Handwritten correspondence with Albert Einstein, early x-rays and videos of 1930s operating theatres are among the more than 600 images, videos and historical documents brought together by the European Library in a virtual exhibition entitled Science & Machines – Scientific and technological development since 1800.
Modern railroads, electric lights, airplanes and automobiles: these are just some of the notable 19th and 20th century inventions highlighted in this exhibition. During this time of rapid progress, the potential of science and technology to improve every aspect of daily life seemed to be limitless.
“The science and technology of the 19th and 20thcentury is now rapidly disappearing from view. The Eiffel Tower still stands as a symbol of technological pride but many factory buildings have been torn down and early industrial processes replaced by improved ones. A more critical attitude towards science and technology – first voiced in the 1960s – may make us forget to which extent science and technology were (and still are) embedded in the very foundations of our modern society,” says Geert VanPaemel, a physicist who is professor of history of science and science communication at the University of Leuven (Belgium), who supports the European Library in this effort.
“This virtual exhibition brings again to light many of the hopes and beliefs of former generations. They stand as testimonies to some of our own basic beliefs in the possibility of a better world to be constructed by man and make us reflect on the path taken by Western society and the future which may be in store,” he adds.
Vanpaemel specialises in the cultural analysis of scientific authority among various social groups and has published on the role of universities and scientific societies, the popularisation of science, the emergence of laboratory culture and the relationship between science and art.
Featured image credit: Science Museum, London, Wellcome Images. Legend: Photograph of a radiograph of hand taken by Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen.