row of astrolabes

Biennial History of Astronomy Workshop - ND XI June 12–16, 2013


Invited Talks

“Islam at the Crossroads: Reflections on the History and Historiography of Astronomical Transmission”
F. Jamil Ragep, McGill University
Premodern Islamic societies stood at a crossroads both in time and in space, temporally between the ancient world and the modern, and spatially in the midst of the civilizations of the oecumene. Recent studies have discovered any number of interesting cases of scientific transmission to and from Islam, which accentuate its critical role in both scientific transmission and transformation over more than a millennium. But another line of argument has played down this role, based on either cultural specificity or else on assumptions of parallel (but independent) development. This talk will explore these alternatives and argue that in fact intercultural scientific transmission, both in the Islamic case and in others, should be seen as more the norm rather than the exception.

“The Other Transmission, or How Did Muslims Manage to Transfer Astronomical Knowledge over Fifty Generations?”
F. Jamil Ragep, McGill University, and Sally Ragep, McGill University
It has often been held that science in Islamic societies was a marginal pursuit, undertaken and supported mainly by scholars and governing elites who stood outside of mainstream Islamic civilization. The puzzle then is how could such a marginal enterprise survive, and indeed thrive, for over a millennium. By looking at the dissemination and preservation of astronomical texts, as well as astronomical pedagogy, we offer an alternative view of the status of science and astronomy in Islamic societies that emphasizes a more central role.

Panel Proposals

“Discovery and Classification in Astronomy: The Nature of Discovery and its Diffusion among Scientific Cultures”
This session is designed to illuminate the nature of discovery and its diffusion among and within scientific cultures. Dick begins by laying out the major conclusions of a new book on discovery and classification. Smith analyzes the context of William Huggins’s discovery of gaseous nebulae, and discusses the implications of Huggins’s studies of nebulae for concepts of discovery. The last two papers turn to the diffusion of discoveries in their social and institutional context. DeVorkin concentrates on Fred Whipple’s work on the composition of meteorites and how this was connected to ideas of the origin of the solar system. He shows how the nature of Whipple’s SAO group changed over some three decades, as he assembled a cross-disciplinary team, including meteoriticists, geologists, and astronomers in an astronomical institution. Bassi shows how Walter Orr Roberts navigated two scientific cultures—astronomy and meteorology—and exploited the disciplinary borderland of the “Sun-Earth Connection” to become the first director of NCAR, resulting in many discoveries about the relation of the Sun to weather. By placing the spotlight on discovery, this session analyzes a core component of astronomy that has received little historical analysis as a problematized concept.

“Teaching the History of Astronomy: Using the Past to Inform Present Pedagogy”
This session focuses on how the history of astronomy can be used to teach today’s students. The talks provide perspectives on using the history of astronomy in astronomy courses, history courses, and engagement with the public. Teaching can be viewed as a form of knowledge transmission (in the cases considered here, transmission of knowledge from past astronomers to current students), so this session fits well with the theme of this year’s workshop. Speakers include Chris Graney, Jonathan Klauke, Todd Timberlake, and Voula Saridakis.

“Adventures in Astronomical Transmission: Case Studies from the Premodern Period”
No abstract.

Panel Paper Abstracts

Steven J. Dick, NASA
“Discovery and Classification in Astronomy”
This paper presents the major conclusions of a book just being published at the time of the Notre Dame meeting: Discovery and Classification in Astronomy: Controversy and Consensus (Cambridge University Press, 2013). Among the conclusions are: (1) discovery is a central but problematic concept in astronomy that needs to be analyzed; (2) discovery is not an event at a discrete moment of time, but an extended process with a macrostructure consisting of detection, interpretation, and understanding, and a microstructure consisting of conceptual, technological and social roles; (3) the discovery of a new class of objects raises interesting historical questions about what is a new “class” and who decides if a new class has been discovered (think Pluto!); William Herschel was among the first to use the concept of “class” in astronomy; (4) classification has historically been both a pre-discovery and a post-discovery activity, corresponding to phenomenology in the first case and “the thing itself” in the second (as in Harvard spectral types vs. MK spectral types); (5) the concept of “collective” discovery best fits what actually happens in astronomy, but astronomers prefer to specify “the” discoverer; (6) most new classes of objects were discovered in the twentieth century, raising the question “Is there an end to the discovery of new astronomical classes?” Among other questions are the extent to which telescopes are engines of discovery, the role of theory, and social aspects of discovery.

