Category Archives: Reviews

What we can remember (so it must have been good) …a BSHS 2014 retrospective

Well it’s over a month now since BSHS 2014 in St Andrews and the CHSTM PhD office has pretty much returned to what counts for normal in the summer. In the post-conference season lull (August) the office is pretty much empty;  it’s not that everyone is on holiday (though we’d all like to be), we’re all just suffering looming deadlines of varying degrees of gravity in seclusion. My own personal response to the self-enforced solitude and increasing deadline anxiety is to keep reminding myself exactly what I’ve done with my summer. Listing the year’s events doesn’t work all that well at allaying ‘the fear’ but now I’ll bolster the ameliorative effects of my personal tick-list by writing a conference review unasked (this isn’t elaborate procrastination how dare you, I’m an academic good Samaritan!) I’ll remind the other CHSTM PhD attendees (and delegates at large) of what we did at BSHS, why it was good, and why yes we do deserve a holiday even if we can’t have one till October?!10516620_10100197565211755_5522679324595113420_n

So which CHSTM PhDs went? Myself, Stuart, Cameron, Sam, Andrew, Camilla and Alice White – yes I know she’s at Kent but she was assumed to be ONE OF US several times at BSHS by other delegates, so I’m including her here. All of us, except Camilla, stayed in a self-catered flat in St Andrews, foregoing the student accommodation in favour of the ability to make decent coffee, play Quidditch on the Playstation (well except me), and go running each morning (well that was just me). Our little flat thus formed an impromptu reunion of some of the core volunteers of last year’s ICHSTM all glorying in our positions of zero responsibility (except Sam who gloried in making all the audio and visual happen).

So what was good about BSHS 2014? Well quite a lot really. St Andrews is a lovely place for a conference, and whilst the weather didn’t entirely play ball, any rain could be made up for with the distracting sea views. The opportunity for a whiskey tasting and a Ceilidh must also certainly be listed amongst this year’s high points.

The conference featured several concurrent sessions on varying themes which demonstrated the breadth of the history of science field fairly accurately. The inclusion of a wider variety of papers covering science communication and museology was refreshing, with the special sessions on Horizon @ 50 creating a valuable space for the discussion of science communication with cultural history and media history. It was certainly a shame that CHSTM’s Jia-O was unable to attend (though as the new Web Master she made it possible for us all to attend by sorting out that online form).

Pleasingly, gender quietly emerged as a theme, discussed with more or less rigorousness. Though the tendency to read the inclusion of gender as a call to ‘add women and stir’ seems to still be prevalent in some quarters, others, such as CHSTM’s Camilla used it analytically to great effect.

Twitter was a key element of this year’s BSHS, with a steady stream of tweets providing commentary, questions, photos and discussions during and after the papers. Twitter proved valuable particularly because so many interesting sessions occurred simultaneously and physics has failed to provide a solution to the common conference conundrum of ‘which session do I attend, oh god, there are three good ones on now!?’. At times we even managed to ask questions in other sessions with other Twitter devotees kindly giving voice to queries from a different building, and then attempting to supply the answer in fewer than 140 characters. Luckily there was plenty of time in the programme for socialising, and meeting all the people whose sessions you wished you could have been in. I lost count of the number of conversations started with “I wasn’t at your paper but it looked very interesting from the abstract/on Twitter…”

So what can I say to finish this rambling review? Well a massive thank you (on behalf of all the CHSTM PhDs) to Arik who committed blood-sacrifice – busted his arm – for the sake of the conference. And also a thank you to the other volunteers and organisers. We’re all looking forward to Swansea 2015.

Post by Hannah Elizabeth

BSHS PG 2014 Round-up

A conference to kick start the new term:

BSHS PG conference, Leeds 8-10 January

Once the Christmas bloating subsided and New Year’s hangovers were abated with the joy of new Sherlock, the CHSTM crowd descended upon the BSHS postgrad conference in Leeds. The conference began on a Wednesday afternoon, with one of the first sessions featuring who I would deem our seasoned speakers: Sam and Stuart. Delivering papers on ocean science and geopolitics at Gibraltar and the ‘White Heat’ of Tory science respectively, this lively session highlighted the close relationship between the state and the history of science and technology. It was a great start to proceedings alongside a paper on colonial cartography by Elizabeth Haines of Royal Holloway and a paper on the psychological testing used in the British Army during the Second World War by Alice White from Kent (an honorary CHSTMer due to Alice’s enthusiasm for visiting Manchester).

