Tag Archives: history of education

Leeds’ Hidden Visionary: Louis Compton Miall and Magic Lanterns


Professor Louis Compton Miall, Photo by E. E. Unwin

To most current students in Leeds, the name Louis Compton Miall would mean very little. A few might recognise the name from the LC Miall Building, home of the Faculty of Biological Sciences. Our team certainly had never heard of him before we were assigned to create an exhibition on magic lanterns and their relationship with the University of Leeds.

While carrying out research for the exhibition Lighting the Way: Leeds and the ‘Magic’ Lantern, we noticed that Miall’s name kept recurring. It soon became clear that Miall and his pioneering work with magic lanterns have long been overlooked. His innovations were not only crucial to the development of magic lanterns, but to teaching more generally. More on Miall later, first a quick history of the lanterns.

First developed in the 1600s by the Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens, magic lanterns were an early form of projection equipment, which used a light source and a series of lenses to show images on a much larger scale than ever before. See this previous blog post for a more detailed discussion of the lanterns’ history and workings.

However, it was not until the mid-nineteenth century that magic lanterns started to be used widely in education – although in this context they were often called ‘optical lanterns’ instead as ‘magic’ was deemed not serious enough. In a darkened hall, a lecturer would deliver a talk accompanied by slides displayed by a specially-trained ‘lanternist’. This format was used for the rest of the nineteenth century, despite the obvious drawback of teaching in the dark and the difficulty of coordination between the lecturer and lantern-operator.

Lantern Teaching

Magic Lantern in Use During a Biology Lecture
History & Philosophy of Science in 20 Objects. Object 20: Magic Lanterns

Here, the intervention of Louis Compton Miall was pivotal. He was Professor of Biology at The Yorkshire College and its successor the University of Leeds from 1876 to 1907. In order to display his biological specimens more easily to his students, he developed a more stable and powerful lantern which could broadcast images that were visible even with the lights on. Miall could then combine the lantern with specialist equipment such as microscopes or liquid-containing ‘tank slides’, allowing the live demonstration of experiments to an entire lecture hall.


A Nineteenth-Century Newton and Co. Combined Lantern and Microscope
A. Pringle, The Optical Lantern for Instruction and Amusement (1899)

Professor Miall also altered the set-up of the lantern so it could be operated by the lecturer unaided. He could now seamlessly teach and operate the lantern, without having to interrupt his lectures to communicate to an operator if there were any difficulties. In an article of May 1890 from the Review of Reviews entitled ‘How to Utilise the Magic Lantern; Some Valuable Hints for Teachers’, its author summarises the benefits of Miall’s method:

“The most novel and important points are that the slides are exhibited in a well-lighted room, and all the necessary manipulations are done by the lecturer or teacher without any difficulty.”

Today, in the age of the digital projector, most University staff structure their lectures and seminars around a PowerPoint presentation, which they use to illustrate their points and invite wider discussion. This teaching method, which is so taken for granted today, relies on the innovations of Professor Miall in allowing lecturers to control their own presentations and show them in a lit room.

Without Louis Compton Miall, the whole structure and teaching practices of higher education could thus have been radically different. It is time to recognise Miall’s achievements with magic lanterns at the University of Leeds, and shine a light on this largely unsung educational pioneer.

In the Lighting the Way exhibition, we track the evolution of magic lanterns at the University of Leeds, including highlighting the contributions of individuals such as Professor Miall and other educators to the development of the lanterns’ educational potential. Amongst the objects on display are a lantern produced by the famous Newton & Co. optics; various lenses and accessories used in lecture halls, such as an elbow polariscope; and a small sample of the Museum’s collection of around 5,000 lantern slides, including two mechanical astronomy slides.

Lighting the Way: Leeds and the ‘Magic’ Lantern has been curated by MA Art Gallery and Museum Studies and MA Arts Management and Heritage Studies students in collaboration with the Museum of the History of Science, Technology and Medicine. It will be displayed in the Philosophy, Religion and the History of Science Common Room on the 1st floor of the Michael Sadler Building from 13 December 2018.

