Microscope slides. A neglected (but exciting!)- scientific object.

Workshop " Microscope Slides " in Paris
19-21 March 2009, Pasteur Institut
( details )

Microscopic slides were --and in many domains, still are-- central for the production and dissemination of knowledge in the life sciences. Collections of slides (some of which reached impressive size) were central to the production of knowledge in botanic and comparative zoology, in neurology, microbiology and pathology, and numerous other biological and medical domains.  In the late 19th century such collections, held by universities, medical schools and natural history museums, were key depositories of scientific knowledge and major pedagogic tools, while the circulation of slides was very important for the homogenization of knowledge and the construction of scientific communities.

However, very few historians became interested in the role of microscope slides in material and cognitive cultures of biology and medicine. There is a growing body of knowledge dedicated to the history of optical instruments, of lenses and microscopes, but much less is known about multiple uses of microscopic preparations  The workshop on slides and the website dedicated to this topic is to forward the understanding of microscopic slides as material and epistemic objects. Slides are at the same time "things in themselves" (samples of biological material), "preparations" (artefacts) , and "representations"  (stabilized images of the studied object). They are therefore especially rich objects for study and display.

We organized a workshop slides, focused on the following issues:
Preparing preparations: techniques of sampling, slicing, fixation and staining of specimens; standardisation of slides and cover slips.
The uses of slides: unique specimens, multiple originals, and series; circulation of slides, training of the eye.
Organizing of collections: filing, storage and conservation of collections of slides, architecture of collections, inscriptions and documentation that accompany slides.
Visual representations of  microscopic preparations: sketches, drawings in scientific publications, in atlases and textbooks,  scientific photographs.
The "extended family" of slides: preparations for solar microscope, lantern slides, comparison between uses of slides in natural history and in the history of art, links between slides and micro cinematography.