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Material culture graduate student Angela Schad catalogs scientific photos from the first half of the 20th century at the Carnegie Institution.
Students in the University of Delaware's Winterthur Program in American Material Culture often concentrate on the decorative arts, but many specialize in other areas as well.
Angela Schad, a Culture Fellow in the master's degree program, has
spent the summer on work that combines her interests in material
culture, science and history. An internship at the Carnegie Institution
in Washington, D.C., allowed her to delve into collections of
photographs that document the work in two key research laboratories of
the early 20th century, including one devoted to the then-brand-new
field of geology as a lab science.
Schad worked with photographic collections from two Carnegie
Institution departments the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism and
the Geophysical Laboratory whose records are housed in a single
Founded in 1905, the Geophysical Laboratory (GL) was established to
replicate complex natural geological processes in a controlled setting.
Its early years were documented with numerous photos of laboratory
interiors and equipment, including special furnaces that were used to
study thermodynamic processes. Schad has worked to catalog the photos
for use in an online database that researchers can use in future work.
"The fields of geochemistry and geophysics as they are defined today
were only beginning to be formed in the early 20th century," Schad said.
"GL was the first of its kind to be devoted to geology as a laboratory
She said she hopes to focus her master's degree thesis on the GL,
examining "how an institution went about equipping a state-of-the-art
laboratory in a brand-new field of science." She plans to explore such
questions as whether the lab's equipment was purchased or built by
in-house machine shops and how the scientists working there publicized
Compared with the GL photos that seem to have been kept in no
particular order, Schad said, the images taken at the Department of
Terrestrial Magnetism (DTM) were meticulously kept and pasted into
albums. During her summer internship, she also worked with these DTM
photographs, which she said primarily depict scientific instruments,
many of them sent to the department from collaborators around the world.
The department itself was created in 1904 to map the Earth's magnetic
field, but its mission evolved after that task was largely completed in
"It's fascinating to see how this unique research institution changed
over the decades," Schad said. "The first albums are full of images of
magnetometers, inductors and other geomagnetic equipment, but in later
albums you can clearly see the focus shift to instruments used in the
study of the ionosphere and high-voltage nuclear physics."
The interdisciplinary Winterthur Program in American Material Culture
teaches students how to look at objects and to study people's
relationship to those objects through coursework, the use of the
Winterthur Museum collections and a variety of fieldwork experience.
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