Author Archives: lizstainforth

Leeds a Leading Light in Lanterns?

The lanterns in the Museum’s collection date from the early 20th century, and were once used for teaching. It was thought that using visual aids would improve memory retention in students, and lanterns and slides provided a convenient way of producing images and displaying them to a large audience. In educational and scientific settings magic lanterns were more commonly referred to as ‘optical lanterns’.

More interesting still, a short article in the Review of Reviews (1890) reveals that Leeds may have been quite pioneering in its uptake of the magic lantern for use in lectures. The article, entitled ‘How to Utilise the Magic Lantern; Some Valuable Hints for to Teachers’, cites ‘The Optical Lantern as an Aid to Teaching’ by C.H. Bothamley, which gives details about the use of the lantern in classrooms at the Yorkshire College, now the University of Leeds. Bothamley refers to Professor Miall (then Professor of Biology), who promoted the use of the magic lantern for teaching students, and was able to demonstrate its successful use even in day-lit rooms. According to this article, “In the Yorkshire College almost every department has its lantern”, used to illustrate lectures on a range of “widely different subjects”. The educational slides in the Museum’s collection are representative of this variety, covering a wide range of topics, including the sciences, engineering, history, art, architecture, industries, geography and travel.

The optical lantern was of particular value to subjects such as biology and engineering because lectures on these subjects were highly dependent on illustrations. Furthermore, in science lectures, small specimens could be easily viewed by a large audience if they were projected using a lantern. Microscope attachments meant that even micro-organisms and microscopic structures could be seen. For example, in the Department of Textile Industries at the Yorkshire College, lanterns were used to display micro-photographs of fibres. Some specially designed scientific lanterns featured an open space in front of the condenser, so that live scientific experiments could be conducted and projected. There was also a second optical system that projected light upwards before projecting it forwards. This allowed specimens in flat dishes to be projected. Special ‘tank slides’ were used for displays requiring liquids, such as crystallised solutions, or to show creatures like tadpoles swimming in water.

The aforementioned Review of Reviews article states that “The example of Leeds has been followed on a smaller scale, but with very gratifying results, in several High Schools in the district” (Review of Reviews, 1890, p404). However, it is unclear if these examples are indicative of the wider use of lanterns in teaching primary and secondary level education. While the use of the magic lantern in school was much written about in education journals of the late nineteenth century, Elizabeth Foster has cited an article in The Teachers’ Aid that highlights “the lack of progress which was made in realising in schools the full potential of photography and projection”. Reasons given for this lack of progress include the conservatism of the teaching profession, the unwillingness of publishers and photographic firms to engage with the school market and the reluctance of teachers to embark on the necessary learning associated with the technology.

Nevertheless, the museum’s collection does contain some slides and equipment that once belonged to local secondary schools. The Carpenter & Westley astronomical slides, which were the subject of the ‘Shedding Light’ post, were used at Bradford Grammar School to teach pupils about planets and the solar system, and the Newton & Co. rack and pinion slides may have been used for similar purposes. These have now been digitised (see below) and we hope to eventually make them available throught the University’s Digital Library repository.

This post is adapted from an excerpt of the now completed magic lantern and slides object history files by Kiara White and Liz Stainforth.

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Astronomical Slides

Further research into the museum’s hand-painted astronomy slides (c.1850) reveals that they were almost certainly made by the British optical and scientific instrument makers, Carpenter & Westley. These images of Carpenter & Westley slides on an online auction site match exactly with some of the subjects depicted on our slides, notably the solar eclipse.

Astronomical themes appear to have featured heavily in public lectures throughout the late 18th and 19th centuries. This essay by Mark Butterworth focuses on the history of astronomical slides and their early associations with the magic lantern, since similar technology was used in the development of the telescope. He also writes about public lecturers in some detail.

Objects chosen for display in the forthcoming ‘Public Science’ exhibition (18 January 2013) for the ‘Travelling Lecturers’ case include selected slides, an outline for a public lecture on astronomy from Special Collections, and (also from Special Collections), an astronomical illustration from J.J. Grandville’s Un Autre Monde, to show the extent to which astronomy caught the popular imagination of the contemporary public.


