Gerard Turner, authority on history of scientific instruments, dies at 86

Historians in the News

Professor Gerard Turner, who has died aged 86, was an authority on the history of the microscope and other scientific instruments.

Peering through a magnifying glass or camera viewfinder, he conducted painstaking studies of old instruments , often managing to establish the authorship of a particular unsigned historical piece — a vacuum pump, perhaps, or an astrolabe. He took a particular delight in the study of scientific toys.

His approach to his subject was marked by what one contemporary described as “a mixture of exacting archaeological scrutiny combined with a Sherlock Holmesian analysis”. Partly because he pooh-poohed uncritical “connoisseurs” and the uncorroborated opinion of so-called “experts”, Turner’s influence on other scholars in the field was unequalled....

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