Turin – Museo Nazionale del Cinema
I think this might be my favorite museum. Housed in a former synagogue, the museum contains sections on the history of the moving image and the history of photography, followed by much more on the history of specific films and film genres. The current exhibition focuses on animals in the cinema.
The historical section allows you to examine a wide range of optical devices spanning over 200 years. This is the opportunity to see how these magic lanterns and these highly publicized panoramic spectacles of the 18th and 19th centuries actually functioned. My children (4 and 9 at the time) were happily occupied for over an hour and I would have stayed three.
You can also take the elevator up to a balcony offering you a view of the whole town and the surrounding countryside (for a fee). Closed Tuesday but open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tickets € 10 (adult), € 8 (reduced price) and € 3 (6-18 years old).
Florence – Museo Galileo
The museum has several rooms that focus on the sciences of most interest to Galileo, including astronomy and movement. They even have two Galileo telescopes and a collection of objects from his patrons, the Medici. However, the collection is much more than that, comprising a celestial globe of medieval origin, planetariums showing a geocentric model of the universe, Robert Dudley’s navigation instruments and various devices for making science exhibits in the Salon des Lumières. . There is a special exhibition on the use of photography in science. Open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Tuesday from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tickets € 9 (adult), € 5.50 (6-15 years) or € 22 (family 4 people).
Amsterdam – Dolhuys / Van de Geest Museum
Housed in a medieval building that was once a leper colony, plague house, and asylum, this museum (like the Bethlem Museum of the Mind) explores both the history of mental illness and its treatment. The museum also examines the link between artists and mental illness. The exhibits are interactive and aim to give a sense of the experience of mental illness. (Thanks to Aida Keane for the suggestion.) Closed Mondays. Open Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Tickets from € 7.50 to € 10.
Terassa, Barcelona – Museu de la Ciencia i de la Tecnica de Catalunya
This museum is outside of Barcelona and will therefore require the use of public transport. Recommended by fellow science historian and resident of Barcelona, Oliver Hochadel, the collections are housed in an industrial building and cover a wide range from the history of medicine to the history of household technology. Highlights include an exhibition on the history of computing and one on the technology of textile production. The museum currently hosts an exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci’s inventions. Limited hours in summer, Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tickets € 4.50 (adults) and € 3.50 (reduced price).
Washington, DC: National Air and Space Museum:
While I love the Smithsonian Institute and the Natural History Museum, this is by far my favorite museum in the US capital. Maybe some will find the party tone a bit too much, but it’s hard not to be impressed when a few steps from the entrance you can see Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St Louis and walk up to two space capsules. The museum’s website is also great if you’re interested in aviation history and space exploration but won’t be in the area. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5.30 p.m., extended until 7.30 p.m. for much of the summer. Free entry.
Other sites with a history of science content:
Download an Edinburgh science history tour from curieuxedinburgh.org or visit one of the city’s many anatomical museums; the Bakken Museum in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is devoted to the history of electricity; the Boston Museum of Science is currently hosting an exhibit on the history of disease control; Harvard’s Natural History Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts houses historical collections, including the incredible Blaschka glass models of sea creatures created in the 19th century.
Juliana Adelman teaches history at Dublin City University