The Appliance of Science - The Georgian British Museum

A cabinet of curiosities or a medium for enlightening the general public? Patricia Fara looks at how debate over democratising scientific knowledge crystalised in the development of the newly-formed British Museum.

Matthew Bramble's recommendations for improving the 'noble collection' he visited at the British Museum in 1770 seem rather strange to modern readers. He suggested filling the gaps in its natural history exhibits, buying apparatus to perform experiments, and employing a professor to teach mathematics, mechanics and natural philosophy. 'But', he continued in a testy complaint which still has a ring to it two centuries later, 'this is all idle speculation, which will never be reduced to practice. Considering the temper of the times, it is a wonder to see any institution whatsoever established for the benefit of the public'.

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