Go back to article: Ventriloquised voices: the Science Museum and the Hartree Differential Analyser


This article builds on previous literature on museums and material culture by presenting an examination of the changing stories that a particular object — a rebuilt version of Douglas Hartree’s Differential Analyser — has been used to tell in the Science Museum, London. The analogy of ventriloquism is introduced to explore the ways that the object has been presented and interpreted in the Museum. It is used to illuminate how objects can carry the various meanings, interests, and prejudices (conscious and unconscious) of the human actors involved in their creation, collection and display. The article describes how the voices ‘ventriloquised’ through Hartree’s rebuilt ‘Trainbox’ have imbued this later version of the machine with the physical and instrumental functions of the original Analyser to make the object ‘fit’ with varying stories of computation, differential analysis, and models. The paper argues that the voices ventriloquised through the Trainbox have turned the object into the ‘material polyglot’ that sits in the Information Age gallery of the Science Museum today. The article concludes with the question of whether we can truly understand how objects change at the ‘hands-on’ level in museums, without including the simultaneous stories that an object shares with its audiences.

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/181005/001