More information can be found on the use of magic lanterns in education at Leeds here.


Hidden Histories: Junior Praestantia Lantern

Image - Junior Praestantia Lantern

Junior Praestantia Lantern
Photo by Esther Lie

A significant amount of work has been carried out recently on documenting and researching our magic lanterns and slide collections, and it therefore seemed appropriate to reflect this in the 2013 Hidden Histories display. While this Junior Praestantia Lantern might not be as visually interesting as some of the other lanterns in our collection, it demonstrates specific aspects of the history of these instruments and the heritage of the University.

Magic lanterns are considered a predecessor to the modern slide projector. They function by using a condenser lens to focus artificial light (e.g. candle light, limelight or later electric light) onto a glass slide, the light rays then passing through an objective lens system which projects an enlarged version of the slide’s image onto a screen or wall.

Image - Lens Arrangement in A Magic Lantern

Lens Arrangement in A Magic Lantern
Source: http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/magiclantern/optics.html

The historical development of these instruments dates back to at least the 17th century, with the Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens often being cited as a key figure in their invention. The peak of their production was during the second-half of the nineteenth century. They provided a popular form of entertainment in both public and domestic settings. Combining slide projection with live narration, music and other special effects, magic lanternists delivered highly successful entertainment spectacles, including phantasmagoria (gathering of ghosts) shows. Slides could have moving parts, and the use of two lanterns in conjunction with pairs of slides could produce ‘dissolving’ (transforming) effects.

It was this ability to produce projection effects that in the days before moving film would have appeared miraculous to audiences that gave magic lanterns this moniker. In scientific or educational settings however it was more common to refer to them as optical lanterns, or simply lanterns. After the moving picture was introduced in the late nineteenth century the popularity of magic lanterns began to decline, but in educational settings their use continued for longer; we think that the use of magic lanterns continued in the Biology department at the University of Leeds until as late as the 1960s. They provided a convenient way of displaying images to a large audience. Ready-made educational slides featuring a wide range of topics could be ordered from catalogues, or lecturers could have them specially produced using images of their own work.

This particular lantern previously belonged to the collection of the Museum of the History of Education which used to exist at the University of Leeds. Before this it was used in lessons at Thornton School in Bradford. It was sold by the Riley Brothers, also of Bradford, who sold lanterns, slides and readings from the 1880s until 1914. The Riley Brothers also gave Bradford its first ever cinema performance on 6th April 1896, at the People’s Palace theatre, on the site where the National Media Museum now stands.

Praestantia Lantern Advert, Ashburton Guardian, 2nd May 1894

Praestantia Lantern Advert, Ashburton Guardian, 2nd May 1894

‘Praestantia’ is a Latin term used to denote superiority and excellence. While this lantern has previously been dated to 1914, models of this sort were available earlier than this, as evidenced by this newspaper advert from 1894. The advert also shows that it was targeted towards schools and churches, rather than professional entertainers or lecturers in larger educational establishments like Universities, who would use larger lanterns with more complex features.

Educators in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were growing increasingly interested in the value of sensory perception in aiding the process of obtaining and retaining knowledge, and the use of visual aids was common. In school classrooms, a popular way of incorporating these was to give each pupil a lantern slide and ask them to prepare a talk about it, which they delivered while the image was projected. This activity therefore also helped develop oral communication and presentation skills. It was also thought the element of fun provided by this hybrid of entertainment and education would be conducive to learning. This “school-room” method contrasted with the “lecture-room” method, where the slides served as accompanied the instructor’s lecture. In churches, lanterns were used during services or Sunday school classes, to display biblical stories and hymn lyrics, and to warn people of the dangers of various ‘immoral’ activities. They were also popular with travelling missionaries, who could use illustrations on lantern slides as a way of overcoming language barriers.

