By Dr James SumnerLecturer in History of Technology at the University of Manchester



A conversation with Dr James Sumner, Lecturer in History of Technology at the University of Manchester, who will be hosting ‘How do we tell the history of science?’ session at Science Communication Conference on Friday 19 June 2015.

Why is the history of science important for science communication?

Nowadays, the history of science is no longer an isolated topic which is rarely discussed with scientists. Historians today work increasingly with public audiences, contributing to events such as the British Science Festival and Bright Club, and collaborating with museums. They also develop oral history work with scientists, engineers and others whose past experience is important to how we discuss and promote science for the future.  


Tell us about the session you’re chairing at the Science Communication Conference.

How do we tell the history of science?”, a session at this year’s Science Communication Conference in Manchester, features a panel of historians and curators from around the UK who will discuss current projects and raise such questions as:

  • how can we use the roles of science and technology in wider social history to connect with audiences who would not normally think of themselves as “interested in science”?
  • how can historians’ experience in surveying and archiving memories, sites and practices help in understanding and explaining what “doing science” is really like?
  • historians traditionally distrust simple stories, hero figures, and the automatic celebration of science. Is this simply “spoiling everybody’s party”, insisting on pedantic detail and rejecting some of the most useful tools for engagement? Or is it, as some scientists agree, important to have a rounded view of how science develops if we want to engage realistically with our audiences?
  • how can the science communicators of the present day use research on the history of science communication itself? Do communication approaches developed to suit past aims and audiences become relevant again as policies and constraints change?
  • and what can history (and the wider humanities) learn from techniques pioneered for STEM fields?

How will the session be structured?

Most of the session will be taken up by audience questions and general discussion: we’re keen to hear the views and suggestions of people from across the science communication community – particularly those who are new to history.

How can we find out more about the session?

Take a look at the session webpage to find out more about our panel, current and recent projects, and opportunities in the field.

If you have a question for discussion which you would like the panel to think about, you're welcome to send it in advance, either email or tweet me @JamesBSumner.

Image credit: Wellcome Library, London. A lecture on pneumatics at the Royal Institution, London. Coloured etching by J. Gillray, 1802.

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