Easily Cracked: Scientific Instruments in States of Disrepair

  title={Easily Cracked: Scientific Instruments in States of Disrepair},
  author={Simon Schaffer},
  pages={706 - 717}
There has been much scholarly attention to definitions of the term “scientific instrument.” Rather more mundane work by makers, curators, and users is devoted to instruments' maintenance and repair. A familiar argument holds that when a tool breaks, its character and recalcitrance become evident. Much can be gained from historical study of instruments' breakages, defects, and recuperation. Maintenance and repair technologies have been a vital aspect of relations between makers and other users… 
New light on the role of instruments in exploration during the 1830s
This paper sets out a new interpretation of the agency of scientific instruments in the field. It uses Actor Network Theory as a conceptual framework, which invokes the concept of non-human agency,
A long history of breakdowns: A historiographical review
It is argued that network breakdowns play an important and unacknowledged role in the shaping and emergence of scientific knowledge and the strength of institutions and macro-networks often relies on ideological regimes of standardization and instrumentation that can flexibly replace elements and individuals at will.
Managing the observatory: discipline, order and disorder at Greenwich, 1835–1933
  • S. Johnston
  • Physics
    The British Journal for the History of Science
  • 2021
A case study of life and work at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich is presented which reveals tensions between the lived reality of the observatory as a social space, and the attempts to create order, maintain discipline and project an image of authority in order to ensure the observatories' long-term stability.
Perspectival Instruments
Despite its potential implications for the objectivity of scientific knowledge, the claim that ‘scientific instruments are perspectival’ has received little critical at-tention. Yet understanding
Sounding in silence: men, machines and the changing environment of naval discipline, 1796–1815
  • James Poskett
  • History
    The British Journal for the History of Science
  • 2014
Through a case study of Edward Massey's sounding machine, this paper reveals the close connection between disciplinary practices on land and at sea and better explains the changing make-up of the British scientific instrument trade in this period.
Sharing Data, Repairing Practices: On the Reflexivity of Astronomical Data Journeys
This chapter probes into how scientists’ discursive interactions are oriented not only to others’ arguments but also toward achieving an agreement on what data are like and how they ought to be used.
“Precision,” “Perfection,” and the Reality of British Scientific Instruments on the Move During the 18th Century
Early modern British “scientific” instruments, including precision timekeepers, are often represented as static, pristine, and self-contained in 18th-century depictions and in many modern museum
On the epistemic and social foundations of mathematics as tool and instrument in observatories, 1793-1846
This chapter focuses on three episodes in the history of observatories between 1793 and 1846, to examine the epistemic and social foundations of the conception of mathematics as a tool. This is an
The maintenance of ambiguity in Martian exobiology
How do scientists maintain their research programs in the face of not finding anything? Continual failure to produce results can result in declining support, scientific controversy and credibility
Functionless: science museums and the display of ?pure objects?
I argue in this article that the tangible proximity, the sensual evocative power of things is lost in a visit to the museum. Too often the aesthetic form of the exhibition utterly destroys the


A case study in cultural collision: Scientific apparatus in the Macartney embassy to China, 1793
Summary In 1793 Lord Macartney arrived in China as ambassador of King George III. The aims of his embassy were largely directed towards the enlargement of British trade with the far east, and
The Era of Newton, Herschel and Lord Rosse
In the eighteenth century England was dominant in building telescopes and instrumentation. This paper describes the contributions of the most important opticians and telescope builders, from Newton’s
“On the Power of Penetrating into Space”: The Telescopes of William Herschel
For a time in the early history of sidereal astronomy, before the advent of new techniques such as photography and spectroscopy, it seemed that progress would depend on the size of optically sound
Victorian Telescope Makers; The Lives and Letters of Thomas and Howard Grubb
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Memoir Containing an Account of Some Leading Features of the Irish Survey and a Comparison of the Same with the System Pursued in India
  • Relocating Modern Science: Circulation and the Construction of Scientific Knowledge in South Asia and Europe
  • 2006
See also Matthew Edney, Mapping an Empire: The Geographical Construction of British India
  • Historical Records of the Survey of India
  • 1997
Instruments of a Very Beautiful Class
  • esp. p. 26; and Anita McConnell, Instrument Makers to the World: A History of Cooke, Troughton, and Simms
  • 1990
On the visibility of materiality in making and breaking see Stephen Graham and Nigel Thrift
  • Theory, Culture, and Society
  • 1990