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The Representation of Science and Scientists on Postage Stamps

The Representation of Science and Scientists on Postage Stamps: A science communication study OPEN ACCESS

Christopher B. Yardley
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: ANU Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt15hvqxp
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  • Book Info
    The Representation of Science and Scientists on Postage Stamps
    Book Description:

    The Representation of Science and Scientists on Postage Stamps examines how the postal authorities of the world have developed unique techniques to portray science and scientists in order to convey a message behind the stamp issue. It is a multi-disciplinary examination that investigates visual representation, semiotics, science, science history and politics, amongst other issues.

    eISBN: 978-1-925021-80-6
    Subjects: General Science, History of Science & Technology, History
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  1. For approaching two centuries, the images on postage stamps have been used to convey messages from the government of the day to the general public. Science has been used to enhance those messages for the past nine decades. In this book, I explore the ways in which science and scientists have been portrayed on stamps and look at the ideas and, in some cases, the propaganda that underpins them.

    Communicating science through stamps has attracted few examples of scholarly analysis. Various people have looked at specific scientific disciplines, such as chemistry or medicine, on stamps, but a sweeping overview such...

  2. Bernard Smith, doyen of Australian art historians, is quoted as having said “an image is information” and that in assessing an image it should be “tested for validity and intention” (Palmer, 2012). The messages being studied in this book are those contained within postage stamps representing science, which I define later in this chapter.

    As issued by the postal authority, stamps fall into two main categories. The first is the definitive issue, general purpose stamps which are on sale, usually for a period of a few years, over the post office counter. These are sold to pre-pay a postal service...

  3. In this chapter I shall follow the sequence of the methodology in outlining the general results from my study. I have examined the stamps of the ten countries of interest and determined which have a science message, defined by examining each image to ask: Does the stamp name or recognise a particular scientist as the main or significant image of the design? Is the subject image non-personalised, showing a science, a scientific device or the description of science in the service of the public to convey its message?

    Following the determination that these stamps were showing a science as its...

  4. I have identified postage stamps conveying a science message from ten countries. This allows me to examine the development of these images over time to explore the following questions: What messages did governments and postal authorities wish to convey at what times? Have specific events influenced the messages being sent? These questions are pointers to the first research question in this study: What does the representation of science and scientists on postage stamps convey about the political and cultural necessities of a country at the time of issue? As Stoetzer notes: “Today governments are unabashedly using postage stamps to promote...

  5. 5. On Being First (pp. 143-174)

    In the previous chapter I have been able to review the use of stamps to deliver political messages. In this chapter, I look at how the representation of scientists on stamps has developed over time and investigate examples of stamps being used as the vehicle to substantiate ‘firsts’ in science.

    Robert Merton’s “Priorities in Scientific Discovery” (1957) discusses the way that science is structured, noting the importance attached to the date of a discovery and the world’s acknowledgement of the achievement. Disputes are commonplace regarding such recognition, and Merton states that it is more likely that the case will be...

  6. Two quotations outline my thoughts behind looking at heroes of science:

    … stamps constitute the tip of the iceberg of the nexus of cultural, historical and political forces of the society to which they give expression … offering images which provide the possibility of a degree of independent or national assertion (Scott, 1995, p. 94).

    Postage stamps are particularly suitable for making comparisons between attitudes, (to science and scientists), in different countries, because they communicate chiefly in pictorial or symbolic fashion, no great linguistic skill is needed to interpret their messages (Jones, 2001, p. 404).

    The analysis of Chapter Three...

  7. A postage stamp is a time capsule, a representation of an ideal or a situation at a certain point in time. The point in time is more likely to be the date of decision as to what event, celebration or message is to be circulated than the date of issue because of the lead time for the development of the stamp issue. Nonetheless and regardless of how the representation ages or deteriorates, it is a visual memory and a marker of an idea to be celebrated at a particular time. In this chapter, I examine the stamps issued to celebrate...

  8. 8. Discussion (pp. 265-284)

    Previous academic research has been conducted to gauge the communication potential of the postage stamps of a few specific countries and some regional bases. This research concentrated on such issues as geopolitics and the creation of national icons, particularly at a political level. But none had specifically looked at how science messages are communicated. This has been the opportunity afforded by my study. Having defined what I believe constitutes a science message on a stamp I have used a case study approach to answer ‘how’ and ‘why’ science and scientists are represented on postage stamps. My focus has been investigating...

  9. 9. Conclusions (pp. 285-290)

    The postage stamp exists as a viable lightweight and portable mechanism to prepay for postal services and transmit information around the world. In looking at the science on stamps messages of ten different countries, this study shows such examination can provide a truly international perspective. Science messages on stamps fulfill a wide spectrum of objectives, from the celebratory acknowledgement of the achievements of a scientist to the massive technonationalistic developments of the twenty-first century. The basic reason for raising a science issue might be nation-building, civic education, notification of political decisions, celebration of events and anniversaries, public health advice, and...