People Power at the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford

On 20th November, Sally Frampton led the Oxford wing of Constructing Scientific Communities in running ‘People Power’, an evening event devoted to citizen science past and present, held in the beautiful surroundings of the Museum of the History of Science. Open to all, the evening was part of ‘Being Human’, a nationwide Festival of the Humanities sponsored by the British Academy and the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Over the space of two weeks, a host of Universities and other institutions across the country ran a diverse range of public events, showcasing the best of humanities research and demonstrating its relevance to everyday life.

The evening began with an introduction from Prof. Sally Shuttleworth, who introduced the Constructing Scientific Communities project. Prof. Shuttleworth outlined how the evening would reflect the project’s objectives: to show how 19th and 21st century perspectives on citizen science can be usefully brought together.

This was followed by two short talks on the history of citizen science; Will Abberley discussed amateur animal psychology in Victorian Britain and Sally Frampton introduced the important role of the public within the history of vaccination.

Victoria Van Hyning, resident humanist at the Zooniverse, then brought things up-to-date, talking about Zooniverse, what makes citizen science tick,and how to create research from clicks. Victoria focused on the Zooniverse’s increasing number of humanities projects, including Operation War Diary and a soon to be launched collaboration with Tate Britain. Victoria also drew attention to the fascinating We Need Us, an online art project, in which live data from the Zooniverse is being manipulated to produce an ever-changing visual representation of the information being inputted.

True to the spirit of citizen science, the night was interactive in format, and following the talks, audience members were invited to try out three different activities taking place across the Museum. In the Museum basement Will Abberley invited participants to make their own investigations into animal psychology as audience members divulged anecdotes about their own pets. In the entrance hall the Zooniverse team were on hand to introduce audience members to the world of citizen science, giving people the opportunity to try a variety of different Zooniverse projects. Meanwhile upstairs participants were divided into teams to play the Unbelievable Truth of Medical History, in which they were challenged to sort fact from fiction and past from present from within the world of medicine. To give an overview of the night we’ve produced a whistle-stop tour which you can view in the video below.

An enjoyable evening concluded with a highly productive ‘reverse Q&A’, in which Prof. Shuttleworth and other team members asked the audience for their thoughts. A lively discussion ensued; audience members debated the effect of citizen science on the status of the profession and the applicability of crowdsourcing to other areas of research and practice outside of science. The enthusiasm of the audience demonstrated that people power was certainly in action all night!

Photo credit: Museum of the History of Science, University of Oxford
Video credit: