Time and Time Again: How Science and Culture Shape the Past, Present, and Future

  • CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts
  • /
  • April 17, 2013

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Detail of ivory pocket sundial made byJoseph Ducher, Nuremberg, ca. 1640.
Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments...
Chicken in front of early 19th century clock escapement raises the question, "What does time look like?" Is it cyclical like the chicken-and-egg conundrum or linear like the steady beat of a clock?
Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments...
A chart of historical time engraved on a colossal statue, by Matthaeus Seutter, Augsburg, 1730.
Harvard Map Collection

Time:  We find it, keep it, measure it, obey it, rely on it, waste it, save it, chop it and try to stop it.  We organize our lives around it, and yet, do we really know what time is? 

Drawing upon collections in Harvard’s scientific, historical, archaeological, anthropological, and natural history museums and libraries, this exhibition explores the answers given to that question in various ages by different world cultures and disciplines.

Themes include time finding from nature and time keeping by human artifice.  Visitors will explore cultural beliefs about the creation and end of time, the flow of time, and personal time as marked by rites of passage.  They will take time out and examine the power of keeping time together in music, dance, work, and faith.  They will discover time’s representation in history and objects of personal memory, its personification in art, and its expression in biological change and the geological transformations of our planet.

Featured objects include portable sundials and precision clocks, calendars from different cultures and epochs, time charts shaped like animals, Mesopotamian, Native American, and African ritual objects, fossils, metamorphosing creatures, and Julia Child’s stopwatch. 

But don’t stop here....


A free smartphone app using geo-location leads visitors beyond the primary exhibition in the Science Center to other intriguing sites on the Harvard Campus.   They can explore the concepts of time as they are revealed in 40 thought-provoking objects specially marked with a “timepiece” label throughout the galleries of all four of the Harvard Museums of Science and Culture.    Download the app here:  http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~hsdept/tta_timetrails.html.

And check out our website to see upcoming events related to time!  http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~hsdept/chsi_tta.html.

Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments
Harvard University Science Center
1 Oxford Street
Cambridge, Massachusetts
About Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments

The Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments preserves and documents over 20,000 instruments portraying the history of science teaching and research at Harvard from the Colonial period to the 21st century. Through lively exhibit and teaching programs, research activities and cultural initiatives engaging many academic disciplines, the museum is both a specialized institution and an experimental space, where Harvard Faculty and students, instrument scholars and museum experts meet in the production of object-based knowledge. One of the four Harvard Museums of Science and Culture, the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments is located in the university’s Science Center at 1 Oxford Street, Cambridge, just a five-minute walk from the Harvard Square T station. The museum’s Putnam Gallery is open 11 am to 4 pm on weekdays, and the Special Exhibition Gallery is open 9 am to 5 pm on weekdays. Admission is free.

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