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Department of History and Philosophy of Science


Director and Curator, Whipple Museum of the History of Science

Joshua Nall joined the Whipple Museum as Curator of Modern Sciences in 2013, having previously completed his MPhil and PhD in Cambridge HPS. He succeeded Prof. Liba Taub as Director in October 2022. His research focuses on mass media and material culture of the physical sciences after 1800. He has curated a variety of exhibitions and displays, including on globes, science and industry in Cambridge, the history of brewing, and the most curious and controversial objects lurking in the Whipple Museum's stores.

In 2017 he curated the Whipple Museum's special exhibition Astronomy and Empire, which critically addressed the practices and uses of the astronomical and navigational sciences in the British Empire from Cook's voyages in the late 18th century through to its breakup in the 1950s. In 2019 he was the lead curator for the Whipple Museum's 75th anniversary special exhibition on Robert S. Whipple and the Founding of the Whipple Museum.

Nall's first book, News from Mars: Mass Media and the Forging of a New Astronomy, 1860–1910, was published by University of Pittsburgh Press in September 2019. It analyses the varied and often close relationships forged between astronomers and new forms of transatlantic mass media at the turn of the 20th century. Its focus is the era's most public astronomical debate, over whether or not there was evidence of life on Mars. In October 2020 the book was awarded the Philip J. Pauly Prize by the History of Science Society, awarded for the best first book on the history of science in the Americas published between 2017 and 2019.

With Liba Taub and Frances Willmoth, Nall edited the Whipple Museum's second volume of scholarly research based on the Museum's collection, published to mark the Whipple's 75th anniversary in November 2019.

With Boris Jardine, Nall edited the 2022 primary source volume, Victorian Material Culture: Science and Medicine, published by Routledge. You can read the introduction to this volume here.

He is currently a co-investigator on the AHRC-funded project Tools of Knowledge: Modelling the Creative Communities of the Scientific Instrument Trade, 1550–1914, part of an interdisciplinary team applying cutting-edge methods of digital analysis to data from the SIMON instrument-makers dataset to interogate questions relating to the origin, development, and social and economic context of the British instrument trade. He was a co-curator on the project exhibition Craftswomen: Uncovering Hidden Labour in the History of Science, winner of the British Society for the History of Science Exhibiting Excellence Prize 2023 (small exhibitions category).


Research interests

Scientific instruments and models; history of the British instrument trade; forgery; history of astrophysics; history of astrobiology and ET life debates; astronomy and navigation in the British empire; history of the survey sciences; popular science; Victorian scientific journalism; material culture; museums, exhibitions, and expositions in the 19th and 20th century.


Selected publications

‘Seafaring, Enslavement and the Longitude Problem’, in: Victoria Avery and Jake Subryan Richards (eds.), Black Atlantic: Power, People, Resistance (Philip Wilson: 2023): 91–93.

'The Lab in the Museum: Or, Using New Scientific Instruments to Look at Old Scientific Instruments', with Boris Jardine, Centaurus, Vol. 65 (no. 2, 2023): 261–89.

Victorian Material Culture: Science and Medicine, edited with Boris Jardine (Abingdon: Routledge, 2022).

  • A primary source volume with a general introduction, plus introductory headnotes accompany each selected text. You can see the table on contents and read the introduction here.

'Calculation and Conflict: Anniversary Reflections on the Early History of the Royal Astronomical Society', The Observatory, Vol. 141 (no. 1282, June 2021): 101–106.

'Learning from Fake Antique Scientific Instruments', with Boris Jardine and James Hyslop, Museen – Orte des Authentischen? Museums – Places of Authenticity?, edited by Dominik Kimmel and Stefan Brüggerhoff (Mainz: Verlag des Römisch-Germanischen Zentralmuseums, 2020): 375–383.

News from Mars: Mass Media and the Forging of a New Astronomy, 1860–1910 (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019).

The Whipple Museum of the History of Science: Objects and Investigations, to Celebrate the 75th Anniversary of R. S. Whipple's Gift to the University of Cambridge, edited with Liba Taub and Frances Willmoth (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019).

'"Certainly Made by Ramsden": The Long History of the Whipple Museum's Dividing Engine', Bulletin of the Scientific Instrument Society, No. 137 (June 2018): 40–43.

'Constructing Canals on Mars: Event Astronomy and the Transmission of International Telegraphic News', Isis, Vol. 108 (no. 2, June 2017): 280-306.

'Three-Dimensional Models', with Liba Taub, A Companion to the History of Science, edited by Bernard Lightman (Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2016): 572–586.

'Selling by the book: British scientific trade literature after 1800', with Liba Taub, How Scientific Instruments Have Changed Hands, edited by A.D. Morrison-Low, Sara J. Schechner and Paolo Brenni (Leiden: Brill, 2016): 21–42.

Recent book reviews

Review of Thomás A. S. Haddad, Maps of the Moon: Lunar Cartography from the Seventeenth Century to the Space Age, Nuncius, Vol. 37 (no. 1, Feb. 2022): 234–36.

Review of Daniel Kennefick, No Shadow of a Doubt: The 1919 Eclipse that Confirmed Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, Physics in Perspective, Vol. 22 (no. 4, Dec. 2020): 239–42.

Review of Stella Cottam and Wayne Orchiston, Eclipses, Transits, and Comets of the Nineteenth Century: How America’s Perception of the Skies Changed, Journal for the History of Astronomy, Vol. 47 (No. 4, Nov. 2016): 442–43.

Review of Steven J. Dick, Discovery and Classification in Astronomy: Controversy and Consensus, British Journal for the History of Science, Vol. 48 (No. 1, Mar. 2015): 189–91.

Review of K. Maria D. Lane, Geographies of Mars: Seeing and Knowing the Red Planet, British Journal for the History of Science, Vol. 45 (No. 4, Dec. 2012): 692–94.