200 Years. 200 Stories. Story 159: “Science Illuminated ”

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six lantern slides picturing remote people, places and animals
Six lantern slides from the Ewell Sale Stewart Library and Archives. Coll. nos. 2009-023 and 2009-028.

Science Illuminated

Back in the day, before digital slides, before 35-mm slides, and even before plastic film, images were shown to audiences via the Magic Lantern Projector. Those images, whether illustrations or photographs, were sandwiched between two panes of glass (4 inches x 5 inches). These sandwiches are known as lantern slides, as each would be slid inside the projector in front of a light source in order to be thrown larger than life against a white wall or screen.

Explorers, scientists, artists, and educators have used lantern slides to illustrate their subjects of choice. The Academy Archives holds a dozen or so collections of this antique-but-hardy medium, where many of the slides were hand colored in ethereal washes by teams of colorists. Before electricity, the light-source in question was often a burning hunk of lime, a glow produced not from a flame but from the self-luminous qualities of the chemicals. Prior to TV and radio, illustrated lectures were the must-see events, including right here at the Academy. The work of Academy scientists has long been in the limelight, no matter the source of illumination.

How else did Academy explorers record science in action?

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