One of the main reservations schools and small institutions had about using lanterns was the cost involved, and this is addressed in the advertisement above, which emphasises low-prices and the ability to hire equipment or pay in monthly instalments. Other concerns included the need to train teachers how to use this new technology. However, as mentioned in a previous blog post, we think that the particularly successful use of lanterns by professors at the University of Leeds and its predecessor the Yorkshire College may have inspired primary and secondary schools in the area to take up the use of this educational tool with an unusually high level of enthusiasm.

Currently displayed alongside this lantern are two c.1880 rack and pinion turning slides by Newton & Co, London. These coloured slides would have been used to teach pupils and public audiences about phenomena such as the rising and setting of the sun. Turning the handle rotates one sheet of painted glass over the other, moving one part of the slide’s image in relation to the rest and allowing such phenomena to be demonstrated ‘in action’.

Newton & Co rack and pinion slide, c.1880

Newton & Co rack and pinion slide, c.1880
Digitised by Liz Stainforth


Anon. “How to Utilise the Magic Lantern; Some Valuable Hints for Teachers”, The Review of Reviews, May 1890, pg.404

Riley Brothers, “Advertisment: Improved Praestantia Lantern”, Ashburton Guardian, Volume XV, Issue 3268, 2nd May 1894, p.3

Greenacre, D., “Optical Systems in Magic Lanterns”, http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/magiclantern/optics.html

Newton & Co, “New School Lanterns for Class-Work”, in Newton & Co, Catalogue of Lantern Slides Part II., London, 1906, p.901

Lucerna: The Magic Lantern Web Resource, “Organisation: Riley Brothers, slide manufacturer and dealer”, http://www.slides.uni-trier.de/organisation/index.php?id=1000433

San Diego State University, “Peabody Magic Lantern Collection, Online Presentation”, 2010, http://library.sdsu.edu/exhibits/2009/07/lanterns/index.shtml

Special Collections, J.B. Priestly Library, “The Joseph Riley Archive: Collection Description”, University of Bradford, 2008

University of Leeds Museum of the History of Education Catalogue

Visual Studies Workshop – Exhibition Monograph, “Travels in the Limelight: Projections of the World Through the Magic Lantern, 1880-1930”, in The Magic Lantern Bulletin, Vol. 8, No. 1, April, 1988, pp. 9-12 (http://library.sdsu.edu/pdf/scua/ML_Bulletin/MLBvol18no01.pdf)

Yorkshire Film Archive, “Film No. 3428, Bradford Town Hall Square. Context.”, http://www.yfaonline.com/sites/yorkshirefilmarchive.com/files/node_pdfs/node_7615_context.pdf

For a bibliography of further reading on the use of magic lanterns in education, see The Magic Lantern Bulletin, Vol. 8, No. 1, April, 1988, p. 7. (http://library.sdsu.edu/pdf/scua/ML_Bulletin/MLBvol18no01.pdf)

Further reading on the Riley Brothers:

Copeland, D.M., “Joseph, William, Herbert, Arnold and Bernard Riley”, Who’s Who of Victorian Cinema, http://www.victorian-cinema.net/riley, 2013

Gordon, C., By Gaslight in Winter: A Victorian family history through the magic lantern, London: Elm Tree, 1980

Further blog entries on our lanterns and slides:





Hidden Histories: ‘Hawksbee Air Pump, 1850’- A history of science icon

The 18th century was a wealth of knowledge, investigation and fast growing technology. In the university’s collection is a double-barrelled pump, in the style of instrument maker Francis Hauksbee, representing the ‘state of the art’ of 18th century vacuum technology in Britain. The history of science witnessed a varied range of air pumps, yet Hauksbee’s double-barrelled constructions are of the earliest surviving. More can be found in the Royal Scottish Museum, the Oxford Museum of the History of Science and London’s Science Museum. Despite the dating of this pump (1850), it mirrors Hauksbee’s designs from 1703-1709, as from then on commercial pumps underwent minimal modification.



