About the Collection

Since its inception in 1948, various Harvard departments and private benefactors have added material to the original nucleus of the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments, which now contains over 20,000 objects dating from about 1400 to the present. A broad range of scientific disciplines are represented, including astronomy, navigation, horology, surveying, geology, calculating, physics, biology, medicine, psychology, electricity, and communication. Significant instruments, made obsolete by new technologies, continue to be incorporated. Many of the documents detailing the purchase and use of the instruments have been preserved, and are available for research in the Collection's adjunct library.

In an effort to provide greater access to these important objects and records, the Department of History of Science has instituted the use of a state-of-the-art data management system, including an exciting online component called Waywiser. Using Waywiser, online visitors can simply browse and discover the Collection, quickly search for information about particular items, or enjoy groups of instruments pre-selected by Collection curators in conjunction with special themes or exhibitions.


As part of his participation in "University as Collector," a recent conference sponsored by the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Peter Galison used several celebrated objects from the core of the CHSI to illustrate the unique role that acts of collecting have played (and continue to play!) in the furtherance of Harvard's educational mission.


"University as Collector" featured in the Harvard Gazette.