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Museum Pieces

The building in which I work has a chequered past. One section was once a laboratory of physical chemistry; another, the old Cambridge Free School, whose hall still sports a splendid hammer-beam roof.

Conversions, expansions, cut-backs, and the other exigencies of university planning have transformed the laboratory into a less practical department office and the hall of the Free School into one of the finest museums of scientific instruments in Britain.

All historians have ambivalent feelings about museums: approval of the worthy effort to make the past accessible to its audience – and its heirs, but frequently mixed with pedantic or even righteous indignation about the gross simplifications or downright errors involved in making the 'objects', as they are called, speak clearly to a modern public.

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