The vacuum air pump was one of the six instruments invented in the 17th century that had a profound impact on experimental science. Others include the pendulum clock, telescope, thermometer, barometer and microscope. After the news of German scientist Otto von Guericke’s air pump experiments spread through Europe, the first English air pump, an improvement of von Guericke’s, was designed and built by the acclaimed Robert Boyle during 1658-9. With a rack and pinion (small metal wheel) to move the solid piston (component moving up and down to create power), and a single brass barrel, it stood on a strong wooden tripod, mouth turned downwards. Teeth were cut onto the piston-rod, so as to form a rack moved by a toothed wheel, and turned by a handle, as in later air-pumps. The only valve was a hole bored into the side.



In the mid 1670s the commercial market for air pumps developed. In 1676, the double-barrelled air pump arose from the work of Robert Boyle and French inventor Denis Papin, with pistons and self-acting valves in cylinders. Used for experiments, these designs relied on piston-rods suspended at opposite ends of a cord passing over a pulley.

Historian of science Henry Guerlac suggested that after air-pumps became cheaper and more widely available between 1670-1680, Boyle and Papin’s air pump techniques were transmitted to Francis Hauksbee (1660–1713). Hauksbee was an English scientist known for his work on electricity, beginning his research at the Royal Society for Isaac Newton in 1703. In 1704, Hauksbee perfected the double cylinder air pump, combining the rack and pinion of the first and second air pumps, with two barrels, twin pistons, and self-acting valves. As Brundtland asserted, Hauksbee’s competence as an exceptional maker of air pumps developed between 1699 and 1703, as a result of his experience with the construction and manufacturing of cupping-glasses (which created suction on the skin often by heat, by a partial vacuum, to mobilise blood flow). Hauksbee developed a new design, in which syringes were used to evacuate the glasses. These syringes, claimed to be small air pumps, were made larger, allowing a transition from the cupping-syringe to an air pump for Hauksbee’s use in natural philosophy. This design included two cylinders with pistons balanced against each other, driven in opposite directions by the rack and pinion.

How did it work? By setting the pump in motion, air was excavated from the glass bulb, creating what we now consider to be a vacuum. Two pistons were worked by rack and pinion, arranged such that as one descended, the other ascended.

In terms of its use, Hauksbee’s air pumps- with interchangeable glasses depending on the purpose- were mainly for laboratory demonstrations, as well as granting the public access to curious and elaborate experiments. Until Hauksbee perfected his double barrelled air pump around 1704, most of the Royal Society’s experiments were of a mundane nature, with Boyle focusing mainly on the properties of air. Hauksbee was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society for his skill in conducting experiments with his novel apparatus.


Air pumps made an important contribution to science, but throughout this period they were widely used as a source of entertainment and instruction, as vacuum was a new and fascination subject. Joseph Derby’s 1768 painting An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump depicts people watching, some with horror, the demonstration of an air pump by a traveling scientist. A bird slowly suffocates within. The scientist forms a vacuum by withdrawing air from a glass containing a white cockatoo, yet the painting does not entirely concern scientific invention, instead a human drama in a night-time setting. There is a wide range of reactions, some scared that the bird will die, and others curious and reflecting the coming age of science. Further, this painting illustrates the presentation of 18th century scientific learning, heavily dependent on the techniques of observation. Hauksbee’s air pump, with its transportable size allowing it to reach different settings and locations, most likely aroused a similarly diverse range of reactions. The air-pump became a resource for the ‘business of experimental philosophy.’ Hauksbee’s design was largely maintained for 150 years, with later pumps developed only in their ease of use, and with decreased ultimate pressure.