Robert W. Smith, University of Alberta
“William Huggins, Evolutionary Naturalism and the Nature of the Nebulae”
William Huggins is now generally regarded as one of the great pioneers of the new science of astrophysics that emerged in the middle of the nineteenth century. By applying the spectroscope to the study of stars and nebulae, Huggins transformed himself within a few years in the 1860s from a scientific nobody into a leading figure, and his 1864 paper on the analysis of light from nebulae propelled him to the forefront of one of the most highly charged debates in nineteenth-century British science, a debate that engaged moral, political, and religious issues as well as scientific ones. Although he was later to become an evolutionary naturalist, in 1864 Huggins rejected evolution and his opinions on the nature of stars and nebulae were strongly shaped by natural theological arguments to do with unity of plan and unity of operation as well as his views on the existence of extraterrestrial life. An enthusiast in his later years for the nebular hypothesis in which nebulae transform themselves into stars and planets, in 1864 he believed that the nebulae were a separate order of creation. Ironically, Huggins’s 1864 paper became a key resource for advocates of the nebular hypothesis. Both Herbert Spencer and T. H. Huxley termed the nebular hypothesis the theory of evolution and John Tyndall contended that those who held the nebular hypothesis would probably agree that “all our philosophy, all our science and all our art...are potential in the fires of the sun.” I will also discuss some of the broader implications of Huggins’s studies of nebulae for notions of discovery as well as the history of astronomy.

David H. DeVorkin, National Air and Space Museum
“Breaking Cognitive Barriers from Meteors and Comets to Lunar Samples”
In addition to its cognitive and technological aspects, discovery is affected by social and institutional settings, including the transfer of knowledge across disciplines. I will follow the development of Fred Whipple’s interests in the composition of meteorites starting in the 1940s and early 1950s, which led to the recognition of the link between meteorites and the origin of the solar system. I will show how he worked in parallel to apply his interests and expertise to military-funded studies of exterior ballistics and by this route established optical reconnaissance systems at Harvard and SAO that eventually, in the 1960s, vastly improved the recovery of fresh meteorite samples, and led to internal conflict in the Smithsonian as to who should curate the recovery and analysis of these samples, following the historical work of Howard Plotkin. From there, I will explore his contemporaneous efforts to position his SAO team to take advantage of the availability of lunar samples, and how, over the arc of this study, some three decades, the nature of his group at SAO changed, resulting in a highly cross-disciplinary team analyzing lunar samples under the roof of what was still regarded as an astronomical institution.

Joseph P. Bassi, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University/Worldwide
“Successfully Navigating Scientific Borderlands and Subcultures: Astronomer Walter Orr Roberts, The Sun-Earth Connection, and the National Center of Atmospheric Research”
The National Science Foundation created the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) the US’s premier location for atmospheric studies. Walter Orr Roberts helped to create NCAR in the late 1950s and then became its first director. Roberts, however, was neither a meteorologist nor atmospheric physicist. He was rather a well-regarded solar astronomer and observatory administrator who had never done any research directly in meteorology or atmospheric physics. The question arises, how did a scientist with minimal background in atmospheric physics become the founding director of a major research institution for this field of scientific investigation? This paper shows how Roberts negotiated between two disparate scientific subcultures—astronomy and meteorology—by exploiting a disciplinary borderland between these fields, the study of the sun-earth connection. Specifically, he was able to obtain cache in the meteorological community by his deep and lasting interest in sun-weather studies. It is interesting to note that Roberts came to these studies as an attempt to demonstrate the practical applications of solar research in order to entice sponsorship from private donors. Although not known for any widely recognized research in atmospheric physics, his interest in the science of the sun-weather connection enabled him to develop communion with many in the meteorological community of the 1950s. By navigating this sun-earth scientific borderland and having the reputation as a successful scientific administrator, Roberts then quickly became a prime candidate to be NCAR’s founding director. In his ten-year tenure, Roberts did establish NCAR as the world-class research center the NSF intended it to become. His experience illustrates that the existence of scientific borderlands such as the sun-earth connection can have important ramifications for the development of the disciplines involved.

Christopher Graney, Jefferson Community and Technical College
“’You Who laid the foundations of the earth, so that it should not be moved forever’: One Scientist’s Conversation with Those Who Oppose Science with Scripture”
What does it mean to understand science? What does it mean to object to science on the grounds of religion or cultural tradition? This talk will relate the personal experience of one scientist in discussing science with people who largely oppose science on religious and cultural grounds, and will ask whether scientists and science educators can achieve better public understanding of science by discussing science within the framework of people’s religious and cultural beliefs, rather than by battling those beliefs. It will also emphasize the importance of science history in developing public understanding of science, which is often an exercise in transmitting astronomical ideas across cultural boundaries as much as it is an exercise in developing a knowledge of scientific principles or discoveries.

