Comments: Research Opportunities

Whipple Museum of the History of Science


The museum was founded in 1944 by the bequest of Robert Stewart Whipple, Managing Director of the Cambridge Scientific Instrument Company, of his important collection of scientific instruments and antiquarian books to the University of Cambridge. The University’s Department of History and Philosophy of Science grew up around the Whipple Museum and Library, and the Museum remains a crucial part of the Department, contributing to teaching and research.

A detailed history of the Museum, including the role of Whipple as founder and the establishment of the collection on its present site can be found on our website:

Research opportunities

The Whipple Museum’s collection is diverse and constantly expanding. Whilst we actively collect material local to our site, the collection is global in scope. The Museum’s holdings are particularly strong in material dating from the 17th to the 20th centuries, especially objects produced by English instrument makers, although the collection contains objects dating from the medieval period to the present day. Instruments of astronomy, navigation, surveying, drawing and calculating are well represented, as are sundials, mathematical instruments and early electrical apparatus. Two areas of recent focus have been teaching models and globes, for which we have acquired many important objects. A taste of the kinds of materials we hold can be gleaned from the ‘Explore’ section of our website: Although our collection is fully catalogued and photographed, our database is not yet available online, although we hope to put it on our website soon.

The Museum holds a number of special collections, details of which can be found on our website: Notable is our extensive collection of material by the Cambridge Scientific Instrument Company, which is unrivalled.

The Museum holds a wide variety of print material and ephemera to complement and augment our material holdings. Extensive object history files contain many letters and print matter directly related to objects in the collection, and we have over 5000 fully-catalogued items of sales and trade literature relating to several hundred instrument makers and firms. Both our object and trade literate catalogues can be consulted by researchers on site, or by making an enquiry.

All research enquires should be directed to:

Dr. Joshua Nall
Assistant Curator
Whipple Museum of the History of Science
University of Cambridge
Free School Lane
Tel: +44 (0) 1223 334 570


The breadth and depth of the Museum’s collection is displayed in our Main Gallery and discover high-density display gallery, with the majority of material presented in thematic cases, such as ‘Teaching models’, ‘Calculating devices’, ‘Measuring instruments’, and ‘Robert Whipple’s founding collection’. Many of these displays have been curated by students and scholars working in the Department. These galleries are augmented by two long-term exhibitions. In our New Gallery is a display on ‘Science and Industry in Cambridge’ (opening Autumn 2014), which illuminates the diverse array of scientific endeavors undertakeun in Cambridge in the last two centuries, both within the University and in local industry. In or Upper Gallery is our display of globes, one of the world’s largest single exhibitions of globes and planetaria. It including diverse and curious terrestrial globes, such as puzzle, tectonic and weather globes, as well as planetary and celestial globes and many different types of celestial model, from Georgian orrery to projecting planetarium.


The Museum has published a wide variety of books and catalogues in the last 30 years, many of which are available to order on our website: Most notable is the Museum’s ‘Festschrift’ edited by Liba Taub and Francis Willmoth: The Whipple Museum of the History of Science: Instruments and interpretations, to celebrate the 60th anniversary of R.S. Whipple's gift to the University of Cambridge (2006): It contains a preliminary section outlining the history of the Museum and reproducing archival material relating to its foundation. This is followed by eighteen essays by various authors on specific objects or groups of objects in the Whipple collection, demonstrating the world-class academic scholarship that has been undertaken on the collection by Cambridge academics, students, and visiting scholars. A second volume is now under preparation to celebrate the Museum’s 75th anniversary in 2019.

J. Nail, September 2014