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Technology’s Antiquarians (18 Mar 2005)
For the past seven years, David Pantalony has spent much of his time poking around dusty museum and university storerooms in Rome, Paris, and rural England. He’s been searching for long-forgotten devices like the Clang Analyzer and the Phonautograph—late-19th-century instruments for studying sound designed by Karl Rudolph König, one of the founders of modern acoustics. This year, as a fellow at MIT’s Dibner Institute for the History of Science and Technology, Pantalony is writing a book about König’s workshop in Paris, which drew leading physicists, physicians, and musicians. Pantalony, who recently worked as a curator of scientific instruments at Dartmouth College, seems bemused that a collection of tuning forks will compel him to travel halfway around the world. However, he has discovered that König’s work is an important part of several larger stories, about the dissemination of scientific knowledge in the 1800s, the cross-fertilization between musicians and physicists, and the role of the craftsman in the sciences. “The history of instruments is small and obscure, but it actually opens up into so much territory that it’s potentially about many, many other things,” he says.
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