Jonathan Klauke, Central Michigan University
“Stepping into History: Reacting to the Past with Galileo’s Trial”
This presentation introduces the Reacting to the Past pedagogy developed at Barnard College. Specifically it will introduce the “Galileo’s Trial” game and its ability to teach students the science of Galileo and the Church, as well as the historical environment and context in which this trial took place. Students are motivated to research the science and history of the trial in order to win as they compete against each other for votes on the fate of Galileo. Not only must the students adequately argue their view points, they must also avoid assassination attempts, bribery, and heresy trials of the inquisition. Students must grapple with the scientific ideas of Galileo, Copernicus, Ptolemy, Aristotle and others as well as the theology of the late medieval Catholic church, all within the environment of Renaissance Italy, full of politics, bribery, and all manner of political intrigue. Students work as factions to defend their views and attack the views of others utilizing historical arguments and historical texts. The more students work and research, the better they perform in the game. Because the outcome of the game is completely open, the focus on winning motivates students to go beyond the required reading to develop and convey new arguments to win the votes of others. This pedagogy, and Galileo’s Trial specifically, can be effective in several classroom settings including history, astronomy, and Freshman Year Experience classes. It motivates students to learn what the science of the past was, how it was developed, the debates it took part in, and the historical context in which these debates took place. This also helps students understand why history turned out the way it did.

Todd Timberlake, Berry College
“Defusing the Diffusion of Incorrect Knowledge: Hooke’s Parallax, van Maanen’s Rotations, and the Resolution of Orion”
Astronomers often talk about testing astronomical theories against observational data, with the assumption that any discrepancy is an indication that the theory is incorrect. Sometimes, though, it is the observational data that are to blame. In this talk I will discuss how I incorporate incorrect measurements into a course on the history of stellar and galactic astronomy. I will focus on Robert Hooke’s alleged measurement of parallax, Adrian van Maanen’s alleged measurement of rotation in spiral nebulae, and the reported resolution of the Orion nebula into stars by astronomers at Birr Castle in Ireland. In all three cases the astronomical community found reasons to question the observational results directly, but the primary reasons for rejecting these observational data were theoretical. Including this material in an introductory astronomy course gives students the opportunity to examine the ways that scientific errors are corrected, and helps students see beyond a naive empiricist or falsificationist view of the nature of science.

Voula Saridakis, Lake Forest College
“Using the ’Biography of Objects’ to Teach the History of Astronomy”
In recent years, there have been new trends in historiography and material culture involving an emphasis on the role and context of material objects and placing them in a wider historical perspective. This application of biography or “life-writing” to objects has become more common and popular in recently published works such as Lorraine Daston’s Biographies of Scientific Objects (2000) and Neil MacGregor’s A History of the World in 100 Objects (2010). The methodology of “object biography” can also become an integral and engaging pedagogical tool at the college or university level. In this presentation, I will discuss this methodology of using objects to understand the history of astronomy in the classroom with examples from the Adler Planetarium, Museum of Science and Industry, University of Chicago Special Collections, and the Newberry Library. By visiting local museums, libraries, and collections, students can examine, “interrogate,” and analyze the objects themselves, research them and their histories, and finally, write about them and how they fit into the larger context of the history of astronomy and science.

Kim Plofker, Union College
“’All their books are in verse’: The Assimilation of Numerical Table Texts in Indian Astronomy”
The Muslim scholar and scientist al-Biruni famously remarked of Indian astronomers in the early eleventh century that they learned their science by memorizing treatises composed in Sanskrit verse, disdaining reliance on the written book. Somewhat surprisingly, within a few centuries astronomical ephemerides, with their tabular numerical format that defied memorization, had become the most thriving genre in Indian astronomy. Although it is generally accepted that the Sanskrit table text (kosthaka or sarani) was adapted from the Arabic/Persian tables-handbook or zij during the formative period of Indo-Islamic culture, little has been said about the details of this transmission. This paper examines the development of the earliest known Sanskrit astronomical tables and identifies key points in their naturalization within Indian science.

Richard Kremer, Dartmouth
“Astronomical diffusion over the longue durée: Three Centuries of Immanuel Bonfil’s Book of Six Wings
Written around 1340 in Hebrew at Tarascon on the Rhône, the Sepher Shesh Kenaphayim (Book of Six Wings) presents six tables for predicting eclipses, largely based on the parameters and methods of al-Battani. This work, composed by the Rabbi Immanuel ben Jacob Bonfils, enjoyed considerable distribution and remains extant in thirty-five Hebrew manuscripts, twelve Greek manuscripts (translated in 1435), and two Latin versions (translated in 1406 and 1437). In the 1630s, Gassendi and Peiresc had a Hebrew version that Solomon Azubi, a rabbi in Carpentras, translated into French for them.

I can think of few sets of medieval astronomical tables that diffused through this number of languages and astronomical communities, over three centuries. In this paper I will examine the contexts for the Greek, Latin, and French translations of Bonfils’ tables and will ask why these tables might have moved so easily given the existence, over these three centuries, of better known and more widely used competing astronomical tables.

