Category Archives: Material Culture of Science

Remaking a local object: The Kirschmann coaxial colour mixer

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been building a 3d-printed model of a nineteenth-century psychological instrument used to demonstrate the nature of colour perception. The model, and, to a certain extent, the effects that it creates, can be seen in this video, though the actual blending effect is smoother and more coherent than the camera is able to show:

The project is partly a way to explore Toronto’s place within the early history of psychology. The instrument, sold beginning around the turn of the twentieth century by the Zimmermann workshop in Leipzig Germany as Farbenmisch-Apparat nach Kirschmann (“Colour mixing apparatus after Kirschmann’s design”), was devised, in part at least, by August Kirschmann (1860-1932) a German-born scientist who led the recently founded Psychological Laboratory at the University of Toronto from 1893 to 1908.

Kirschmann’s apparatus (left) as it appears in the 1893 Zimmermann catalogue of psychological apparatus. The illustration shows only part of the apparatus which I’ve taken to calling the “masking wheels”. Its description says that the apparatus resembles item 12, the “Rotations-Apparat mit Doppelachsen”, a coaxial disk spinner shown on the right. Digitized images are from the digitized catalogues of the Max Planck Virtual Library.

Kirschmann’s apparatus (left) as it appears in the 1893 Zimmermann catalogue of psychological apparatus. The illustration shows only part of the apparatus which I’ve taken to calling the “masking wheels”. Its description says that the apparatus resembles item 12, the “Rotations-Apparat mit Doppelachsen”, a coaxial disk spinner shown on the right. Images are from the digitized catalogues of the Max Planck Virtual Library.

The original instrument, which appears to incorporate two nested axles, would require a machinist’s skills and tools to reproduce. The model is made from various 3d-printed parts, copper gas pipe (easily cut to length with a 10$ pipe cutter), skateboard bearings, and various common nuts and bolts. It is meant to be very easy to make. It isn’t meant to replicate the appearance of the original instrument but rather to function in a similar way.

Exploded View

An exploded view of the model. 3d-printed parts are indicated in blue. Using a combination of 3d-printed fittings and other parts seems to make good use of current consumer level FDM printers.

Colour at the turn of the twentieth century

Over the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the practice of experimental psychology was taking hold in laboratories across Europe and North America. The sensory physiology of colour perception was an important area of research. Sight is a particularly important channel for gathering information about the world. Various forms of colour blindness, for instance, provided clues towards understanding the physiology of sight as well as an important example of the varieties of individual sense perception. For some, experimental psychology also promised a new avenue from which to approach philosophical questions about beauty and aesthetic pleasure.

August Kirschmann

A photograph of Kirschmann taken while he taught at the University of Toronto. Image provided by UTARMS.

August Kirschmann did his graduate studies in the Leipzig laboratory of Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920). Wundt is generally considered the founder of experimental psychology as a discipline distinct from philosophy on the one hand and physiology on the other. Kirschmann’s thesis, completed in 1891, explored visual phenomena such as brightness and colour contrast. In 1893, Kirschmann came to Toronto to serve as a laboratory assistant in the recently-established Psychological Laboratory at the University of  Toronto. The Laboratory’s American founder, James Mark Baldwin (1861-1934, also a former student of Wundt)  had departed that year for a more prestigious position at Princeton University. Kirschmann, who at first knew little English, found himself in charge of the new laboratory. Over the next decade and a half, numerous students at the laboratory took up Kirschmann’s investigations into colour.

A material culture of colour

The practice of experimental psychology depended heavily on the development of specialized instrumentation. While working as an assistant in Wundt’s Laboratory, for instance, Kirschmann co-authored a paper on the control hammer, an instrument used to calibrate the Hipp Chronoscope, an important tool for precision timing.  His graduate research produced at least two technologies: a means to produce near monochromatic light using coloured filters, and a simple photometer. Both were elaborated during his period in Toronto and were adopted by other experimenters.