Notably, historians of science Shapin and Schaffer, in their 1985 influential book Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life, documented the debate between Boyle and Hobbes on Boyle’s air pump experiments of the 1660s. By raising the question of ‘why do experiments lead to truth?’, the two historians investigated the issue of acceptable methods of knowledge production, and the societal factors that led to them. The book also reveals the air pump’s significance as Boyle argued that ‘facts should be manufactured by machines like the air pump, so that gentlemen could witness the experiments, and produce knowledge that everyone agreed on.’ Contrastingly, Hobbes viewed experiments as artificial and unreliable, produced by an exclusive organisation. The air pump was a metaphorical device representing an approach to natural philosophy.


Further, Shelagh Stephenson’s 1999 play An Experiment with an Air Pump, set in 1799, portrayed a house buzzing with scientific experiments (as well as romance and farce). In the world of scientific chaos, Stephenson questioned, at what point does the end result of greater knowledge or the development of a treatment, justify the means used to get there? Highlighting which scientific methods are ethically acceptable, Stephenson drew a link between the bird in the air pump, and human, claiming that we too were reduced to a mere experiment. It is obvious that the air pump was an influential object in the debates over the production of scientific knowledge, and the position of man in natural philosophy, in the 18th century.

In this specific object identified in the University of Leeds History of Education catalogue, Hauksbee is only the style of the air pump. The origins of this replica are a London firm, Horne and Thornthwaite, who also traded in chemistry, photography and optics. However, the use of the air pump can be located back to Bootham School, an independent Quaker boarding school in York, in which many Quaker teachers maintained a keen interest in natural history. Influencing their students, the air pump was most likely used in science lessons. After opening in 1823, Bootham became distinguished for studies in Natural History, its herbarium, and by 1853 its observatory for astronomical studies- thus they placed a heavy emphasis on science. To early Quakers, the physical universe- God’s creation- was infused with religious meaning. The schoolmaster recommended Quaker children should be taught to ‘read the Nature, Use and Service of Trees, Birds, Beast, Fish, Serpents, Insects, Earths, Metals, Salts, Stones Vulgar…’ Moreover, since Quakerism was born in defiance of the Church of England, and Quakers were excluded as ‘dissenters’ from Oxbridge whose curriculum was dominated by classical studies, this allowed Bootham to strengthen their scientific studies. The use of scientific instruments would allow, as Quaker astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell claimed, students ‘to readily revise what you hold to be the truth, as in both Quakerism and science.’ This serious interest in science at Bootham encouraged the production of a number of distinguished scientists in many areas.

From 1850 to the turn of the century, intense activity in the development of vacuum technology emerged, driven by the needs of scientific research and demands of the incandescent lamp industry. This air pump is only a replica, and subsequently we should guard against the notion that because many air-pumps look the same, no improvements have been made since Boyle or Hauksbee’s day.

Esther Lie


Brundtland, T. 2008. From medicine to natural philosophy: Francis Hauksbee’s way to the air-pump. The British Journal for the History of Science. 41: 2. 209-40.

Brundtland, T. 2012. Francis Hauksbee and his air pump. Notes & Records of The Royal Society. 1743-0178

De Bolla, P. 2003. The Education of the Eye: Painting, Landscape, and Architecture in Eighteenth-Century Britain. Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA.

Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Volume 2. Dec 1844- April 1850. Edinburgh: Printed by Neill and Company. MDCCCLI.

Redhead, P.A. 1999. HISTORY OF VACUUM DEVICES. National Research Council, CAS – CERN Accelerator School : Vacuum Technology. Snekersten, Denmark, Ottawa, Canada. pp.281-290

Shapin, S & Schaffer, S. 1985. Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life. Princeton University Press: Oxford & New Jersey

Swain, K. 2011. An Experiment with an Air Pump: medical ethics staged. CultureLab: Newscientist. [Accessed 5 May 2013] Available from: http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/culturelab/2011/10/experimenting-with-medical-ethics-on-stage.html

Quakers in Britain. Quakers and Science. [online] [Accessed 5 May 2013]. Available from: http://www.quaker.org.uk/quakers-and-science