Robert Morrison, Bowdoin
“The Broader Context of Renaissance Astronomy”
For several decades, historians of astronomy have been aware of circumstantial evidence that Nicholas Copernicus (1473–1543) had drawn, without acknowledgment, on the achievements of the astronomers of Islamic societies, particularly Ibn al-Shāṭir (d. 1375). Since there is a consensus that Copernicus relied on the work of Regiomontanus (d. 1476) without actually mentioning Regiomontanus by name, the issue of other un-cited sources for Copernicus’ work remains. This presentation will show that these connections were not just circumstantial and that the range of connections between the theoretical astronomy of the Islamic world and Renaissance astronomy extends beyond the appearance of the innovations of astronomers of the Islamic world in Copernicus’ work. In particular, the presentation will discuss the relevance of homocentric astronomy to this question of transmission. Michael Shank has pointed out that Regiomontanus understood homocentric astronomy to be a valid way to criticize Ptolemy. Astronomers at the University of Padua remained interested in homocentric astronomy into the first half of the sixteenth century. And a scholarly intermediary between the Ottoman Empire and the Veneto, a scholar aware of Ibn al-Shāṭir’s theories, was also a partisan of homocentric astronomy. Finally, the presentation will show that these exchanges in theoretical astronomy were only a small part of the activities of a broader scholarly network.

Paper Proposals

Durruty Jesús de Alba Martínez, Universidad de Guadalajara and Salvador Galindo Uribarri, Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Nucleares
“Were Franciscan Friars Early Copernicus Readers?”
After a brief review on some scientific issues by members of the Franciscan Order along knowledge history, we describe Mexico’s specific case and in particular such concerning the only first edition copy of the De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium that exists in a Latin American country, which we identified in a previously published paper (Revista Mexicana de Física E 58 (2012): 41–52) Franciscan friars as readers, among others. In several libraries and archives we found some books and documents from such readers that give us some image of the ideas spreading from seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, which are discussed.

Reza Assasi, McGill University
“Mithra(s): From Persia to Rome on a Celestial Quadriga”
The modern term “Mithraism” replaced the terms “the mysteries of Mithras” or “the mysteries of Persians” in antiquity. “Mithras” is the name of the Indo-Iranian god “Mithra,” adopted into Greek. Because of the secret nature of this cult in Roman antiquity, almost no considerable written narratives or theology from the religion survive, but fortunately hundreds of materials related to Mithraism have been preserved. The majority of the research on Roman Mithraism focuses on interpreting the physical evidence, while the definition of Roman Mithraism remains problematic and controversial. Despite the fact that the Romans believed in an Iranian origin for this cult, finding its origins has been one of the controversies among twentieth-century scholars. In this paper the author suggests how a particular symbol in some Mithraic artifacts is related to a group of stars visible in the northern hemisphere. The author suggests the constellation formed by this group in relation to Mithraic myths as a support for the possibility of early awareness of astrological changes caused by the axial precession of the Earth among Persians and Romans. The research is based on a comparative study of ancient Iranian sources and Roman Mithraic iconography. The result suggests that a series of symbols can reveal a code for better understanding Iranian and Roman Mithraic myths and their early connections. This research is an original contribution to the field that represents a step towards revising previous theories on Mithraism.

Jorge Bartolucci, IISUE/UNAM
“Establishing the San Luis Observatory: The First Astronomical Project Supported by The Carnegie Institution to Explore the Southern Hemisphere (1903–1913); A Singular Case of the Global Dimension of Science”
In 1908, the Carnegie Institution decided to support a project to explore the southern hemisphere from an small observatory erected in San Luis, Argentina, a little town with just 10,000 inhabitants and a scientific activity almost null. In this context, the questions that historians of science ask regularly when we investigate the emergence and development of a scientific project become highly relevant. What were the motivations to get it going? Under what circumstances was it possible for this to happen? Why was installed in that spot? Who was involved in the fact? What results were obtained in the end? Who carried out the work? What was the contribution to specialized knowledge? What do we learn about their experience, their articulation with the scientific community in general and with regard to its implementation in a particular society? In this paper we present some results of a document review conducted in the archives of the Dudley Observatory, Albany, New York, and the Mary Lea Shane Archives of the University of California (USA). The research is part of the project, “The Cooperation of American Astronomers in the Establishment of the National Observatory of Cordoba, Argentina: The Case of Dudley Observatory,” which was awarded the 2005 Herbert C. Pollock Award.

Nora Boyd, University of Pittsburgh
“It is a good thing for every man to know a little about astronomy; it will make him a better man”
Heber Curtis explicitly agreed with John Brashear on this point. Curtis is well known as one half of the Great Debate on the nature of nebula in 1920, but there is a lot more to say about this interesting character. Highlights from Curtis’s correspondence while he was director of the Allegheny Observatory from 1920–1930 reveal his commitment to the public accessibility of astronomy. Of particular interest are his thoughts on building a planetarium in Pittsburgh and on eclipse expeditions that welcomed non-astronomers. This paper will explore Curtis’s orientation towards the intersection of science and the public sphere as it emerges from his post-debate letters and contrast it with attitudes characteristic of contemporary scientists (and popularizers of science) with respect to the “laymen.”

