By Andrew Curtis, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons
By Andrew Curtis, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

The Silver Swan Automaton Will Visit London’s Science Museum Next Year

By Andrew Curtis, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons
By Andrew Curtis, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

After nearly 150 years of staying put at England's Bowes Museum, the Silver Swan—a one-of-a-kind, life-sized swan automaton and music box—is about to take flight. Created in 1773 by Belgian inventor John Joseph Merlin along with British jeweler James Cox, the mechanism will be on display as part of "Robots," a new exhibition that's opening at London's Science Museum in February, according to Cult of Weird.

The Silver Swan is widely known for its precision craftsmanship, detailed silverwork, and advancements in clockwork gears. When it’s wound up, the music box plays and the river the swan floats on—composed of rotating glass cylinders—begins to stream. The automaton then begins to preen itself, as it moves its head from side to side. The swan later dips its head down to catch and eat one of the small silver fish swimming below. It finally lifts its head again, a fish wriggling in its mouth, as the performance ends after 32 seconds of elegant “dancing.” A waterfall was believed to be positioned behind the Silver Swan at one time, but it was stolen during years of touring.

The automaton gained mass popularity when it was put on display at the International Exposition of 1867 in Paris, France. Mark Twain actually saw the swan in person at that event, the second world's fair, and wrote about the oddity in The Innocents Abroad. According to Twain, the swan “had a living grace about his movement and a living intelligence in his eyes.”

“We are thrilled that the Silver Swan—one of the greatest 18th-century automatons—will be part of our 'Robots' exhibition,” Ben Russell, the Science Museum's lead curator, said. “The Swan is an amazing evocation of life, and makes us reflect on our endless fascination with replicating living things in mechanical form.”

The Silver Swan will make its way to the Science Museum from February 8 to March 23, 2017.

[h/t Cult of Weird]

Charles Dickens Museum Highlights the Author's Contributions to Science and Medicine

Charles Dickens is celebrated for his verbose prose and memorable opening lines, but lesser known are his contributions to science—particularly the field of medicine.

A new exhibition at London’s Charles Dickens Museum—titled "Charles Dickens: Man of Science"—is showcasing the English author’s scientific side. In several instances, the writer's detailed descriptions of medical conditions predated and sometimes even inspired the discovery of several diseases, The Guardian reports.

In his novel Dombey and Son, the character of Mrs. Skewton was paralyzed on her right side and unable to speak. Dickens was the first person to document this inexplicable condition, and a scientist later discovered that one side of the brain was largely responsible for speech production. "Fat boy" Joe, a character in The Pickwick Papers who snored loudly while sleeping, later lent his namesake to Pickwickian Syndrome, otherwise known as obesity hypoventilation syndrome.

A figurine of Fat Boy Joe
Courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum

Dickens also wrote eloquently about the symptoms of tuberculosis and dyslexia, and some of his passages were used to teach diagnosis to students of medicine.

“Dickens is an unbelievably acute observer of human behaviors,” museum curator Frankie Kubicki told The Guardian. “He captures these behaviors so perfectly that his descriptions can be used to build relationships between symptoms and disease.”

Dickens was also chummy with some of the leading scientists of his day, including Michael Faraday, Charles Darwin, and chemist Jane Marcet, and the exhibition showcases some of the writer's correspondence with these notable figures. Beyond medicine, Dickens also contributed to the fields of chemistry, geology, and environmental science.

Less scientifically sound was the author’s affinity for mesmerism, a form of hypnotism introduced in the 1770s as a method of controlling “animal magnetism,” a magnetic fluid which proponents of the practice believed flowed through all people. Dickens studied the methods of mesmerism and was so convinced by his powers that he later wrote, “I have the perfect conviction that I could magnetize a frying-pan.” A playbill of Animal Magnetism, an 1857 production that Dickens starred in, is also part of the exhibit.

A play script from Animal Magnetism
Courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum

Located at 48-49 Doughty Street in London, the exhibition will be on display until November 11, 2018.

[h/t The Guardian]

Inside the New Oprah Winfrey Exhibition at the National Museum of African American History

The National Museum of African American History and Culture has shown millions of visitors artifacts from black history, from Nat Turner’s Bible to Michael Jackson’s fedora, since opening in Washington D.C. in 2016. Now, there's a new reason for guests to visit the institution: This month, it launched an exhibition dedicated to the life and impact of Oprah Winfrey, Afro reports.

The exhibit, titled "Watching Oprah: The Oprah Winfrey Show and American Culture," traces the life of the iconic philanthropist and media personality. It starts with "America Shapes Oprah, 1950s–1980s," a section devoted to Oprah's childhood during the civil rights movement. It's followed by "The Oprah Winfrey Show," which highlights her 25-year talk show, and a final section called "Oprah Shapes America," which looks at the evolution and influence of her work. The exhibit also features Oprah memorabilia, such as a model of her childhood church, costumes from her films Beloved (1998) and The Color Purple (1985), and the red suit she wore when she gave everyone in her studio audience a free car.

Oprah was one of the people who helped make the National Museum of African American History and Culture a reality after it struggled to get off the ground for decades. She was the museum's largest donor before it opened and has given a total of $20 million to the institution.

Oprah toured "Watching Oprah" with her best friend and CBS This Morning co-anchor Gayle King before it opened, and wrote on Instagram, "Seeing everything under one roof brought tears to my eyes."

The exhibit is open now through the end of June 2019.

Oprah exhibit at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Oprah exhibit at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Oprah exhibit at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

[h/t Afro]

All images courtesy of Smithsonian.


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