Hand-painted Astronomical Slides, Carpenter and Westley, c.1850
These slides cover some of the basic principles commonly demonstrated in public astronomical lectures in Britain up until the mid-19th century, when the subjects shown on slides became more complex and involved. Originally probably owned by a travelling lecturer, these slides were later used at Bradford Grammar School to teach pupils about planets and the solar system.
History of Education Collection, ScAp/A1

Un Autre Monde by J.J. Grandville, Paris: H. Fournier, 1844
Astronomy was a popular topic for public lectures during the late 18th and 19th centuries. Lectures were delivered in lay language and used non-scientific representations (such as the signs of the zodiac). Astronomy also featured in popular contemporary literature, as exemplified here in the work of the French illustrator and caricaturist J.J. Grandville.
Special Collections, Illustrated Books Collection F-2 GRA

Outline of Five Lectures on Astronomy, and of an Introductory Lecture, Sheffield: J. Montgomery, [1823]
These lecture notes would have accompanied magic lantern slides similar to those on display here. The notes describe a lecture to be “delivered in the lecture room, Milk-street, Sheffield, (which has been appropriately fitted up for the occasion) by Mr. Goodacre, on Mondays and Thursdays […] and to be repeated on Tuesdays and Fridays, beginning with Tuesday, March 11, 1823.”
Special Collections, Pamphlets Brotherton Collection Yorkshire H-She-5.6 GOO

In Our Time features Crystallography

Ahead of the Bragg Centenary next year, to commemorate the Nobel Prize winning work carried out by father and son team Bragg, another Bragg, Melvyn, featured the history of crystallography as the theme for today’s episode of In Our Time (Thursday, 29 November 2012). William Henry Bragg was Cavendish Professor of Physics at the University of Leeds from 1909-1915. The notebook in which the Braggs recorded the results of their ground breaking experiments is held in the Library’s Special Collections.

Melvyn and his guests discussed the study of crystals and their structure, and the discovery in the early 20th century that X-rays could be diffracted by a crystal. They touched on the 17th century mathematician Johannes Kepler’s work on the structure of crystals, but focused mainly on the signifcant discovery of the Braggs in 1912, whose seminal experiments transformed scientific understanding of crystals and their atomic arrangements. 

The guests were: Judith Howard (Director of the Biophysical Sciences Institute and Professor of Chemistry at the University of Durham), Chris Hammond (Life Fellow in Material Science at the University of Leeds) and Mike Glazer (Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of Oxford and Visiting Professor of Physics at the University of Warwick).

Listen again here:

Shedding Light on the Museum’s Lantern and Slide Collections

As followers of the blog will know, for the last few months Kiara and I have been researching the museum’s collection of magic lanterns and slides, with support and advice from Claire and Mark. The first stage of the project culminated in a Light Night event on the 5 October, now nothing more than a dimly glowing memory. But, as one of the show-and-tellers on the night, I wanted to do a quick write-up of the experience.

Running alongside a pre-booked magic lantern show by lanternist Andrew Gill, our scientific lantern display was the first point of contact for ‘drop-in’ visitors to the Gallery. This strategic placing (directly in front of the entrance) repeatedly prompted variants of the question ‘what’s this all about?’, which we were happy to answer, taking every opportunity to promote the work of the museum and raise awareness of the collections. The lightbox, used to display a selection of slides, proved popular and the visitors were generally incredibly polite and generous (given my obvious lack of scientific knowledge). They listened with interest to our explanations about how the lanterns work and their history at the University, as part of teaching collections. Claire also pointed out that the lanterns and slides at Leeds share their history with collections in universities all over the country, as these would have been essential for the delivery of lectures. Comparisons with the overhead projector and the smartboard were among the more conventional comments we heard on the night, but there was one visitor who insisted the magic lantern was a forerunner even of the smartphone!

Moving on from Light Night, in recent weeks we’ve turned our attention to compiling a more detailed history of the lanterns (and their attendant equipment). Catalogues we borrowed from Special Collections for the Light Night display have proven useful in supplying details of at least one of the lanterns (the Stroud and Rendall Science Lantern). Claire secured funding from the Scientific Instrument Society to cover travel expenses related to further research so Kiara and I are now in the process of trying to identify museums with relevant collections to visit (suggestions welcome!)

Another exciting development relates to the digitisation of slides, a process started by Mark, which we’re now linking up through the University’s Digital Library service. Because I’m focusing on the digitisation of collections as part of my PhD research, I currently spend a day a week in the Library with the Digital Content and Repositories Team. So, when I had the chance to suggest sample cases, I didn’t hesitate to put forward the museum’s slides; to be more specific, the hand-painted astronomical slides, dating from c.1850. While being among the most beautiful slides in the collection, they’re also the oldest and most fragile. Taken together, these factors made them an obvious choice for digitisation. The images have now been saved as high quality TIFFs but I managed to get some JPEG versions to post here (see below). Hopefully, the digitisation of these slides is ultimately just another way of promoting and providing access to the museum’s collections.