Gary L. Cameron, Iowa State University
“Optical Diffusion: Amateur Telescope Making and the Transfer of Technical Knowledge in the International Context”
Diffusion of knowledge is not one-way and can involve complicated networks of communication between various loci of knowledge. The case of amateur telescope makers (ATMs) in the twentieth century offers a prime example of the complex nature of such diffusion. Standard histories state that amateur telescope making began in America with Russell W. Porter (Willard, 1976; Henry, 1977). In fact, Porter and other American ATMs were strongly influenced by the British. Furthermore, though Porter, A. G. Ingalls, and other prominent members of the ATM movement in the United States did exert considerable influence on ATMs worldwide, there were existing traditions that developed largely independent of the Anglo-American locus, in particular those in the Soviet Union and Japan. Russian amateur astronomers had available works such as A. Chikin’s Reflecting Telescopes: Making Reflectors by Means Available to Amateurs as early as 1915, a decade prior to Porter and Ingalls’s popularization efforts. The formation in 1957 of the “Maksutov Club,” a group centered largely in the United States, was remarkable not only for being dedicated to producing telescopes to the design of Soviet optical designer D. D. Maksutov, but that it unexpectedly occurred at the height of the Cold War. Japanese telescope makers of the 1920s and 1930s were effectively cut off from the Western ATM community during World War II, yet developed superb optical equipment for the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy and furnished the basis for a post-war boom in sales of commercial amateur-grade telescopes to the West. The histories of isolated ATM communities illustrate how an independent “intellectual species” can branch off, develop in isolation, and then recombine with others in unusual and unexpected fashion.

Robert Cockcroft and Sarah Symons, McMaster University
“Ancient Egyptian Astronomy Online”
Ancient Egyptian astronomy is dominated by the works of Otto Neugebauer and Richard Parker, an historian of science and an Egyptologist, who published the three-volume work Egyptian Astronomical Texts (EAT) in the 1960s. EAT catalogued the available instances of astronomical tables and texts, and offered a collection of translations. It remains the key work in the field. However, the analysis provided in EAT, especially of the astronomical “timekeeping” instruments Neugebauer and Parker labelled “star clocks” is presented without much justification or exploration of alternative interpretations. Equally, the astronomical background required to understand Neugebauer and Parker’s explanations is assumed. EAT therefore presents a formidable face to those interested in early astronomical documents but lacking a comprehensive understanding of both Egyptology and positional astronomy. Our presentation describes a project which aims to update the information available in EAT via a scholarly online website and database that not only provides a bridge between Neugebauer and Parker’s theories to our current understanding, but also catalogues the latest data in an accessible format. We will outline the difficulties in describing and categorizing the ancient texts and the issues of presenting context for the sources when there are still questions about their origins, purpose, and use as scientific instruments. We will also introduce the audience to a partial release of the website.

Michael Crowe, University of Notre Dame
“William Whewell, the Plurality of Worlds, and the Modern Solar System”
In this paper, I will discuss William Whewell’s Of the Plurality of Worlds: An Essay. I will suggest that Whewell was the first author to glimpse our modern solar system, and that this had cosmic significance, because it suggested that systems surrounding other stars might be of comparable form. I will also discuss the role of religion in Whewell’s arguments.

Kevin Donnelly, Alvernia University
“The Melancholy Astronomer: Quetelet’s Romantic Years, 1819–1832”
My paper examines the dramatic writings of the nineteenth-century astronomer and statistician Adolphe Quetelet. While Quetelet is most recognized in the literature today for his theory of the average man—a statistical aggregate of features he felt to be the ultimate in human perfection—and for his work in creating the Brussels Royal Observatory, he was also the author of more than fifteen pieces of dramatic writing, including operas, short stories, and farcical comedies, several dozen published poems, and an essay on the history of the romantic genre. In addition to investigating the relationship between his dramatic pieces and his research in astronomy, meteorology, and terrestrial magnetism, this paper will also offer explanations for why Quetelet ceased to write and publish any dramatic works after 1832. Though possibly a coincidence, Quetelet’s romantic writings dropped off soon after he took up office in his new observatory. By following Quetelet’s romantic tales of starry nights and star-crossed lovers up until his career at the observatory, it is also possible to examine the transition of a larger astronomical discourse in nineteenth-century Europe: the transition from the stories of the almanac to the quantitative drone of ephemerides.

