Archives and History News: October 2014

On Thursday 30th October you can come to the Natural History Museum and hear me give a talk on Piltdown man – the greatest scientific hoax in history! In 1912 scientists at the Natural History Museum discovered Piltdown Man, the supposed missing evolutionary link between apes and humans. Forty years later the remains were found to be fake. Delve into the archives to uncover what really happened and decide who you think is the fraudster in this unsolved mystery…

This is part of the Halloween-themed trick or treat night safari of the museum. It should be a great night if you like to geek out about science and the natural world!

And there’s more science in the archives this month.

American scientists have unearthed polar satellite images from the 1960s. These contain invaluable evidence of climatic patterns. Unfortunately they weren’t exactly in a useable format, and converting the data from long rolls of film into digital images was a rather long and expensive job. More proof that we really ought to think about the long-term viability of our digital data.

Satellite images of the Antarctic from the 1960s

The New York Times has released on online archive of vintage print advertising from the 1960s, and is crowd-sourcing information about them. I love historic advertising: it tells us so much about the aspirations and insecurities of people in the past, society’s expectations and attitudes. More than almost any other medium, it provides a startling record of social change.

They don’t make them this this anymore…

Napoleon’s been in the news – his extraordinary marriage deed to Josephine was bought at auction this month for a whopping 437,500 euros. And, apparently, a incorrectly drawn map may have hastened his defeat at Waterloo. It may help to explain why the Emperor appeared lost on the battlefield, and why his cannons were not aimed at the right place. A map, a map, my Kingdom for a map!!

And finally, here’s a fascinating listicle describing how forensic science and murder investigations have developed in response to different murder cases, mainly 19th century. This includes an awesomely weird case where a hypnotist apparently used his skills to persuade his lover to assist him in a murder. Psychologists were called in to debate the concept of diminished responsibility.

Freud looks stern – he’s not sure he really believes you can hypnotise people into committing murder…

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