Museum of the History of Science

MHS Basement Gallery
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The Museum of the History of Sciencehouses an unrivalled collection of early scientific instruments in the world’s oldest surviving purpose-built museum building, the Old Ashmolean on Broad Street, Oxford. The Museum is a research and teaching department of the University of Oxford, offering free access to its permanent displays and a programme of special exhibitions, family-friendly events, talks and tours, along with taught sessions for schools. For those unable to come to Oxford online versions of exhibitions are available, alongside standalone online resources on the website:

The entire collection of the Museum of the History of Science is a Designated Collection of national importance.

Venue Type:


Opening hours

Tuesday to Sunday: 12:00 - 17:00
Closed on Monday.

Admission charges


Additional info

Our library is open to the public by appointment.

The entire collection of this museum is a Designated Collection of national importance.

This museum occupies the original home of Elias Ashmole's museum, the oldest purpose-built museum in Britain. Its Designated collections are dominated by an exceptional collection of early mathematical and scientific instruments from antiquity to the twentieth century, including the largest collection of astrolabes in the world. A highlight of this group of objects is the earliest known Persian astrolabe, dating from the 10th century.

The early sundial collection comprises 750 examples, the earliest being a portable Roman dial from around 250AD. The microscope collections, an important collection of telescopes, and photographic equipment including items that belonged to Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) and TE Lawrence, are further important facets of this remarkable museum.

Particular strengths include early mathematical instruments, optical instruments, and apparatus associated with chemistry, natural philosophy and medicine. There is also a unique reference library for the study of the history of scientific instruments that includes manuscripts, incunabula, prints, printed ephemera and early photographic material.

Collection details

World Cultures, Science and Technology, Natural Sciences, Medicine, Maritime, Decorative and Applied Art, Archives

Key artists and exhibits

  • Einstein blackboard
  • H. G. J. Moseley
  • penicillin
  • Howard Florey
  • Royal Astronomical Society
  • Royal Microscopical Society
  • Earl of Orrery
  • spherical astrolabe
  • Erasmus Habermel
  • Lewis Evans
  • Designated Collection
Events details are listed below. You may need to scroll down or click on headers to see them all. For events that don't have a specific date see the 'Resources' tab above.
1906 design for Ibsen’s play Ghosts

Public Health and Private Pain: A night of medical history and drama

  • 5 May 2016 7-9:30pm

Enter the Museum for a unique evening of performance and drama. Drawing from a rich variety of medical plays and historical material, the event will illuminate, provoke, and dramatize developments which have shaped ideas of the body from the 18th century to the present day. Join academics from across the University of Oxford, professional actors from Pegasus Theatre and staff of the Museum of the History of Science as they show how these developments have been mapped not just by medical writing but by theatre, which has a long history of engaging with science and medicine.

Suitable for

  • 18+


Museum's Logo

Buckets, Bollards and Bombs

  • 23 May 2016 7-8:15pm

Join Mats Fridlund (Aalto University, Finland) at the Museum as he examines the power of terrorizing things and the containment of British emotions from the 19th century to the present day.
Doors open at 18:30.

Suitable for

  • Not suitable for children


Museum's Logo

Oxford in the Great War

  • 29 May 2016 2-4pm

Join this fascinating walking tour around Oxford to learn about the city's largely forgotten role in the First World War. Discover how many well-known colleges and public buildings were converted into hospitals and for military use; the desperate plight of Belgian and Serbian refugees arriving in the city; plus the formative experiences of key historical and literary figures, including Siegfried Sassoon, Vera Brittain and T E Lawrence. A poignant trip into an overlooked period in the Oxford story.
The tour will be led by Jeremy Allen, writer, from UnderConstruction Theatre.
Meet outside the front gates of the Museum of the History of Science.


Museum logo

Observing the Observers

  • 28 June 2016 7-8:15pm

From King George III’s private observatory to the origins of the National Physical Laboratory, Lee Macdonald reveals new research on the remarkable story of Kew Observatory in this lecture at the Museum of the History of Science.
Kew Observatory was originally built in 1769 to enable King George III to observe that year’s transit of Venus. Yet it was its work during the nineteenth century that is of the greatest historical interest. Its activities encompassed meteorology, geomagnetism, instrument testing and solar physics. In this talk, Dr Lee Macdonald will explore how a group of astronomers and science devotees at Kew began the world’s first systematic programme of daily solar photography in tandem with observations of the Earth’s magnetic field – a precursor of today’s ground- and space-based programmes that monitor the Sun and ‘space weather’, the Sun’s interactions with the Earth and other planets. The talk will also describe how Kew Observatory pioneered the testing of scientific instruments and became the originating institution of the present-day National Physical Laboratory.
Doors open at 18:30.

Suitable for

  • Not suitable for children


Museum of the History of Science
Broad Street




01865 277280


01865 277288

All information is drawn from or provided by the venues themselves and every effort is made to ensure it is correct. Please remember to double check opening hours with the venue concerned before making a special visit.