Connemara Doran, Harvard University
“The Question of the Intrinsic Curvature of Space: Diffusion between Mathematics and Astronomy, Cosmology and Epistemology (1873–1917)”
My paper analyzes the diffusion among late-nineteenth-century mathematicians and astronomers of the idea that the universe might have intrinsic curvature, perhaps empirically measurable. The publication in 1868 of Riemann’s Habilitation coincided with the dissemination of the writings on non-Euclidean geometry and intrinsic curvature by Gauss, Bolyai, and Lobachevsky—which discussed the possibility of determining the curvature of our space via parallax measurements—sparking a revolution in thought about the “shape” and “dimensions” of the universe. From 1873 onwards, astronomers such as Robert Ball in Britain, Simon Newcomb and Charles Peirce in America, and Karl Schwarzschild in Germany assessed the likely observational implications of negatively curved hyperbolic space and positively curved spaces, communicating extensively with mathematicians including William Clifford and Felix Klein. Thought experiments proliferated among scientists more broadly about how beings in a non-Euclidean world would experience the intrinsic curvature of their space. An abrupt shock to the discourse occurred with a provocative thought experiment introduced in 1891-92 by the French mathematician and celestial mechanist Henri Poincaré. Intelligent creatures from a hyperbolic world, whose geometry is based on its freely-chosen non-Euclidean conventions, would, if transported to our world, observe the same phenomena we do but express the physical laws differently; we, likewise, would enunciate the laws of their world using our Euclidean conventions. Yet, in each case, no experiment utilizing either a hyperbolic or Euclidean metric (or any other) would be able to distinguish between a world that is hyperbolic and one that is Euclidean (without knowledge of the global topology of that world). I argue that Poincaré’s intensive foray into analysis situs, inaugurated at the very same date, served as an effort to overcome this limitation (a constraint of mathematical fact) by developing new mathematical tools to assess the topology of a space. Poincaré’s topological investigations were not completed until 1904, and it would be decades before other mathematicians had probed the depths and expanses of the concepts he had created. Accordingly, Poincaré’s meaning was lost as it diffused, leading to confusions, distortions, and multiple and conflicting interpretations of his argument and, consequently, I claim, of his entire philosophy. As Jeremy Gray explains, Poincaré had changed a cosmological question into a deep and subtle epistemological one, but interpreters wrongly tended to view it as the former. I interpret Poincaré’s famous puzzle as an “epistemic object” that since its inception has been central to efforts among the major actors (physicists, astronomers, cosmologists, philosophers, and ultimately historians) struggling analytically with issues regarding the metric and topology of space. Only by understanding the interrelated trajectories of mathematics (geometry, topology, analysis) and astronomy in this period can one comprehend how, within weeks of Albert Einstein’s November 1915 paper introducing the general theory of relativity, it was an astronomer, Schwarzschild (who had long worked within the mathematical cosmogonical framework of celestial mechanics following Poincaré), who produced the first exact solution to Einstein’s field equations, produced the Schwarzschild metric, and advised Einstein regarding its cosmological implications. Similarly, another astronomer, Willem de Sitter, published three papers in 1916 introducing cosmological (and topological) requirements for general relativity, entering into a vigorous debate with Einstein which stimulated Einstein to produce his cosmological extension in 1917 and led to several joint models of the universe.

Sebastian Falk, University of Cambridge
“Constructing Astronomical Knowledge: The User-Friendly Design of a Medieval Equatorium”
The Equatorie of the Planetis is a fourteenth-century astronomical treatise discovered, named, and attributed to Geoffrey Chaucer by Derek de Solla Price. Its authorship remains unresolved, but what seems clear is that it is a unique manuscript describing the implementation of Ptolemaic planetary astronomy for practical astrological purposes. The designs of equatoria equip them either for computation or demonstration; in this case, the author manipulated Ptolemaic principles to produce an instrument of impressive clarity and usability. Planetary positions could be found very quickly using this equatorium, far more easily than through geometric calculation. The manuscript is written in Middle English but is clearly based on earlier Latin and Arabic treatises; I will discuss some issues in translation and the communication of knowledge raised by this early example of vernacular English in a scientific context. Using a model I have constructed according to the instructions in the treatise, I will explain how it improves upon earlier simplifications such as the “epicycle tail” model. Despite some limitations, this instrument provides an outstanding balance of simplicity and accuracy. I will argue that, although it would be unwieldy, it was certainly designed to be made, and was not simply a thought-experiment. It represents the shaping of astronomical knowledge for purely practical purposes; I will discuss what these purposes might have been.