He also, over the course of his career, created several instruments that were put into commercial production by the Zimmermann workshop in Leipzig. The colour mixing apparatus, which he developed during his time in Toronto, was one of these. From this perspective, the instrument can be seen to represent a process through which the newly-established laboratories in North America began to contribute to the material culture of experimental psychology.

When scientists began performing quantified experiments on the nature of colour perception in the nineteenth century, they faced the challenge of how to standardize colour and lighting in such a way as to produce results that were credible and reproducible. Among the most common of the instruments used to study and teach about colour vision was the spinning disk, of which the colour mixing apparatus is one, somewhat elaborate, example.

The value of these instruments was straightforward: Physically mixing artist’s pigments to produce a given colour is a cumbersome process. Mixing spectral colours—that is colours obtained through the diffraction of white light—requires complicated equipment that is (or at least was) impractical to use in an experimental setting. If, on the other hand, two or more shades are painted on sectors of a disk, and the disk is spun with sufficient speed, the shades will appear to blend into an even mix of the constituent colours—one example of the flicker-fusion phenomena.

Spinning disks, in various forms, represent a key part of the material culture of early experimental psychology and are well represented in the early catalogues of scientific instruments. Elsewhere, I’ve discussed the variable colour mixer, an instrument which allowed experimenters to vary a blend of colour on a spinning wheel in precise increments—the U of T psychological collection contains several of this type most of which were built locally. With such an instrument, an experimenter could, for instance, probe the threshold of the eyes sensitivity to colours of different wavelengths under different lighting conditions—a phenomenon known as the Purkinje effect.

Variable Mixer

Two variable colour mixers. The instrument on the left is a precision experimental instrument made by the Zimmermann workshop in Leipzig, Germany most likely in the first decade of the 20th century. The second instrument was likely made in a workshop at the University of Toronto.

Whereas the variable mixer was, by design, an experimental instrument, Kirschmann’s coaxial mixer was a didactic instrument  meant to demonstrate the constituent colours of white light as well as various phenomena that occur when mixing colours on a spinning disk. Like other instruments from the period, for instance mineral tubes which fluoresce when a current is applied, it is meant both to demonstrate a scientific phenomenon and to provoke an aesthetic reaction by showing “surprising phenomena” (überraschende Erscheinungen). 

Remaking an instrument

A basic colour wheel is a simple machine. Art students studying colour theory are still assigned experiments that involve spinning coloured disks on electric screwdrivers or kitchen mixers. Kirschmann’s coaxial apparatus is slightly more complicated since it involves two disks spinning at different rates. The “masking wheel” spins in front of the “colour disk”, hiding a certain portion of the coloured wheel and establishing a mix of colour. The slight difference in the rate of rotation means that the portion of the colour disk viewed through the holes on the masking wheel changes from moment to moment. This creates a colour changing effect that depends on the type of masking wheel—the Zimmermann catalogue shows six different wheels, I have so far recreated five of these.

The main challenge in building the model was a lack of information . When I started the project, my only source of information was a very general description of the instrument found in the digitized Zimmermann catalogues of the Max Planck Virtual Library. These also provide the  black and white illustrations shown in the second image of this post. No historian that I had spoken to at that point had seen one of these coaxial mixer.

Based on this information, I more or less understood how the instrument worked and set about drawing up the 3d printed fittings using the SketchUp software—an easy-to-use 3d modelling program whose basic version is free. Midway through this process, I had some very good luck. Looking around a Department of Psychology storage room I happened to open an unmarked wooden box and discovered (or rather rediscovered since members of the earlier UTMuSi cataloging project were aware of it) a version of the coaxial colour mixer. I have since catalogued it.

UTSIC Kirschmann Apparatus

Instrument 2015.psy.160 in the UTSIC collection, the Kirschmann Coaxial Colour Wheel. Note that the disk showing simultaneous complimentary colours has been recreated in a different, perhaps improved, format. The model provides an opportunity to study the difference between these two disks.

