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