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13 Things 2009

13 Things 2008

Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology

Search Brown



Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
Brown University
Box 1837 / 60 George Street
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: (401) 863-3188
Fax: (401) 863-9423
[email protected]

My project will be centered on the use of the magnifying glass and how this is affected by technological choice, hopefully providing insight into the cultural significance of this object. I would like to explore the many contexts in which the magnifying glass does work. By locating magnifying glasses on Brown’s campus, I hope to get a better idea of where magnifying glasses are and are not employed and for what reasons. The magnifying glass is often a method of inquiry into another object. This is often in a scientific context, including laboratories, field work and science education. On the other hand, the magnifying glass is also used as a tool to enhance vision in a practical sense, not necessarily as a means of critical examination. For example, magnifying glasses are used by jewelers and dentists.

Technological choice has played a huge role in the use and evolution of the magnifying glass. By examining the materiality of the magnifying glass in its various forms and the materiality of its main competing technology, the microscope, I hope to get a better understanding of why the magnifying glass is employed in such a variety of ways. The function of the magnifying glass is closely related to function of the microscope, but the two objects are used in very different contexts. Additionally, the magnifying glass comes in many different forms suited for different purposes, but the dominant, iconic form of the magnifying glass has remained unchanged. Technological choice is not only between the magnifying glass and other technologies, but between varying forms of magnifying glass, and presumably varies within the different contexts in which the magnifying glass does work.

Use of the magnifying glass extends the limits (range?) of human vision, allowing us to act on our world in ways that we would not be able to otherwise. Magnifying glasses served as a precursor to other optic technologies, such as the camera, the microscope, and even eyeglasses. By extending human sensation, the magnifying glass has become an iconic tool that has many symbolic and cultural associations. Visual and linguistic depictions of the magnifying glass are laden with meaning. I would like to explore this significance by examining some of the places where magnifying glasses are found in our culture. Particularly, visual depictions in art, use of the phrase “under the magnifying glass,” and images of the magnifying glass on the internet.

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Posted at Dec 05/2008 03:47PM:
chris witmore: I think this is a nice summary statement.