Margaret Gaida, University of Oklahoma
“Rotating Discs, Transmitting Knowledge: Volvelles in Sixteenth-Century Astronomical Textbooks”
In the sixteenth century, printers of astronomical textbooks introduced a novel form of instrument, contained within the text, known as a volvelle. Volvelles are stacks of rotating discs that enabled various types of interaction with the text. Since Owen Gingerich first brought attention to these sixteenth-century volvelles in 1989, not much attention has been given them beyond bibliographic descriptions. Despite an early foray by Regiomontanus in 1474, volvelles became popular only in the 1520s, especially after the publication of Peter Apian’s Cosmographicus Liber in 1524. The 1530s saw the incorporation of volvelles into Sacrobosco’s Sphaera and Peurbach’s Theoricae novae planetarum, and they continued to be present in these works until approximately the 1580s. Through a careful analysis of the many editions at the History of Science Collections at the University of Oklahoma, this paper seeks a deeper understanding of volvelles in astronomical texts. It examines their function (instructional, representational, or computational) in the various works, which illustrate the transfer of knowledge from astronomical experts to novices. It is important to study volvelles as part of an integrated whole: the written text, the volvelle itself, and the context of engagement with these astronomical texts elucidate how astronomical ideas were made accessible to a broad audience. Finally, in investigating the locales of production, printers, astronomers, and mathematical practitioners, this paper aims to answer why volvelles were printed and became popular in particular places and times (for example, Nuremburg, Louvain, and Wittenburg), and why they subsequently lost popularity at the end of the sixteenth century.

Elizabeth Hamm, Saint Mary’s College of California
“Ptolemy’s Criteria for Constructing Models”
In this talk I will examine the criteria Claudius Ptolemy uses in the Planetary Hypotheses when constructing his models. In Book II of the Planetary Hypotheses Ptolemy builds on, and argues against, the works of Aristotle. He rejects Aristotle’s unwinding spheres, he examines what drives planetary motion, and he presents his own count for the number of spheres in the celestial realm. Additionally, Ptolemy offers the possibility that partial spheres (sawn-off spheres that are tambourine-like in shape) could be used instead of full spheres. In the case of the full versus sawn-off spheres, Ptolemy chooses one idea over another because he considers it to be simpler. However, a survey of Ptolemy’s writings shows that what he means by simplicity is more complicated than it first appears. This study will explore Ptolemy’s understanding of simplicity as it relates to the celestial realm and his application of these ideas when he is faced with two or more possible explanations that account for his observations.

Eric Hatleback, University of Pittsburgh
“Classifying Multiverse Structures”
Detailed study of the “many worlds” cosmological models that are prevalent in the history of astronomy and cosmology reveals that those models comprise a now-neglected part of the historical tradition that leads to contemporary multiverse cosmological thought. Thus, it emerges that the multiverse hypothesis has been postulated with regularity, under different names, since antiquity. These historical episodes of multiverse thought are in dire need of proper classification. I undertake that task by proposing a single framework that accommodates both historical “many worlds” models and contemporary multiverse models. The process, upon completion, provides a cleanly organized storage unit where currently there resides a single, heaping, historical “dustbin” cluttered with all sorts of “many worlds” and “multiple universe” models. Of equal importance, this task connects the involved historical models of astronomy and cosmology to the contemporary models, thereby linking theory and knowledge across many millennia. This coherently unifies the entirety of the multiverse tradition, from the ancient thinkers through the contemporary theorists.

Thomas Hockey, University of Northern Iowa
“My Reflection on the Telescope’s Four Hundredth”
The International Year of Astronomy brought forth a prodigious amount of literature on the telescope and its influence in science, society, and even art. Yet philosophers were oddly absent in recognizing the four-hundredth anniversary of this remarkable instrument. They have not been so in regard to the telescope’s cousin, the microscope. Both the telescope and microscope have extended human senses and are the basis for many scientific achievements, some of which save our lives. Yet philosophers of an idealist persuasion question the microscope as a conduit to reality. The argument goes something like this: The telescope, at least, shows us objects that we could, in theory, visit and scrutinize at close distance—planets and stars. The microscope shows us objects in an inner world that we can never call upon ourselves. Regardless of what you believe about the microscope, this old special pleading for the telescope I find naïve today. I will present an argument in which the microscope and telescope are equivalent in that they both allow us to “visit” places to which we could never travel through space and time.

Gustav Holmberg, Lund University
“Variable Stars and Twentieth-Century Swedish Amateur Astronomy”
In this paper, the history of variable star amateur astronomy in Sweden is discussed. It is a kind of amateur astronomy that values skills such as perseverance and precision, and one that often entails collaboration. In order to observe variable stars in a meaningful way, a number of organizations have built up networks of observers and developed methods and procedures of observation; programs of recruiting and training new observers; and systems for the systematic collection, archiving, and dissemination of observational data. In this, they have communicated and interacted with professional astronomers, as well as with variable star observers and organizations in other countries. Albeit a small part of amateur astronomy, variable star enthusiasts emerged as a dedicated group of amateurs with intense communicative activities across geographical and academic borders.

