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FA-252602-17
The Microscope and the Language of Wonder in Victorian Literature
Meegan Kennedy Hanson, Florida State University

Grant details: https://securegrants.neh.gov/publicquery/main.aspx?f=1&gn=FA-252602-17

Looking at things with difficulty: Canada balsam and the Common Objects of the Microscope (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: Looking at things with difficulty: Canada balsam and the Common Objects of the Microscope
Author: Meegan Kennedy
Abstract: The Rev. J. G. Wood notes, in his popular book Common Objects of the Microscope (London, 1861), “Many seeds can be well examined when mounted in Canada balsam, the manner of performing which task is simple enough, and yet is often very perplexing to a beginner. Very little apparatus is required. … The great di?culty in mounting objects in Canada balsam is to keep them free from air bubbles; but by proceeding in the following manner, very little di?culty will be found.” In this passage, ostensibly about examining seeds, Wood is actually remarking upon one of the most commonly used substances of the microscopist’s practice, Canada balsam. This is a turpentine made from the sap of (as the name suggests) the balsam ?r tree of Canada. It was used for mounting microscopic slides and for rendering microscopic objects transparent because pure dry Canada balsam has a very high refractive index, similar to crown glass.Wood’s book is founded on this quintessential paradox of nineteenth-century microscopy, its juxtaposition of popular access and elite skill. Canada Balsam is an ideal lens through which to examine microscopy’s (and Wood’s) mashup of ease and di?culty, man of the street and of the laboratory. This substance acts not only as glue and preservative but as an actual lens as well: Wood, speaking to a broad audience, does not scorn “those penny microscopes, composed of a pill-box and a drop of Canada balsam, which are hawked about the streets by the ingenious and deserving manufacturer.” While this familiar unguent was also a crucial ingredient in a popular cough syrup and in the almost mythical “Balm of Gilead,” Canada Balsam was perhaps most valuable as a export to microscopists: this “common object” of Canada thus preserving the “common objects” -- and the rare ones, too -- of England.
Date: 11/18/17
Conference Name: North American Victorian Studies Association

Circulating microscopy: The Quekett Microscopical Club, the Postal Microscopic Society, and Microscopic Periodical Culture (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: Circulating microscopy: The Quekett Microscopical Club, the Postal Microscopic Society, and Microscopic Periodical Culture
Author: Meegan Kennedy
Abstract: The Microscopical Society of London was founded in 1839 to promote microscopical science, achieving chartered status as the Royal Microscopical Society in 1866. In 1865, the Quekett Microscopical Club was founded as an amateur alternative (“club”) to the RMS. But the divide was blurry: the membership overlapped, and Quekett meetings often consisted of outings and comic songs as well as informative sessions. If the RMS and Quekett circulated microscopy through their meetings, both also did so by publishing journals. The Transactions of the Microscopical Society of London appeared in 1844, replacing an earlier journal. A reader’s suggestion in Harkwicke’s Science Gossip, taken up by M. C. Cooke, sparked the Quekett, whose Journal of Microscopy began in 1868. The title of “circulating microscopy” best belongs to the Postal Microscopical Club, educating provincial microscopists from 1873. The PMS not only produced a journal but its members met virtually, via postal circulation of microscopic slides along various “circuits.” This paper examines the status of the amateur microscopist circulating in mid-Victorian science.
Date: 11/10/17
Conference Name: History of Science Society


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