At first I somewhat carelessly imagined this instrument to be a prototype or a specially-made version of the instrument shown in the 1893 catalogue. Later, as I went through the digitized catalogues in the Virtual Museum in more detail, I discovered that this was a later version—a model made in the form of a lantern slide which was meant to be placed in front of a slide projector to be shown to a classroom of students. This instrument appears in the 1912 Zimmermann catalogue. It will take substantially more research to determine precisely when these instruments appeared since the collection of digitized Zimmermann catalogues in the Max Planck virtual library is incomplete.

Kirschmann Apparatus for Projection

The version of the Kirschmann coaxial colour mixer used with a projector. This image is from the digitized catalogues of the Max Planck Virtual Library.

This object in the UTSIC collection provided a wealth of information such as pulley ratios and the precise shape of the mask disks. It also showed the colours involved and their arrangement though this is something of a guess since the pigments may have faded unpredictably with time and since the original colour wheel was shattered. It allowed me to make a first model of the instrument which shows some version of the effect. I won’t digress on the building and design process here. If there’s any interest in recreating it, I can post some detailed instructions along with various templates and the .stl files for the 3d-printed parts.

If I’ve taken something useful from this project, it’s a sensitivity to the material culture of colour as it existed at the turn of the twentieth century and as it exists now. This is a period in which calibrated colour sets were only just becoming commercially available and international standards for colour and illumination had not yet been established. Much of Kirschmann’s research involved advancing the development of accurate colours. I’m slowly putting together a journal article on the subject.

The creation of this model highlights the vast technological development that has taken place in this area.  The transparent coloured disc used in the Department of Psychology’s instrument would have been extremely tedious to produce, with each tiny sector cut separately from gelatin sheet and pasted into place with no gaps or overlap.   Recreating it was simply a matter of sampling a digital photograph and adjusting the colours to be as saturated as possible. After that, I laid out the coloured sectors in a drawing program and then laser printed the image onto transparency sheet. Several layers of colour-printed transparency sheets glued to a disk of thin acrylic  (cut from a sheet with a Dremel tool) places a good amount of pigment in the path of the transmitted light—possibly more than was available on the original instrument, though it’s hard to tell since the original gelatin sheet seems to have faded over the past hundred years.

The technologies involved in this recreation process, from the CCD in the digital camera, which captures an accurate impression of reflected light as the human eye would perceive it, to the laser printer, capable of representing a vast range of colour though the process of additive-averaging colour mixing, demonstrate our society’s mastery of colour technology—a process of development whose early origins are, to a certain extent, embodied within this historical instrument.

Aesthetic opinions

As a demonstration instrument, Kirschmann’s colour mixing apparatus is, in certain respects, an aesthetic object. As such, it recalls (maybe a little obliquely) Kirschmann’s curious efforts to reground the philosophical discipline of aesthetics in a rigorously scientific study of human perception. Kirschmann had strong opinions on the subject. In a polemical passage on the subject in a paper published around the turn of the century entitled “Conceptions and Laws in Aesthetics”, he claimed that:

All expressions used in aesthetic and art-criticism which can not, unambiguously and without contradiction, be defined in terms of really simple elements…. are nothing but pseudo conceptions; and all distinctions and classifications into which such expressions enter are illegitimate or pseudo-distinctions; and all alleged knowledge based on such conceptions and distinctions is sham-knowledge; and if the originators and propagators adhere to such expressions after they have realized the truth of what is said above, it is not only sham-knowledge, it is then imposition, deception, fraud.

Experimental psychology was to provide these “simple elements”—basic truths about human perception upon which aesthetic judgments were to be grounded and through which opinions were to be articulated with scientific clarity. This program is apparent in the research carried out at the Psychological laboratory at the University of Toronto. For instance, one of Kirschmann’s graduate students, Emma S. Baker, conducted experiments on colour combinations in order to determine the laws underlying aesthetically pleasing contrast.

