The Next Level of Play : How Cartesian Devils, Volcanos, and Quantum Toys Taught General Science at Harvard

Altough teaching science is considered a serious business, toys and sometimes entertaining spectacles have been at the very heart of such an endeavour over the past 300 years. Using, among other things, the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments as a material historical source, this article describes how the "magical" effects of a Cartesian Devil or a solar microscope, the deafening explosion of a volcano, the building (and breaking) of a measuring apparatus, and the playing with mathematical and quantum toys diligently imparted vast areas of scientific knowledge to Harvard University students between 1730 and 1970. Playing with science - and with scientific instruments - is examined here as a valued pedagogical strategy deployed by generations of teachers, who saw in the material culture of science a renewable resource for training the mind and acquiring manual skills. It also allows us to study an important collection of objects from an unusual perspective.

This content has been updated on 11 July 2019 at 16 h 40 min.