Department of the History
of Science Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments

Science Center, 1 Oxford Street
For hours and information, 617-495-2779

Located in the Science Center, the Department of the History of Science’s Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments contains one of the finest university collections of its kind in the world. With close to 20,000 artifacts dating from the 15th century to the present, the Collection covers a broad range of disciplines, including astronomy, navigation, horology, surveying, geology, meteorology, mathematics, physics, biology, medicine, chemistry, experimental psychology, and communications. Noteworthy among these are scientific instruments that Harvard purchased in London with the help of Benjamin Franklin in 1764 after a disastrous fire destroyed the college’s philosophical apparatus in the old Harvard Hall.

The historical value of the instruments is greatly enhanced by original documents preserved in the Harvard University Archives and by over 6,500 books and pamphlets in the Collection’s research library that describe the purchase and use of many of the instruments.

Harvard University has been acquiring scientific instruments for teaching and research for over 300 years, but it was not until 1948 that a serious attempt was made to preserve its historical apparatus as a resource for students and faculty. Since the first exhibition of instruments was held in 1949, the Collection has grown rapidly both from within the university and from private donations. The Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments became affiliated with the Department of the History of Science in 1989. Like many other Harvard collections, its primary purpose is teaching and research, providing students and scholars with the opportunity to examine and work with artifacts that have made science possible.

The department has two museum galleries (located in Science Center 136 and 251), a research library and instrument study room (Science Center 250), a conservation laboratory, and classroom. Curatorial offices are located in Science Center 251c. Please call ahead for library and gallery hours, 617-495-2779.

accessWheelchair accessible.