Kirschmann’s own aesthetic opinions were conservative. He promoted a kind of visual literalism with regards to the depiction of light—a principle, he believed, that the great painters of the past had maintained implicitly. He wrote that:

By cleverly making use of [the law of contrast, the painter] may even raise the intensities of very small, white, yellow, or orange surfaces so as to give the appearance of a certain luminosity, as for instance, in the case of glowing coals and sparks of a smith’s fire, the illuminated windows in an evening landscape, the Alpine glow, etc. But he should never try to paint the flames of candles, lamps, or torches themselves, or the celestial bodies, for this is, with respect to true reproduction of intensities, absolutely impossible.

Kirschmann appreciated Rembrandt’s “somber brown tone” because “the yellow and orange side of the colour manifoldness (brown is always a shade of yellow or orange) admits of the greatest number of intervals between full saturation and the darkest shade.” The impressionist movement, by contrast, sacrificed

all truths of intensity for a certain mannerism in colours. They paint everything in a kind of purplish gray haze, and they call that impressionism, although such impressions can only be obtained by seeing things in a veiled mirror or through a cloud of cigarette-smoke.

Claude_Monet,_Impression,_soleil_levant

“Claude Monet, Impression, soleil levant” by Claude Monet – wartburg.edu. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Claude_Monet,_Impression,_soleil_levant.jpg#/media/File:Claude_Monet,_Impression,_soleil_levant.jpg

Kirschmann was, like many scientists of his day, something of a polymath. He wrote on subjects ranging from logic, to mathematics, to public education—he was a great promoter of the research model embraced by the German universities believing that North American universities should follow that model rather than emphasizing general education.  His forays into aesthetics may be partly explained by the fact that he was a professor of philosophy—the nascent practice of experimental psychology took root in Toronto within the existing Department of Philosophy, as it did elsewhere in Europe and North America.

As with other scientific objects, Kirschmann’s curious demonstration instrument provides a kind of window into the past opening onto a variety of historical themes. It takes us into a period in which practices, developed in the German research system, were being absorbed in North America along with their material accouterments. The study of colour perception was a key area of interest for experimental psychologists. The collection of psychological material at the University of Toronto ought to be considered a key material archive for studying this area. The process of recreating such instruments also deserves consideration as a scholarly research technique.

 

I am very grateful to Gabby Resch and Isaac Record of Semaphore Maker Labs for help on various 3d printing projects as well as to David Pantalony and Christopher Green for their advice on the history of psychology. 

I would also like to thank Michael Spears and Erica Lenton at MADlab at the Gerstein Science Library. U of T students and faculty can use the 3d printers at MADlab for a very reasonable price after taking a simple safety course.

Between text and object: psychological tests as scientific artefacts

Among the various species of objects in the University of Toronto Scientific Instruments Collection (UTSIC.org), the historical psychological tests belonging to the Department of Psychology (few of which have yet been catalogued) are especially interesting as scientific objects. Psychological tests have a hybrid quality. Like published texts, they are authored by researchers and, when successful, are reissued in revised editions. More often than not, they also include various objects, from toys for observing children’s play, to cardboard figurines used in “projective” tests of emotional well-being, to puzzles or mazes testing spatial perception and manual dexterity, to phonograph records used to measure musical ability. The Ontario School Ability Examination Materials (as yet undated) contains the following items:

  • 29 cubes of painted wood
  • 1 “Healy Fernald Puzzle” of varnished wood
  • 1 paper envelope containing “1 Ring Design Card”, “2 Double Design Cards”, “1 Set Coloured Pattern Cards”, “2 Matching Design Cards”
  • 7 varying weights consisting of hollow wooded cylinders filled with led shot
  • 20 dominoes of painted wood

    Contents of the Ontario School Ability Test. Presumably it was fabricated in Toronto. The weighted cylinder at the bottom of the photo has come open revealing that it is filled with led shot and cotton padding,

    Contents of the Ontario School Ability Test. Presumably it was fabricated in Toronto. The weighted cylinder at the bottom of the photo has come open revealing that it is filled with led shot and cotton padding.

