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Precision Reconsidered: Scientific Instruments, Culture and Access

Concepts of precision permeate the field of scientific instruments. Historians, curators and other scholars in the humanities have studied the rich and diverse material culture associated with precision, as well as explored multiple meanings, values and cultural dimensions of the pursuit of precision.

The etymology of the word “precision” (from Latin praecidere – “to cut off”) reveals historical tensions within scientific instrument studies, and the notion that aspects of instrument culture (material and immaterial) have been lost or discarded through the processes of refinement and use. This hints at a challenge within histories of precision, and points at opportunities to broaden, reconsider and access these histories through new perspectives and approaches, in particular through creative engagement with collections of historic scientific instruments.

The proposed overarching theme for SIC 2024 will be to explore the cultures of precision as they apply to the history of scientific instruments. We encourage participants to probe this topic through materiality, scientific and workshop practices, conservation and digital techniques, pedagogy and museology.

Through a critical lens, we invite participants to examine previously overlooked aspects within (and seemingly outside) the material culture of precision. Building on recent sessions at SIC meetings, we encourage presenters to analyse the colonial dimensions within precision technologies and practices. In a practical museum context, we encourage participants to combine these kinds of questions with collection-based scholarship and the implications for building new relationships and avenues for access.

Keeping in mind the deep connection between the history of scientific instruments and astronomy, we also look to the origins of the word “reconsider” (from the Latin con-sidereus, connoting learning “with the stars”) as inspiration for re-evaluating precision. For the past six years, Ingenium, the host for SIC 2024 has been reconsidering its approach to astronomy by working with Indigenous partners to learn more about their star knowledge and ways of knowing. This form of research demonstrates the opportunities for opening up the broader cultural context of scientific instruments and precision. Key partners in this project have been the Algonquin peoples, upon whose territory Ingenium resides.

At SIC 2024 we invite you to reflect on these and other issues related to scientific instrument studies. As is customary at SIC symposia, we welcome all proposals for sessions, papers or posters on any topic dealing with the history of scientific instruments. We particularly encourage scholars from diverse disciplinary and geographical backgrounds to explore and enrich the study of scientific instruments.

For all information on the format of presentations and on how to apply, please visit this website