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Engines of Discovery: Telescopes, Astronomers, and Changing Research Practices 1750-2001

Research project

Short description

The aim of the project is to develop a deepened understanding of the role played by instruments in the scientific enterprise. The starting point is a statement from historians of science Albert van Helden and Thomas Hankins where they claimed that “[b]ecause instruments determine what can be done, they also determine to some extent what can be thought”. Representing major investment, a main instrument tend to outlast several generations of researchers, carrying with them the design and values of yesteryear’s scientific ideas, sometimes becoming become a burden and obstacle. This is the dynamics the project will explore, using the instruments operated at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences’ observatories in Stockholm and Saltsjöbaden as our example.

Bertil Lindblad at the double refractor in the new Saltsjöbaden observatory.
Bertil Lindblad at the double refractor in the new Saltsjöbaden observatory. As indicated by the painter in the background the dome is not yet finished.
Photo: Teknik- och industrihistoriska arkivet/Tekniska museet. Okänd fotograf.