In the context of historical evidence, the distinction between “object” and “text” is somewhat artificial. As any historian of print culture will tell you, texts are embodied in complex material objects (most obviously books) whose design and construction is bound to the history of technology and culture.  Objects, for instance scientific instruments, are most often embedded in a web of texts such as research papers, purchasing catalogues, and instruction manuals.

Psychological testing material further obscures this distinction. A typical test might consist of a combination of documents and other standard objects packed together in a sturdy brown box made of wood and particle board. The tests in the UTSIC collection range from stacks of paper documents to puzzles and other artefacts that are, in principle, little different than common psychological apparatus meant to measure physiological characteristics such as memory or reaction time.

The distinction between text and object is a necessary heuristic that is reflected in the ways we care for historical evidence. Generally speaking, artefacts belong in museum collections, texts go in libraries and archives. Psychological tests tend to end up in the latter. The archives of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), for instance, has an extensive collection of psychological tests. The Center for the History of Psychology at the University of Akron also keeps its tests in a special collection.

The tests belonging to the University of Toronto Department of Psychology seem mostly to have come from a library collection—a number of instructional booklets have been bound with cardboard covers and given library cards. At some point, possibly in the mid-to-late 1950s, the material not already in boxes or cases was carefully bundled in butcher paper and string. It remained in a storage room until the UTSIC project began to examine it around 2009. The UTSIC project has catalogued parts of this collection over the past several years.

Testing material from the Department of Psychology collection. Many were sold in varnished boxes made of wood and particleboard. Others material has been bundled together using brown paper and string.

Testing material from the Department of Psychology collection. Many tests were sold in varnished boxes. Other material has been bundled together with brown paper and string. A number of bundles have not yet been opened.

Recently, I was given some money from the Hewton and Griffin Bursary for Archival Research, supported by the Friends of the Archives of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). This has allowed me to spend some time researching and cataloguing this material. The official purpose of my project is to discover the collection’s history, or “provenance”, for instance which library collection some of this material belonged to.  Much of what I write here comes from several weeks of initial research.

Drawing Boundaries

In trying to incorporate the psychological tests into a collection of objects, one runs into (what I have come to think of as) the “box of pulleys problem” following a long discussion that took place in the early stages of the UTSIC project: What do you do when faced with cataloguing a box of pulleys, or light bulbs, or weights, or some other assortment of (relatively) mundane objects? You could assign each item a separate accession number, filling a separate condition report, photographing each object and adding it separately to the catalogue. Alternately, you could simply catalogue and photograph a “box of pulleys” and put it back on the shelf until you get an email from some historian of technology collecting research for Lifting the burden of history: A cultural history of pulley manufacture in Lower Silesia.

Such compromises are especially important in a project which depends on temporary research assistant positions and volunteer labour. That labour is better spent adding significant objects to the catalogue than picking through boxes of pulleys. Moreover, numerous minor objects add clutter to an online catalogue and obscure more interesting items from the visitor. My current preference is to catalogue even significant items of identical type and make together while giving them separate accession numbers and condition reports.

This issue becomes especially apparent when cataloguing the psychological testing material. In some cases there are many examples of a single test. In others, a single kind of test has many components. The Dominion school test material, published by the Department of Educational Research at the University of Toronto over the first half of the 20th century, includes, among its many test booklets and instructional pamphlets, 93 examples of a practice test for Kindergarten and Grade 1 students and 146 examples of a Group Test of Learning Capacity for Grades 7, 8, and 9. All of this material is paper. Rather than adding these items to the catalogue, my preference would be to inventory such material in an online spreadsheet that is available through the catalogue website.

