Galileo’s World report

Originally posted at, the now-discontinued blog of the OU History of Science Collections. Neither this post nor any of its content should be taken as an official communication of the University of Oklahoma.

Galileo's World logoDavid Davis and I recently wrote three short, one-page reports about Galileo’s World. The separate reports, each reproduced below, focus on Exhibit design, technology, and educational outreach. Perhaps these brief reports are of general interest, either independently or all together. They just scratch the surface, but maybe offer a starting point to explore an otherwise overwhelming project. So much more could be said!

Exhibit design

The theme of Galileo’s World is “connections.” Open August 2015 through August 2016, Galileo’s World illustrates connections between science, art, literature, music, religion, philosophy, politics, and culture in celebration of OU’s 125th anniversary. Galileo’s World is an “exhibition without walls,” comprised of more than 20 galleries at 7 different locations, as a participatory exhibit designed to bring the diverse worlds of OU together.

The exhibition featured 350 original rare books representing Galileo and his world, all of which belong to OU (none are facsimiles). For example, all 12 first editions of Galileo’s printed books were displayed, including 4 copies containing his own handwriting. These and other valuable works were distributed to the various locations, selected in order to tell stories appropriate to the mission of each exhibition partner. Many partner locations featured joint exhibitions juxtaposing, alongside the books, their own artifacts and holdings to reinforce the stories told by the books themselves.

The sub themes and stories of the exhibit are suggested by the names of the various galleries by location:

  • Bizzell Memorial Library: Music of the Spheres; Galileo, Engineer; Galileo and China; Controversy over the Comets; The New Physics; The Galileo Affair.
    Galileo Today: The OU Leaning Tower of Pisa; The Quest for Other Worlds.
  • National Weather Center: Copernicus and Meteorology; Galileo and Kepler; Galileo and Experimentation; Space Science after Galileo; Oklahomans and Space; Science on a Sphere.
  • Sam Noble Museum of Natural History, “Through the Eyes of the Lynx”: Galileo, Natural History, and the Americas; Galileo and Microscopy.
  • Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art: Galileo and the Telescope; Galileo and Perspective Drawing; The Moon and the Telescope; The Sky at Night.
  • Headington Hall: Galileo and Sports.
  • Bird Library, Oklahoma City: Galileo and Anatomy; Galileo and Health Care.
  • Schusterman Library, Tulsa: The Scientific Revolution.

The Galileo’s World overview contains book lists for each gallery at each location.

Galileo’s World was designed for a wide range of visitors. The primary target audience consisted first of undergraduate students at OU, such as those who participated in the Fine Arts College production of an opera influenced by Galileo’s father (whose book is on display) or the 20-plus undergraduate students in the College of Engineering who examined the Tower of Pisa during a study abroad visit to Pisa, Italy, and then created a 1/10 scale replica of the tower for display in Bizzell Library. The opera and tower projects exemplify the success of the exhibition in facilitating conversation and participation. Inspired by Nina Simon, we defined participation as the “co-creation of meaning.”

Secondary audiences are as disparate as all of those who visit OU, including parents, area middle and secondary school groups, distinguished visiting scholars and scientists, and university partners around the world. Educational activities for 3rd grade through adult are available in the main Exhibit Hall and online at the Library’s repository; some of these were taken to more than 600 students in 3rd, 4th and 5th grade public school classrooms in the Norman area during the spring 2016 semester. Faculty and distinguished visiting scholars and scientists drew students and a diverse public audience to Galileo’s World events. Events included a monthly lecture series at the National Weather Center featuring NASA scientists from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and an all-day Galileo’s World Symposium at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History featuring internationally recognized speakers (youTube).

Captions were written at different levels appropriate to each location. For example, in Bizzell Library, captions and signage were worded for a freshman target audience. For those who wish to dive a little deeper, additional content is available from the exhibit website and from an iPad Exhibit Guide, available for download or pre-installed on iPads available for checkout at the welcome desk. The Sam Noble and Fred Jones captions were written according to their usual style. At the OU Health Sciences campus, medical vocabulary was introduced appropriate to a target audience of first year medical students. At the National Weather Center, scientific vocabulary was greatly increased, appropriate for graduate students in the natural sciences. For several locations, the Museo Galileo in Florence provided high quality instrument replicas (for example, of Galileo’s telescope) and high resolution videos featuring animated instrument tutorials.

Education and outreach

With the launch of the Galileo’s World exhibit, the OU History of Science Collections initiated an educational outreach organization, the “OU Academy of the Lynx,” to work collaboratively with educators in exhibit-based learning. Through the “OU Lynx,” the History of Science curator and his graduate assistants have begun to work with educators in the Norman area, and across the state and in Texas, attending educator conferences and workshops and hosting class visits. Approximately 30 K12 classes and 50 undergraduate classes have received docent-led tours of Galileo’s World at the OU Libraries, not counting classes which have toured the Sam Noble and Fred Jones museums and other Galileo’s World locations.