The National Gallery. An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump: 1768, Joseph Wright ‘of Derby’ [online] [Accessed 5 May 2013]. Available from: http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/joseph-wright-of-derby-an-experiment-on-a-bird-in-the-air-pump

The Royal Society. Air pump. [online] [Accessed 5 May 2013]. Available from: http://royalsociety.org/exhibitions/350years/air-pump/

Hidden Histories 2013

A couple of years ago we, the museum group, collectively put together a case of objects designed purely to show of the diverse range of artefacts our university holds for the exhibition Hidden Histories.  Everyone chose an object, wrote a blog post, filmed a youtube video and wrote a label.  Put together and it gave a hint of our interests and knowledge, of how objects might lead you to interesting questions, and how varied yet largely uncelebrated was the University’s history.

That was two years ago.  Now the team has changed, and our knowledge of the collections has grown.  Also, for conservation reasons and to keep people looking at the case, its time for a revamp.  As before, everyone is choosing an object and writing about it.  Research has begun.  Here is my contribution.


Perhaps not the most promising display item you might think, but these two, both from school classrooms in the late 19th-early 20th centuries, are pretty beautiful I think.  The first:

Image copyright DK

Image copyright DK

The Poggendorff Cell nicely shows the basic workings of a cell.  Its comprises a glass bottle and electrodes.  When working it would be filled with dilute sulphuric acid saturated with potash bichromate which for obvious reasons have been removed for display purposes.  The electrodes are made of carbon (+) and zinc (-).  It was invented by Poggendorff in 1842 and if you’ve ever made a ‘battery’ (or more accurately a cell) from a lemon or a potato then you can probably work out how it works.  When the electrodes are lowered into the acid, the positive electrode attracts ions in the acid, combines and releases electrons which are then attracted to the negative electrode and so it goes on.  The flow of electrons is electricity.

The dry cell:

Image copyright DK

Image copyright DK

Came along a little later than the Poggendorff cell but works on a similar principle except that it uses a paste instead of liquid acid.  Although this Siemens Brothers dry cell looks rather large to us, it is otherwise very similar to the ones we all have running various gadgets in our homes.

From a safety point of view, you can see, when you look at the Poggendorff battery why many people were apprehensive about allowing electricity into their homes in the early days.  The first homes to install electric lights and so on did so in the 1880s.  By the 1950s there were still homeowners who didn’t trust it preferring to use gas.  For more on this story see our Lights on at Lotherton! collaborative project with Lotherton Hall (on going) based on research by Prof. Graeme Gooday published in his book Domesticating Electricity.


History of Education Books

Well done everyone involved in Hidden Histories, it looks brilliant and so do the videos!

While I appreciate the summer isn’t the best time to get everyone together, I thought it might be nice to have some museum activity going on that we can all dip in and out of as and when we’re available.  One project that lends itself quite nicely to this is a project Becky and I have already begun, on the old History of Education Museum book collection.

The project is quite simple.  All the books are (or should be) listed in the inventory of the museum collections.  This is an excel spreadsheet, we can work out the logistics of sharing this as we go along.  We need to check the books off against this list and then decide if they should go to special collections; library education collection, or Wilderspin museum (a new school museum in Barton-on-Humber).  We annotate the inventory list, box them up, and, eventually, after much checking and double checking, off they go.

The nice thing about the project is you get to look through some often beautiful and interesting books, and you get to know other people in the project better as you chat (the work doesn’t take a huge amount of concentration).  The bad thing is the collection is huge, and if you’re not careful the enormity of the project can be a bit demoralising.  For this reason it would be great if as many of us can get involved as possible, and we don’t set unrealistic goals for completion.

I’m away for a couple of weeks, but if you could all give this some thought hopefully volunteer for a few hours over August that would be great.  It works best if we work in pairs, but obviously to begin with me or Becky will need with or form part of every pair, just to explain what we’ve been doing so far, and what needs doing.

Hope all that makes sense.  The books, for those of you not sure, are all those boxes currently filling almost every inch of space in the store.