting of Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky, complete with helpful putti (a visual trope of Early Modern art, especially that relating to natural philosophical experiments).

Kopernik, symbolizing the astronomical achievements of everyone’s favourite Roman Catholic canon, Nicolaus Copernicus.

Instead of discussing tons of different things here, I decided to take a moment and take a moment to mention something of a hidden gem: the art in the Chemical Heritage Foundation. I don’t want to sound like a cheerleader for the CHF, but it really does have some great art, and seeing as most visitors to Philadelphia may not see it, it’s worth taking a moment to mention.

Philadelphia is a town chock full of art, from the Philadelphia Museum of Art to its Mural Arts Program. Pop inside a building such as the Curtis Building and what you find (in this case a giant, incredible mural) may surprise you. In this respect the CHF is no exception, and its walls contain more art than this post can adequately describe.

First of all, everyone with an interest in science (and its history) should check out the Museum at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. The exhibits are highly aesthetic, well-curated, and should interest even those visitors with at most a peripheral interest in chemistry. Their rotating exhibition space is relatively small but well done. If you go now you can see The Alchemical Quest, an exhibit that not only contains important historical alchemical manuscripts, but also an interactive “book” that helps guide you through the maze that is alchemical iconography.

“Trouble comes to the alchemist” (Dutch, 17th C). Early Modern comedy gold!

However, aside from the museum, the CHF is also home to a great collection of art. You can catch a bit of this in their museum, where you can see a portrait of Robert Boyle. Should you venture up to the fourth floor, you can see a collection of early modern art that includes numerous depictions of alchemists, iatrochemists, pharmacists and so on in a small but dense gallery titled “Transmutations: Alchemy in Art“. You can see some (but not all) of these images at the CHF’s flickr site.

This contains some great works and provides an insightful glimpse into how artists (and, one assumes, the broader public) understood alchemists and chemists. You’ll be surprised how many paintings were taken of an iatrochemical sage (or fool) performing a uroscopy – not an act I expected to see immortalized on canvas. In this image to the left you can see such a physician (incorrectly titled an “alchemist” performing a uroscopy while having a piss-pot emptied on his head.

While some works aim to accurately portray the alchemical workshop in a positive or value-neutral manner, others portrayed alchemists (or more generally, chemically-oriented natural philosophers), as eternal failures. These alchemists, such as those portrayed by Mattheus von Helmont (1623-79) struggle endlessly with ancient texts and broken pots, their commitment to erudition and the pursuit of arcane knowledge matched only by the ultimate futility of their enterprise.

“The Alchemist”, Mattheus von Helmont (17th century). Curiously, the alchemist’s laboratory looks uncannily similar to the offices of some professors I know.

A view from one of the CHF’s elevators, a portrait of King Charles II. Now that’s just showing off.

There are other paintings scattered around the CHF. For example, the elevator up to the fifth floor opens up to a giant portrait of King Charles II, known to historians of science for his connection to the Royal Society (which was in fact Royal in name only – Charles II didn’t think very highly of Royal Society). Why is this portrait there? I’m not sure. Maybe it has something to do with Charles having granted William Penn a charter to found Pennsylvania.

The art at the CHF isn’t limited to painting (I won’t even begin to mention the art housed in their library). There’s also a political cartoon taking aim at the anti-establishment opinions of chemist Joseph Priestly, who was known for his heterodox political and religious views. This cartoon shows Priestley calling for the King’s head on a platter among a shady cabal of known anti-Royalist agitators on the eve of the French Revolution. In the background a picture of St. Paul’s Cathedral hangs, despairingly titled “A Pig’s Stye” Priestly was run out of England on account of his views and later settled in the United States.

A Birmingham Toast (1791), portraying Joseph Priestley as a godless, regicidal maniac. Not the most helpful cartoon ever drawn.

Finally, one of my favourite parts of the CHF are their frosted walls of chemical diagrams that line the second floor corridors. Titled “Visualizing the Invisible“, these walls display a variety of chemical diagrams, several of which I have written about in my research. I did a short video piece for the CHF discussing these walls, so I’ll discuss them further when that video comes out.

You should all definitely check out all of this art at the Chemical Heritage Foundation, which sits nicely on Chestnut St., just to the East of the Liberty Bell. However, you’ll need to contact the CHF ahead of time to do so. Fortunately, admission is free, but I recommend dropping some change in the jar (or, alternatively, buying a local CHF fellow a cheesesteak, preferably from one of the stalls around the corner).

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The Chemical Heritage Foundation and the importance of academic communities

Hi everybody,

It’s been quite a while since I’ve let the world know what I’m up to, so I figured that I should take a few moments to fill everyone in.

My desk at the Chemical Heritage Foundation’s Othmer Library

A couple of weeks ago I returned from Philadelphia by way of San Diego. I spent my time in Philadelphia at the Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF) as an Allington Fellow (a three-month short-term fellowship). There, I spent my time there researching stereochemical diagrams and models, the subject of my third thesis chapter, as well as writing on the philosophy of scientific modeling and visual representation. I’m pleased to report that I was able to get a draft of all of the “content” chapters of my doctoral dissertation done by the time I left, thereby completing my thesis goal for this fall.

