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Great Pyramid Metrology and the Material Politics of Basalt

Barany, Michael J. (2010) Great Pyramid Metrology and the Material Politics of Basalt. Spontaneous Generations: A Journal for the History and Philosophy of Science, 4 (1). pp. 45-60. ISSN 1913-0465

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Abstract

Astronomer Charles Piazzi Smyth’s 1864–65 expedition to measure the Great Pyramid of Giza was planned around a system of linear measures designed to guarantee the validity of his measurements and settle ongoing uncertainties as to the Pyramid’s true size. When the intended system failed to come together, Piazzi Smyth was forced to improvise a replacement that presented a fundamental challenge to the metrological enterprise upon which his system had been based. The astronomer’s new system centered around a small lump of basalt, now held at Cambridge’s Whipple Museum of the History of Science, which nucleated a wide array of material and scientific considerations. Through a bipartite analysis of the physical and narrative dimensions of Piazzi Smyth’s basalt Standard, I develop the implications of its use and construction for understanding the material constitution of scientific instruments. In particular, I illustrate how instruments are locally constituted through co-accountable systems and how their material features become integrally implicated in both their uses and meanings.


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Item Type: Published Article or Volume
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Barany, Michael J.
Keywords: Scientific Realism; Epistemic Issues; Epistemology of Science
Subjects: General Issues > Scientific Metaphysics
General Issues > History of Philosophy of Science
General Issues > Realism/Anti-realism
General Issues > Science and Society
General Issues > Technology
General Issues > Values In Science
Depositing User: Jordan Miller
Date Deposited: 11 Sep 2021 03:02
Last Modified: 11 Sep 2021 03:02
Item ID: 17900
Journal or Publication Title: Spontaneous Generations: A Journal for the History and Philosophy of Science
Publisher: The University of Toronto
Official URL: https://spontaneousgenerations.library.utoronto.ca...
DOI or Unique Handle: https://doi.org/10.4245/sponge.v4i1.11897
Subjects: General Issues > Scientific Metaphysics
General Issues > History of Philosophy of Science
General Issues > Realism/Anti-realism
General Issues > Science and Society
General Issues > Technology
General Issues > Values In Science
Date: 30 August 2010
Page Range: pp. 45-60
Volume: 4
Number: 1
ISSN: 1913-0465
URI: https://philsci-archive-dev.library.pitt.edu/id/eprint/17900

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