The toaster, the hair dryer and the vacuum cleaner

The telephone and the vacuum cleaner.
The telephone and the vacuum cleaner.

What do these things have in common? Apart from the fact that they are all pretty ubiquitous electrical domestic appliances, they were all at Lotherton Hall to be handled and marvelled at (“it’s really heavy!”) by the young visitors to Old Science Week today. Some of these items were borrowed from Artemis, Leeds City Council’s artefacts loan service, by Dee Matthews, Lotherton Hall’s Learning and Access Officer, and we showed them to the children, encouraging them to work out what the less obvious ones were and compare them to their modern day equivalents.

The surprisingly heavy hair dryer.

The hair dryer and the vacuum cleaner were fairly obvious, but the old toaster was slightly more problematic; on first guess it was usually identified as a heater. The advantage of using objects to engage with the idea of ‘old science’ is it can offer something to all visitors, and it encouraged all sorts of responses from curiosity to sharing stories. The objects will be at Lotherton until Thursday, and we will be encouraging children to think about how they use electricity at home, and what life would be like without it.

DSC00497At the same time, children can also participate in craft activities. Today this meant colouring in or making ice creams out of paper, cotton wool balls and lolly sticks – to connect in with the old ice cream maker we had on display, nearly always the most difficult object to work out – not to mention fascinating discussions about Disneyland and lightsabres. Over the next few days, other activities will include making paper lanterns, to tie in with the history of electric light at Lotherton Hall, and using plastic cups and string to make telephones.

And if these are conducted with more exciting conversations about Star Wars and My Little Pony, then so much the better.

Lotherton Hall hosts Old Science Week

P5.1 LH from south shortly after 1903 extension (2)
Lotherton Hall, c.1903. ©Leeds Museums and Galleries

In a few weeks’ time on Monday 24 August I will be over at Lotherton Hall to take part in our very exciting Old Science Week. This series of fun activities for kids visiting the house will run from Monday until Thursday 27 August, and has been devised by Dee Matthews, Lotherton Hall’s Learning and Access Officer, in conjunction with Steve Hutcheon, Leeds Museums and Galleries’ Science Learning and Access Officer. It ties in very closely with the themes of the ‘Electrifying the Country House’ project which we’re running at the University of Leeds: a key focus of our work is on electric lighting in the domestic sphere, and during this week children will have the chance to think about light and how we use it.

We’ll have a range of objects from the Leeds Museums and Galleries collection for children to look at and handle related to light, and Steve will demonstrate some kaleidoscopes. We’ll be making lanterns as well, which connects with the way some Victorian ladies made shades for their new electric lights; they thought lightbulbs were brighter and harsher than the gas, oil or candle lights they were used to, and wanted to soften the glare. I’ll be on hand also to talk about what people first thought about electric lighting when they used it in their homes if older children or parents want to more about the history of light in the home.

The activities will run from 10am to 4pm each day; for full details of how to get to Lotherton Hall and for price details, have look here and here.

Domesticating Electricity: The Musical!

I’m very excited to announce that, in December, a group of 24 final year theatre and performance students from the School of Performance and Cultural Industries will, as part of their course, be staging a musical inspired by material from Graeme’s book. The production has been given a working title of ‘Electrified’, and after the students have performed in December, we are hoping to take some of them to Lotherton Hall in January 2016 to film some of the scenes on location, as well as some character monologues on the subject of domestic electricity.

This collaboration has come about through meetings with our colleagues in the School of PCI Tony Gardner (lecturer in performance processes and techniques) and George Rodosthenous (associate professor in theatre directing), who are supervising the project.  In 2013 Dr. Rodosthenous was also responsible for bringing to the stage ‘Diffraction’, a musical about the lives and scientific work of father and son team Sir William Henry and Sir William Lawrence Bragg in Leeds. This was timed to coincide with centenary celebrations at the University commemorating their work on x-ray crystallography, for which they received a Nobel prize in 1915.

The students have parts of Graeme and Abigail’s research to read over the summer and I will meet with them in September to discuss their ideas and help them to stay true to the source material when writing the musical. This opportunity gives us the chance to produce a project output which we will be able to invite project partners and others to come and see, which will provide us with footage to enrich our video and other digital resources, and which we could then use as trigger material for teaching about the history of electricity.

So: anyone have any song ideas?