At the same time, Hannah gave her paper on the construction of HIV-Positive identities in Just Seventeen magazine in the Sex and Sexualised Diseases session, which was well received.

Camilla spoke in a parallel session she organised on Philosophy and Representation in Physics, on what art can tell us about CERN.

Kath also spoke on Wednesday afternoon, providing us with an insight into her research into Siemens (the UK company) during the First World War, and the tensions arising from their dual Anglo-German identity.

With the exception of fellow rookie, Andrew Ball (one of our new members), the CHSTMers had a relaxing day of listening to a variety of papers on Thursday, ranging from Adrian James Kirwan’s excellent paper on Ireland’s early telegraph wires, to Oliver Marsh’s entertaining, Feynmanesque delivery of his talk on media myths of Carl Sagan and Richard Feynman. In the Agriculture session, Andrew presented us with an overview of what his thesis will tackle, and we all enjoyed his slides of abattoir floor plans!

After a wine fuelled conference dinner…

conference dinner fun

…it was down to Jia-Ou and I to take on the ‘hangover shift’ on Friday morning but fortunately we had a good turnout for our Politics in the Museum session, and we took some astute questions from what I am grateful was an alert audience! Alice Haigh also spoke in our session, and the CHSTMers in attendance were all fascinated to learn about social attitudes to the masses at Bethnal Green Museum in the mid-Victorian period. The final session of the conference was a marathon session in which two parallel sessions were amalgamated into one. Andrew Black delivered an insightful paper reflecting on contemporary issues on his research into the Medical Research Council, and the politics of researching chronic fatigue syndrome.

We’d like to thank those at Leeds for an excellent conference, and if you would like to find out more about any of the CHSTMers papers, our  contact details are available on our profile pages.

Posted by Erin

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This software will change your life

OK, perhaps the title is a bit strong, but if you use photos of archival sources in your research you’ll get what I mean relatively quickly.

During my Masters – when I was fiddling about with Windows Photo Viewer, swearing at my laptop whilst it crashed because I was trying to find something and had inadvertently opened 42 different windows of Photo Viewer – I kept thinking that there must be a better way of viewing photos of primary documents.

“It would be so much easier if I could put them in a PDF.” I moaned, as my laptop began bleating pitifully, because I had 5 different “Explorer” windows open and was trying to differentiate between 7 copies of a photo called “DCM_1001_1519”.

On starting my PhD, I realised that this could not continue, and I’d have to find a way of doing it that was relatively quick and easy.

I had trialled various free PDF converters during my MA, but none of them were particularly easy to use (or quick, or free for longer than a month).

Recently, however, I found an excellent piece of software that has made everything much easier, and solved a lot of problems (my laptop still occasionally bleats at me, but this is one of the many special little things about it that gives it “Character”).

The software is called PDF Mate – Free PDF Merger (I’ll agree that it’s hardly an auspicious name), but it allows you to select any group of photos, and it’ll stitch them, in that order, into a PDF document which you can name in any way you like.

So instead of having files and files of photos like this:


I have files like these:


This software makes things much easier for a number of reasons.

Not only can I rotate all the photos once they’re in the PDF almost instantly (something that can take 30 minutes if you ask Windows to rotate each photo file individually), I can keep a consistent zoom across all the pages of the documents, jump to any page I like, skip through useless portions of documents quickly, and it’s easy to return to the page I was at (without having to remember that I was reading  “DCM_1001_4578” in a file called “PREM 11/4589”).

The best thing about turning the photos into a PDF, though, is that once you’ve done that, you can download this nifty little piece of freeware, and compress your files without loss of quality.

The only thing that technology could do for me now is to make some OCR software decent enough to interpret photos of hand-written Xeroxed carbon copies taken by someone who’s been in a windowless archive for 7 hours straight and is shaking due to an overload of caffeine…

But then I suppose, you can’t have everything.

Post by Stuart Butler