A stone statue of a bearded man, hands crossed at his front, shoulders draped in a cloak

Babylon: Natural Theology versus Scientific Naturalism

When the campaign to build the Museum was launched, science at Oxford was understood as natural theology. By the time the Museum opened in 1860, a new secular approach to science was on the rise.

In this last episode of the Temple of Science podcast series we see how the art and science of the Museum responded to the challenge posed by Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution and natural selection, and the scientific naturalism that they epitomised. 

You can watch the whole series here.

‘Chambers of the Ministering Priests’

The Museum was not originally simply a museum as we understand it today: It was an entire science faculty. In episode four of the Temple of Science podcast series we see how the museum’s overarching principle of design – that art should be used to teach science and to inspire generations of scientists – was put into practice in some of its less familiar but no less beautiful spaces. 

You can watch the whole series here.

The Sanctuary of the Temple of Science

The central court of the Museum was described by one founder as ‘the sanctuary of the Temple of Science’. In the third episode of the Temple of Science podcast series we see how every detail of this unique space was carefully planned and crafted to form a comprehensive model of natural science. 

You can watch the whole series here.

Black and white photo of a man carving the decorative archway of a window

‘God’s own Museum’

In the second episode of the Temple of Science podcast series we take a closer look at the decoration on the outside of the Museum building.

From the outset, Oxford University Museum wanted to teach the principles of natural history through art as well as science. The carvings around the windows of the façade, incorporating designs by John Ruskin and carved by the brilliant Irish stonemason and sculptor James O’Shea, revel in the vitality of nature, while the decorations round the main entrance remind us that, for the scientists in Victorian Oxford, natural history was the study of God’s creation.

You can watch the whole series here.

Celebrating 160 years of the Museum

Temple of Science banner showing painted, decorative arched window

It goes without saying that 2020 has been a very unusual and troubled year, but it is also the 160th anniversary of the founding of the Museum, so we wanted to snatch a little breather from the difficulties of the pandemic, if possible, to take a positive look at the past and future of the Museum.

We have made a few special productions to mark this. Our new temporary exhibition – Truth to Nature – opens in the centre court on 18 October, and is accompanied by this online version for those who can’t make it to the Museum. The displays chart the philosophies and artistry underpinning the creation of the Museum in the mid-19th century and reflect on the role of natural history museums today, including the need for greater equity in science.

Taking a look at the unique and treasured building itself, this short film reveals some of the hidden secrets of the Museum’s architecture:

And finally, this week we have released a new five-part video podcast series looking in greater detail at the history of the Museum’s art and architecture, written and presented by John Holmes, Professor of Victorian Literature and Culture at Birmingham University, who is also an Honorary Associate of the Museum.

We’ll be sharing an episode a week here and on our social media channels, but you can dive into the series here or watch Episode 1, Oxford’s Pre-Raphaelite Natural History Museum, below.


Ask a neuroscientist

Can your brain rewire itself? How is the brain built and what can go wrong? And should the secondary school day start later to compensate for teenage sleep patterns?

Neuroscientists from the University of Oxford address all these questions in our new exhibition – Brain Diaries – Modern Neuroscience in Action. Created in partnership with Oxford Neuroscience, the exhibition and event programme kicked off last week to coincide with international Brain Awareness Week, which runs from 13-19 March.

Here we present a selection of videos from the exhibition. The full set is available on our YouTube channel now. And if you’re not able to visit the exhibition itself, we’ve built a special Brain Diaries website which contains all that neuroscience goodness.

Is brain-building a tricky business?
Professor Zoltán Molnár of the University of Oxford specialises in the development of the brain. In this video he talks about the complex processes at play during the brain’s early development, including how things can sometimes go wrong.

Can my brain rewire itself?
Associate Professor Holly Bridge works in the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences in the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. Her research focuses on using MRI scans of the human brain to understand the organisation of the visual system in people with normal vision and in those with abnormal visual function. Here she talks about how the brain can rewire itself to compensate for damage to certain sensory areas.

School’s out – should the school day start later?
Dr Christopher-James Harvey works at the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute at the University of Oxford. As part of the Teensleep research project, he is investigating how changes in the natural rhythm of sleep in adolescents, and the effects of sleep education, might impact on academic, health and sleep outcomes. Here he talks about initiatives to trial a later starting time for the secondary school day.

To read more about Brain Diaries and see the full programme of public events see braindiaries.org.