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    How Victorian Science Writers Enchanted my Kid and Made Me Believe in Fairy Tales

    By Jeff Guin

    One of the first public events I attended at CHF featured employees skipping through our museum in brightly colored wings and gauzy pastel dresses. It was a total fairy tale and yet totally true from both a historical and scientific perspective.

    Implausible, I know, but here’s the video proof from that day (warning, it’s 11 minutes):

    If you look closely, you’ll see my daughter in the lower right corner of the introductory sequence. She’s important to this story because her wide-eyed reaction struck a spark of understanding in me about what it means to keep historical memory about science engaging and new.

    The play was adapted by CHF staff members based on a genre of richly illustrated science books from the Victorian era. These books were written to help children see the unseeable. Authors like Arabella Buckley and Lucy Rider Meyer described chemical reactions as high-adventure fairy tales, portraying atoms as “atomic fairies” and molecular bonding as the fairies’ dancing. 

    I was reminded of the play about three weeks ago when I spoke about my work in digital media for CHF at the career day my daughter’s school was holding. There I demoed an unfinished version of the concept (time 2:06) as imagined by student animators through CHF’s partnership with University of the Arts. The children were captivated. At the end, they clapped and begged to see it again—even the boys! 

    The kids’ excitement was matched by my own—I recognized my daughter’s expression of wonder from the play reflected in the eyes of her peers (who reported me “cool,” incidentally).

    The fairyland of science concept is timeless, but our role in exposing new generations to these ideas remains important. Science relies on facts, but it is truly magical. Historical wisdom shows that making the connection to facts begins with a narrative, one that appeals to the imagination of the intended audience. 

    More than one colleague has accused me of having a third grade brain.  These fairyland experiences have taught me how much more fascinating humanity’s historic and scientific legacy can be when seen through third grade eyes. 

    RELATED CONTENT:

    Make sure to listen to the audio podcast about this topic and download our iTunes app for free.

    Want to more about the Victorian Fairy Folk genre of books? Watch this three-minute video narrated by scholar Melanie Keene

    Tweet to #HistChem for a chance to win a signed copy of the graphic novel “Trinity”

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    If you haven’t heard yet, CHF has a terrific #HistChem show lined up for Jan. 22. It’s all about connecting to history through graphic arts, particularly comics and graphic novels. 

    By participating in the conversation around this show through Twitter or through our Tumblr page, you could win a signed copy of Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb. This genre-defining book was authored by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm who will guest on the webcast along with historian Bert Hansen

    For a chance to snag a signed copy of Trinity that will also include a unique sketch by Jonathan:

    • Share your thoughts on the topic, questions for guests, and (especially) any media of this kind that you’ve created yourself.
    • Send your message to @chemheritage using the hashtag #HistChem anytime before the Jan. 22 show.
    • Visit chemheritage.org/histchem on Jan. 22 at 6:30 p.m. EST to watch the show. If your tweet or Tumblr comment is mentioned on our webcast, you win the book! 
    • It’s okay to send more than one question or comment for consideration as long as they are conceptually distinct.

    We hope you’ll join us and participate in the discussion during the show as well. Good luck!

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