XXXIX Scientific Instrument Symposium

14-19 September 2020
London, UK

Given the continuing uncertainty over what the longer-term consequences of the global pandemic will mean for our hosts in the UK and our community around the world, our view is that we should give our symposium organisers and speakers as much certainty as possible.

We have therefore decided to shift from a physical to a fully virtual meeting during the originally scheduled dates of 14-19 September 2020. We will develop plans for formats and timing to make the virtual conference accessible and enjoyable for as many people as possible.

On behalf of the LOC and the SIC Board we would like to thank you all for your continued patience with this changing and challenging situation, and particularly thank the conference speakers for their flexibility and the work they have already done in preparing compelling abstracts.

We will also keep the option open to arrange an informal workshop meeting in London at some stage - these are easier to arrange at short notice than the Symposia, which have become very large in recent years thanks to the SIC’s ever-growing success. In the meantime, a digital meeting will be a ‘first’ for the SIC in its almost-70-year history, and we hope will be a new success for our vibrant global community.

Symposium theme: Spaces for Instruments

The ‘spatial turn’ in history of science and historical geography has seen fruitful exploration of the situatedness of knowledge production and practice. Instrument historians have paid close attention to how instruments have been made, used and understood in a variety of spaces.

This year’s theme reflects some current interests of our host institutions. The Science Museum’s new Science City 1550-1800 gallery explores how scientific instrument making and experimental practice shaped, and were shaped by, the growing city of London. The forthcoming Royal Museums Greenwich Royal Observatory 350 project will explore the legacy of one of the most iconic sites in instrument history. Museums are also in their own right significant spaces for the preservation, study and public interpretation of scientific instruments.

The theme also builds on excellent discussions at recent SIC Symposia which have explored instruments at the crossroads, infrastructure, global/local and east/west narratives.

We welcome proposals for 20-minute papers that address this theme.

Topics to explore could include, but are not limited to:

  • Case studies of particular spaces of practice, including laboratories, observatories, workshops and factories, teaching spaces, instruments in the field

  • Instruments crossing between spaces during their lives (from manufacture, to different uses, to obsolescence)

  • The uses and roles of instruments in contested spaces and encounters, including perspectives on colonialism and conflict

  • Instruments in public and popular spaces, including how such spaces feature instruments today

  • Instruments in religious and secular spaces

  • The role of instruments in crossing intellectual spaces

As always, we will also welcome proposals for sessions, papers or posters on any topic dealing with the material culture of science.

Abstracts should be submitted by 29 February 2019.
Please send your abstracts using the SIC abstract template.

Abstracts should be sent to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with the subject heading Scientific Instrument Symposium – Submission.

Round Tables

For the 2020 Symposium we also welcome suggestions for round-table discussions.  These should be on topics of interest to the SIC membership in general – for example trends in instrument scholarship, controversial issues, future directions for the SIC, and many more. The Programme Committee will select the most promising topics and will further develop the format, something with which we’re experimenting at the London meeting, just as we experimented with Pitch Sessions at the Leiden and Havana meetings.

Round table topic suggestions should be submitted by 29 February 2019.

Please send your suggestion(s) in an email (you do not need to use the SIC template) to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with the subject heading Scientific Instrument Symposium – Roundtable.

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