The frustrating ambiguity of this cataloguing process can be seen in our previous attempts to catalogue parts of this collection. For instance, someone has catalogued several bound instructional booklets that would have been associated with particular tests. While I understand the reasoning behind this, were I to catalogue this material now, I would likely consider these pamphlets simply as documentation associated with particular objects. We typically file instructional material with the objects rather than adding it to the catalogue.

My bias (and I think the nature of the collection in general) is to privileged objects over texts. The University of Toronto, after all, has a world-class library system and archive but few if any well-supported collections of local material culture. (The JCB Grant Anatomy Museum might count as an unusual exception, but it is not accessible to the public.) Given limited time and funding, my work with the collection will involve photographing and cataloguing the more “object-like” tests while creating an overall inventory of the collection for the use of researchers in this field.

Pathways to the past

Several times I’ve found myself groping unsuccessfully for metaphors to capture a quality that artefacts have of refocusing one’s attention on unfamiliar areas. If established sources or well-known narratives create a familiar topography of the past, then objects often provide shortcuts to new vantage points from which to survey a topic.

The psychological test collection, which contains material spanning the 1920s to the 1950s, is a pool of evidence opening onto a number of areas. One involves a recent past which University experts led the community in establishing rigid norms between insiders and outsiders—a fact reflected in the period’s harsh academic lexicon including terms such as “mental hygiene”, “feeblemindedness”, “subnormals”, and “defective children”. Faculty at the University of Toronto played a leading role in Canada’s adoption of the moral hygiene movement which embodied the xenophobic tendencies of mainstream Anglo-Saxon culture in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Form Boards

The four remaining Ferguson form boards.

Consider, for instance, the first psychological test that I have been able to examine in some detail: a small and incomplete collection of four “Ferguson Form Boards”. These are essentially wooden puzzles with irregular holes into which wooden pieces are fit.  A label at the bottom of several boards reveals that they were constructed in November of 1926. Pencil markings on underside of the boards are notes written by researchers to remind themselves about details of administering the tests. Such cryptic markings are fairly common on scientific objects. Two of the initial set of boards, and several pieces of the surviving boards, are missing.  The wood used in three of the boards has shrunk creating noticeable gaps in the surface and causing some pieces to bind. The University of Toronto President’s Report of that year reveals that the boards were created for the Master’s research of Miss J. A. Brown under supervision of Professor Earl Douglas MacPhee. It is unfortunate that no trace of this thesis survives since it might have given details on the boards’ construction, perhaps at a University workshop.

This test, in which subjects were timed in completing boards of varying complexity, were introduced by professor George Oscar Ferguson, Jr. of the University of Virginia in 1920. Ferguson maintained that the test provided an accurate measure of grade level achievement from Grade 1 to the 3rd year of University. [Ferguson 1920, 52] Brown and MacPhee sought to test this claim using a sounder methodology than Ferguson had employed. For instance, rather than choosing students by grade level (a typical Toronto classroom included students of various ages), they selected students based on birth date. Despite finding the tests reliable in the sense that individual subjects obtained similar results over several trials, they found no meaningful correlation between Ferguson test results and other measures of academic achievement. They concluded that the test was clinically useless. [MacPhee and Brown 1930, 34-36]

Brown and MacPhee investigated this test partly in the hope that it might provide a measure of student attainment that was as accurate as existing linguistic tests. This reflected a growing interest in child development and childhood education fueled, initially at least, by public concern over delinquency among public school children. In 1924, a new child study project, supported by the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial and the eugenicist Canadian National Committee for Mental Hygiene (CNCMH), was begun by Dr. William Blatz (1895-1964). The following year, the St. George’s School for Child Study (renamed the institute for Child Study in 1937) was founded at the University of Toronto in a project led by Blatz along with  Prof. Helen McMurchie Bott (b. 1886) , later to establish herself as an authority on child development, and Dr. Clarence. M. Hincks (1885-1964), a medical officer in the Toronto School System who had co-founded the CNCMH with C. K. Clarke, Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto and superintendent of Toronto General Hospital.

