The astronomical lantern slide and the visual communication of popular science

Dr Martin Bush

The astronomical magic lantern show was a well-known form in the nineteenth century. Lantern slides and visual communication were central to the performances of lecturers from the local schoolmaster to the international celebrity Richard Proctor.

For audiences of the nineteenth century, the magic lanterns projecting slides of stars and planets were a telescope on the universe, while for lecturers these technologies extended the range of cultural tropes that could be drawn into their performances.

This talk traces the development of the astronomical lantern set and its use in Australia, with a focus on the cultural interpretations of popular astronomy.


Dr Martin Bush has recently completed a PhD on the history of popular astronomy in Australia in the era of the lantern slide. Prior to this, he worked at Museums Victoria for thirteen years, including as Curator of Scientific Instruments and Antarctic History, and as Technical Programmer and Scientific Communicator on the Melbourne Planetarium production team. These interests have combined in his fascination with astronomical Magic Lantern slides. Martin is now a Research Associate in the Humanities Department at Museums Victoria.

This lecture was part of the History, Culture & Collections 2017 lecture series held at Melbourne Museum.

Check out our latest series, Museum Lectures.


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