This is a guest blog post by Dr Sally Frampton, Postdoctoral researcher on the Constructing Scientific Communities: Citizen Science in the 19th and 21st Centuries. This post was originally published on the Constructed Scientific Communities project website.
On 20th November, the Oxford wing of the AHRC Constructing Scientific Communities project hosted ‘People Power’, an evening event devoted to citizen science past and present, in the beautiful surroundings of the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford. Open to all, the evening was part of ‘Being Human’, a nationwide Festival of the Humanities led by the School of Advanced Study in partnership with the British Academy and the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Over the space of two weeks, a host of Universities and other institutions across the country ran a diverse range of public events, showcasing the best of humanities research and demonstrating its relevance to everyday life.
‘People Power’ began with an introduction from Prof. Sally Shuttleworth, who introduced the AHRC Constructing Scientific Communities: Citizen Science in the 19th and 21st Centuries project. Prof. Shuttleworth outlined how the evening would reflect the project’s objectives: to show how 19th and 21st century perspectives on citizen science can be usefully brought together.
This was followed by two short talks on the history of citizen science; Will Abberley discussed amateur animal psychology in Victorian Britain and Sally Frampton introduced the important role of the public within the history of vaccination.
Victoria Van Hyning, resident humanist at the Zooniverse, then brought things up-to-date, talking about Zooniverse, what makes citizen science tick, and how to create research from clicks. Victoria focused on the Zooniverse’s increasing number of humanities projects, including Operation War Diary and a soon to be launched collaboration with Tate Britain. Victoria also drew attention to the fascinating We Need Us, an online art project, in which live data from the Zooniverse is being manipulated to produce an ever-changing visual representation of the information being inputted.
True to the spirit of citizen science, the night was interactive in format, and following the talks, audience members were invited to try out three different activities taking place across the Museum. In the Museum basement Will Abberley invited participants to make their own investigations into animal psychology as audience members divulged anecdotes about their own pets. In the entrance hall the Zooniverse team were on hand to introduce audience members to the world of citizen science, giving people the opportunity to try a variety of different Zooniverse projects. Meanwhile upstairs participants were divided into teams to play the Unbelievable Truth of Medical History, in which they were challenged to sort fact from fiction and past from present from within the world of medicine.
An enjoyable evening concluded with a highly productive ‘reverse Q&A’, in which Prof. Shuttleworth and other team members asked the audience for their thoughts. A lively discussion ensued; audience members debated the effect of citizen science on the status of the profession and the applicability of crowdsourcing to other areas of research and practice outside of science. The enthusiasm of the audience demonstrated that people power was certainly in action all night!
This is one of a series of guest blog posts written by AHRC Science in Culture Theme Award Holders. The Science in Culture Theme is a key area of AHRC Funding and supports projects committed to developing reciprocal relationships between scientists and arts and humanities researchers. More information about ‘Constructing Scientific Communities: Citizen Science in the 19th and 21st Centuries’ is available here.
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