Free Open Educational Resources (OER’s) being produced for Galileo’s World are available in the main Exhibit Hall and are posted online at the university repository, (search for “OU Lynx”). They are being created in various topical series, and linked to the Galileo’s World exhibit by gallery and subject. Series titles include: Iconic Images; Instruments and Experiments; Starting Points for discussion; Primary Source excerpts; 2-minute stories; Stand-up activities; Constellations; and Women in Science. Many of these are based on content available to educators through the iPad Exhibit Guide, a 1,000 page ebook with more than 6,000 images, available as a free download from the iBook Store, which supplements the content available from the Exhibit Website (

OER formats include “Card sets” and “Learning Leaflets.” An example of the card format is a set of constellation cards called “Urania’s Mirror.” Each of the more than 20 Learning Leaflets created so far consists of a two-page pdf to print front-and-back on a single sheet of paper. Resembling the popular “Lithograph” format used by NASA in their educational outreach, Galileo’s World Learning Leaflets contain abbreviated text juxtaposed with intriguing images to provoke reflection and discussion. For example, in the case of the most influential star atlas of the 17th century, the person responsible for much of the content and solely for its publication was a woman, Elisabeth Hevelius. Other Learning Leaflets include: Anatomy of a Book; Boldly explore; a Duochord activity (astronomy and music); a Relativity of Motion cartoon; Maria Cunitz; and Johann Shreck, Galileo’s friend in China. Two other formats are English translations of primary sources, such as the Apiarium, one of the rarest documents in the history of science, and a book discussion guide.

Each of these OERs are “small pieces loosely joined,” designed to be useful in a variety of teaching situations and adaptable to support lessons in multiple subject areas and age levels. They are not lesson plans in themselves, but the raw materials we use in working with educators which may be customized for any particular setting. They are distributed without copyright, so that educators and others may adapt them to their own purposes (under a Creative Commons license, cc-by-nc).

In a new collaboration with the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art during the spring 2016 semester, the Museum educator and the Libraries’ Galileo’s World educator teamed up to take several activities involving art and astronomy to more than 600 students in 3rd, 4th and 5th grade public school classrooms in the Norman and south-Oklahoma City area. Schools were selected with a preference toward those least likely to be able to arrange field trips to visit the physical exhibit.

Educators and others may follow the blog to stay up-to-date with OER development and educator outreach.

Technology and media

Galileo’s World involved various technology and media initiatives, both on site and online. These initiatives were designed to help visitors grasp the multifaceted character of the exhibition and to connect the world of Galileo with the world of OU and with their own experience.

On site:

Visitors begin their tour of Galileo’s World at the OU Libraries by watching balls fall from an 18-foot tall replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, when they press a large red button. Two monitors provide explanatory information in this exhibit created by students and faculty in the College of Engineering.

Elsewhere on the main floor, visitors pass by a “Reading Nook” and a “Technology Square.” In the latter, they may explore connections from Galileo’s world to their own world via a large monitor, attached to an iPad kiosk, running an app featuring semantic analysis, created for the Galileo’s World exhibition by the Moomat tech company in Tulsa.

Other exhibits, on the 1st and 5th floors, include 8 monitors with iPad kiosks, featuring a variety of video and audio resources. The six galleries on the 5th floor include imaginative, one-minute introductions to each gallery produced as letters written to Galileo from his eldest daughter, Sister Maria Celeste (filmed with an OU freshman dramaturgy student). Other resources include video instrument tutorials, provided at high resolution in a partnership with the Museo Galileo in Florence.

An 80-inch monitor in the exhibition theater provides a 2-minute overview of the entire Galileo’s World exhibition. Another 80-inch monitor in the main Exhibit Hall projects beautiful, high resolution, artfully-photographed images of books on display, enhancing the emotional appeal of the rare books as aesthetic objects in their own right. All of these technological initiatives help visitors connect in a more meaningful way to the original rare books and other objects on display.


Although Galileo’s World is a temporary exhibit (one year in multiple locations, followed by a two-year reprise), it will endure through a permanent online presence. Central to this enduring presence are three initiatives, each designed with different but overlapping purposes: an Exhibit Website ( for general exploration and discovery, a digital library for scholarly research (, and an iPad Exhibit Guide for educators and individual study. The first two of these work with all digital devices. The Exhibit Website includes directions and information about each Galileo’s World location, as well as an events calendar. From the Exhibit Website, one may jump to digitized versions of the books in the digital library, read their descriptions in the Libraries’ online catalog, and explore further links. The captions on the Exhibit Website are abbreviated for the casual visitor walking through the exhibit for the first time. Each of the 350 original rare books on display is being digitized cover to cover for inclusion in the digital library (most are already uploaded).

The iPad Exhibit Guide offers more comprehensive information about each gallery and each object on display. Its captions are roughly twice as long as those on the Exhibit Website. At over 1,000 pages and with over 6,000 images, it is a free download obtained by searching the iBook Store for “Galileo’s World Exhibit Guide” (requires the free iBooks app for Mac or iOS).

Free Open Educational Resources (OER’s) produced for Galileo’s World are posted online at Lynx Open Ed, Educators and others may follow the blog to stay up-to-date with OER development and educator outreach.

Finally, Galileo’s World information has been prominently featured in the Facebook, twitter and blogs of the History of Science Collections. The Curator’s unofficial blog ( contains easy-to-scan lists of the books displayed in every gallery. The twitter account (@OUHOSCollection) has more than 500 followers.

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