The University of Toronto Ferguson Form Boards appeared at a time when the testing of schoolchildren had begun in earnest largely within a eugenic framework which sought to identify and isolate “subnormal” children based on the assumption that low intelligence was associated delinquency. Describing their testing methodology in 1930, Brown and MacPhee noted:

Two typical schools were selected. The basis of this judgement was the per cent of mental defect in these schools. The Mental Hygiene Division of the Toronto Public Health Department has made continuous surveys in the city schools for several years and data were available as to the incidence of mental defect in each of the city schools, and in the school population as a whole. It was assumed that differences in the per cents of subnormals was an adequate measure of difference in the general intellectual level of the school population and two average schools in different sections of the city were chosen. [MacPhee and Brown 1930, 25]

Professor MacPhee’s research projects over the 1920s and 1930s reveal an interest in the classification of schoolchildren. He notably studied “subnormals” in the now notorious asylum for mentally handicapped children in Orillia, Ontario. Brown’s small contribution to this broader project brought her professional success. By 1930, she was employed by the Mental Hygiene Division of the Toronto Department of Health.

The Ferguson Form Boards provide one example of the testing material related to the ongoing study of schoolchildren at the University of Toronto. Dr. William Blatz, the city’s most influential child psychologist who headed the St. George’s School for Child Study from 1925 to 1960, rejected the  association between low intelligence and delinquency even while serving as Research Director for the CNCMH from 1925 to 1935. [Raymond 1991, 37] Even so, rigorous testing remained the norm in child study. The Institute’s “Well Children” project report, published in 1956, lists a considerable battery of tests then in regular use, several of which may still be found in the collection.

The psychological tests used at the Institute of Child Study during the period 1953-1955. [Northway 1956, 85-86]

The psychological tests used, and records kept, at the Institute of Child Study during the period 1953-1955. [Northway 1956, 85-86]

Beyond the testing material used in childhood education, many other forms of research are represented in the testing collection. There is, for instance, a substantial number of tests related to vocational training, evidence of efforts by university researchers to assist industry in selecting and screening employees and in exploring the pathway from classroom to workplace. There is also material related to mental health research. Kira Lussier, currently a graduate student at the IHPST, has described a set of Rorschach testing slides that were likely used for training purposes at the Toronto General Hospital. Ultimately, each of the hundreds of items in the collection is a potential pathway to local meaning.

“Instruments” or “Material Culture”

When the UTSIC project began in 2008, the notion of developing a collection of “scientific instruments” seemed natural. The University had a wealth of  impressive nineteenth and early twentieth century objects that fit nicely into this category. Scientific instruments, particularly “charismatic” items of the brass and glass era like microscopes or orreries, have always lent themselves to collection and display. Moreover, within the field of history and philosophy of science (HPS), the theme of “scientific instruments” has provided a useful common point between the two disciplines.

The collection of psychological tests is an example of a type of instrument that does not  seem naturally suited to the category of scientific instrument. Whether or not this is true—whether a psychological test is a kind of measuring or mapping instrument like a seismometer or an ECG machine—is the sort of question that a philosopher of science would take on. Regardless, such incongruous objects recall others that cannot in any meaningful sense be called instruments but are relevant to an understanding of the changing culture of science and medicine. Textiles such as laboratory attire, the contents of natural history-type collections gathered by the 19th and early 20th century professors of botany, biology, histology or anatomy, or even collections of scientific data on slide film or videotape are a few examples.

Ultimately, one must reconcile competing goals and priorities. Coherence could be an important characteristic of a research collection. On the other hand, it would be unfortunate to ignore the broader material history of science beyond the limits of scientific instruments. In this sense, the psychological tests serve as a reminder of the ways in which scientific projects, and their relationship to cultural movements, may be studied a diverse range of material objects.

Thank you to the Friends of the CAMH archive for supporting this ongoing research. 

Bibliography