When I first heard that I was accepted as a short-term fellow to the CHF I felt a bit like an impostor (a common feeling in academia, from what I’ve heard). After all, I’m not really a historian of chemistry, but rather someone who studies the history of chemistry as a way of gaining insight into how scientists choose to visualize the invisible. While I’m generally interested in the history of chemistry, I no more consider myself a historian of chemistry than a historian of science, broadly construed. Surely, I thought, there must be someone more qualified for this position than myself.

Fortunately I was wrong. In fact, the more I got to know the other fellows, the more it became apparent that I was one of the few people at the CHF who actually seemed to be directly studying the history of chemistry. Other fellows (most of whom were – or rather are – there for the academic year) were studying the history of agriculture, commercial technology, vitamins, art, medicine, psychiatry, and so on. To my surprise, my dreams of meeting “proper” historians of chemistry who would correct any misguided notions I might possess about mid-to-late 19th century chemical theory evaporated with the realization that I was, as far as the other fellows were concerned, the local expert in the very subject!

As I later found out, this wasn’t because all the historians of chemistry had decided to go elsewhere, leaving the CHF with a motley crew of leftover randoms. In fact, all of this year’s fellows were the CHF’s first choices. Instead, it appears that the CHF is trying to do something quite interesting, to bring scholars of different (but somewhat related) subjects together over a shared set of resources. The CHF isn’t trying to create exceptional historians of chemistry, it’s trying to create exceptional historians, some of whose interests might be somewhat related to the history of chemistry (understood in the broadest possible terms), and all of whom (except for me – damn you, hurricane Sandy!) would have the opportunity to present their work to each other.

The CHF is also part the Philadelphia Area Center for the History of Science (PACHS), a network of foundations, universities, libraries, museums, and so on that extends into several of Pennsylvania’s neighbouring states. One of my favourite aspects of the time I spent at the CHF is being exposed to the broader history of science community through the PACHS network, through which I was able to meet a number of scholars with similar interests that I wouldn’t have met otherwise.

For junior scholars like myself, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of these kinds of academic networks. When I say this, I’m not just talking about the whole “it’s not what you know but who you know” piece of job-advice (although this is absolutely true), but the more general fact that getting to know other scholars will invariably improve both your primary research as well as your ability to be a more rounded and well-informed person. If not for these networks, I might have still have eventually got in contact with my academic heroes, but I would not have found out about the other junior scholars who, for example, also are interested in the varieties of chemical representations and their broader significance, or found out about all the unpublished (but interesting) ideas secretly harbored by more accomplished academics.

Unfortunately, while Toronto has a number of such communities, its breadth pales in comparison to that of the PACHS network, which appears to have the singular goal of making as many scholars meet each other as possible. Much of this just comes down to demographics (the East Coast of the US is a considerably denser place, both in terms of institutions and people), but some of it comes down to money as well. The CHF wouldn’t be what it was without being given hundreds of millions of dollars (no exaggeration), and I suspect that if a wealthy benefactor started making it rain in similar proportions in Southern Ontario we might find ourselves before long with an equally esteemed “T[oronto]ACHS” (‘GTACHS”, maybe?).

Reflecting upon my stay at the CHF, the (greater) Philadelphia academic community, not the material resources of the Othmer Library (excellent as it may be), was their main resource for me (and, I suspect, for others as well). Increasingly, old books and journals are being digitized and placed online, and while this by no means an argument to dispose of the originals, it does mean that travelling to far-off libraries and rare book collections may not be as essential for academic research as it historically has been (at least for the research that I do).

However, the community of minds is not so easily digitized. There is no “Google Books” equivalent for meeting someone who shares your interests and taking them out for a beer, for attending a conference that brings together a number of your intellectual heroes, or for being able to walk down the hallway and ask someone their opinion on a subject that they’re the resident expert on. Communities matter, and that alone is reason enough to drag yourself away from your desk and immerse yourself in a new one.

That’s all for today. In the coming weeks I hope to write a post about some of my favourite aspects of CHF/History of Science in Philly, as well as a bit on the food in Philly, so stay tuned.

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Spontaneous Generations Vol. 6: Visual Representation and Science now available online

Hi everybody,

It is my absolute pleasure to announce the latest volume of Spontaneous Generations: A Journal for the History and Philosophy of Science: Volume 6, Visual Representation and Science.

This year I had the privilege of editing Spontaneous Generations in conjunction with Eleanor Louson of York University. The volume’s theme, “Visual Representation and Science”, is one that is close to both of our hearts. I am dazzled by the level of scholarship in this volume and am extremely thankful to each author for their submission.

Please visit the Spontaneous Generations homepage, where you can download all of its articles for free.

For a taste of what’s in store this issue, please read the Editor’s Introduction written by Eleanor and myself.



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