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Showcasing the Future: 'Soirées' in the Royal Society Archives

Research output: Contribution to conference - Without ISBN/ISSN Conference paperpeer-review

Publication date16/01/2015
<mark>Original language</mark>English
Event1st atelier de recherche franco-britannique - Fondation Royaumont, Val d'Oise, France
Duration: 16/01/201517/01/2015


Conference1st atelier de recherche franco-britannique
CityVal d'Oise


This paper will investigate how those ephemeral Victorian and Edwardian exhibitions of arts and sciences known as ‘soirées’ and ‘conversaziones’ foregrounded future possibilities by displaying eclectic collisions of scientific, technological, artistic and consumer goods.

Soirées epitomise the culture of the nineteenth century, displaying inventions that transformed modern civilisation, revolutionising industry, travel and communications. At a Royal Society soirée in 1863, William Morris-company majolica tiles were displayed alongside Australian meteorites; while in 1890 a St Bernard dog provided a user-friendly demonstration of the latest electrocardiograph technology. In 1896 the claimed inventors of cinema and television, William Friese-Greene and A.A.Campbell Swinton, were accidentally thrown together as soirée exhibitors.

Through investigation of how historical soirée materials were absorbed into museum collections and presented as publicly accessible history, the presentation will also use the Royal Society archive to explore new ways of thinking about temporality. It will examine the balance between the push of the past and the pull of the future in terms of the cultural constructions of each.