We are celebrating the life and work of our friend and colleague Professor Jim Bennett, the Museum’s Director from 1994-2012, who died on 28 October 2023.
Already a major figure in both the academic and museum worlds of history of science, Jim’s arrival in 1994 heralded a fundamental transformation at the Museum.
A series of exhibitions — beginning with The Measurers in 1995 — was accompanied by a very early adoption of the web as a new medium.
In 1996 the internet also made possible the launch of RETE, the mailing list internationally recognised for research on scientific instruments, that now reaches colleagues in at least 43 countries in Europe, Asia, the Americas and Africa.
A Master’s course based in the Museum was inaugurated in the same year, many of whose graduates are now prominent in the field.
The Heritage Lottery Fund supported a Millennium redevelopment which created new public and private spaces in the tight surroundings of Broad Street and enabled a complete redisplay of the permanent collection.
A dynamic public programme further boosted the visibility and profile of the Museum, whose annual visitor numbers under Jim’s leadership increased from 25,000 to 180,000.
All this change was supported by a steady expansion of Museum personnel, with the introduction of professional staff for Collections Management, Conservation and Education.
Through these and many other achievements, Jim was always grounded and encouraging to students and colleagues.
After his retirement in 2012, he actively continued in the field and his contribution to the discipline was recognised by the Sarton Medal, the highest award of the US-based History of Science Society, in 2020.
In the Museum he will be long remembered for major acquisitions such as the Marconi collection, for bringing the Museum into the digital age and for his generosity, curiosity and love of experiment.
Check out the web archives for artist interventions, blackboard commissions, Steampunk fashion shows and good-humoured ‘Eccentricity’!
To celebrate our Museum’s centenary in 2024, we have launched another very ambitious transformation programme, Vision 2024.
Jim will not be around to celebrate this milestone with us, but his spirit will continue to influence our work for many years to come.
Silke Ackermann, Director
Stephen Johnston, Deputy-Director Emeritus
30 October 2023