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Microscopy in Print

This display exhibits material donated to the Whipple Library in 2008-2009 from Gerard L’Estrange Turner’s collection of microscope books.

These books reflect the publication of ‘popular’ scientific literature during the 19th century, when new printing technologies and expanding reading audiences provided opportunities for publishers and emerging authors. The authors represented here were from a variety of backgrounds and included teachers, medical practitioners, natural historians, instrument makers, and amateur microscopists and hobbyists. All played a part in the dissemination of microscopical practice and observations, and these books reveal a great deal about how microscopes were used and viewed in this period. Largely, editors and publishers decided who wrote for publication and which books and articles were published. Cheap prices and non-technical language were considered important features of ‘popular’ books, and authors had to be able to relate specialist knowledge in an understandable, but entertaining, way. There was clearly a profitable market for these new and cheaper publications and popular interest also sparked developments in the instrument trade. Magazines, journals, encyclopaedias, newspapers, popular lectures, museums, fairs and exhibitions, as well as books, all participated in the dissemination of this ‘popular science’ for public consumption. Central to these works was the need felt for practical guides that informed and encouraged a seemingly keen public as the microscope grew in popularity and became a feature in many homes. These practical aspects were frequently presented alongside expressions of the wonders revealed by the discovery of this hidden microscopic world.


By Clare Matthews

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