Mustapha Kara-Ali, International Islamic University, Malaysia
“Constructivism across Islamo-European Boundaries in the Fifteenth Century: The Philosophical Transmission of the Foundations of Qushji’s Astronomical Models”
Qushji, who headed the Samarkand Observatory and was later associated with the scientific community of Constantinople under the Ottomans, wrote his magnum opus, which covers the philosophy of astronomy, as a commentary on Tusi’s Tajrid al-Kalam (Abstraction of Kalam). Qushji’s “moving eccentric” model for Mercury and Venus contained the critical philosophical breakthrough to a mathematical foundation for Earth’s motion. It was specifically this model that F. Jamil Ragep (2005) demonstrated an exact resemblance for with a diagram that appeared in Book XII (Proposition 2) of Regiomontanus’ Epitome of the Almagest (1496). Owen Gingerich (2008), Michael Shank (2008), and others have asserted the same transmission account. Earlier, Swerdlow (1973) remarked that Copernicus relied in both his Commentariolus and his De Revolutionibus upon this eccentric model of the second anomaly for the inferior planets as they appeared in the Epitome. Given the similarity in mathematical proof between that of the inferior planets (which Ptolemy rejected) and that of the superior ones (which he accepted), the breakthrough, therefore, is not one of mathematical proficiency: rather, it is a conceptual one. Ptolemy had disallowed the eccentric equivalence for the inferior planets, because the planets are never in opposition to the Sun, which means that to move the eccentric, the movement would be attributed to the Earth rather than the planet, which of course Ptolemy refused. But Qushji allowed for the possibility of Earth’s motion, as we see in his commentary on the Tajrid; thus, he is the only known pre-Copernican astronomer to have explicated and justified this model. To the contrary, Copernicus used this model to claim his heliocentric theory as a mathematical corollary, which in effect introduces a necessitarian worldview upon a constructive model that was first produced by Qushji based on the contingency of the natural world. By adopting a heliocentric view, Copernicus was applying Aristotelian syllogism to a transmitted foundation of astronomy, and, consequently, resorted to reversing Aristotle’s “stationary Earth” claim to a “stationary Sun.” Qushji never advocated heliocentricism, since constructivism as a theory of necessary knowledge does not lead to it. In fact, both geocentricism and heliocentricism are scientifically untenable, in a strict sense. With constructivism, mental existence allows for universal concepts in the mind, such as constructive mathematical models, to act as an aid to the process of individuation and astronomical perception. Qushji, who made significant progress in constructive semantics (‘ilm al-wad’), brought over his general method of constructivism and in particular his individuation theory from his treatises on constructive semantics into kalam’s various philosophical investigations on subjective conceptualism and its diverse empirical applications; extending with that the constructivist theory of knowledge from linguistic usage to mathematical modelling as a bearer of a constructivist philosophy that is diffusive across cultural boundaries, which we later unsurprisingly see resemblance for with Kant’s own Copernican Revolution and beyond.

Johan Kärnfelt, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
“The Reception of the American Amateur Telescope Making-Movement in Swedish Amateur Astronomy”
When the Swedish Astronomical Society was formed in 1919 amateur astronomy in Sweden was still in its infancy, engaging just a few isolated individuals. One of the society’s main aims was to try to change this state of affairs, and to try to muster a larger group of organized amateurs for the benefit of astronomy. But despite the best of intentions and a lot of activity it didn’t work out, the most important reason being that telescope prices were way too high to attract others than a few wealthy individuals. The society soon lost its interest in amateur astronomy, and it was not until the early 1940s, and with the reception of Albert G. Ingalls’s Amateur Telescope Making, that amateur astronomy returned to the society’s agenda. A small group within the society started to publish articles and compendiums on telescope making. In parallel they made arrangements with suppliers of optical glass, with opticians for eyepieces, and with the optical industry for aluminization of mirrors. And the work paid off. In just a couple of years the society managed to quadruple the number of amateur telescopes, thus giving Swedish amateur astronomy the necessary push. My presentation will outline this key episode in the history Swedish amateur astronomy, and discuss the reception, coordination, and further dissemination of Amateur Telescope Making on Swedish soil.

Jonathan Klauke, Central Michigan University
“Sharing the Heavens: A Study of Medieval Scientific Translation and the Role of Language in the Advancement of Science”
The question: why did the “scientific revolution” happen in Europe and not the Middle East has been asked by many scholars. I argue in this paper that this is the wrong question. It frames scientific advancement around the concept of the European “scientific revolution,” which forces scholars to analyze various cultures in accordance with a Western phenomenon, which may itself be conceptually inaccurate. This paper thus looks at scientific advancement from a broader and more cultural view to look at why some cultures make scientific advancement while others do not. This alternative view put forth is that science advances through the interaction of language, education, and precision. This changes the question to: why did Europe experience scientific advancement in the early modern period while science declined in the Middle East in this period? Specifically, this paper will compare scientific translation in medieval Islam and Tudor England in order to draw some conclusions concerning the role and influence of language in scientific advancement as well as how language may have contributed to the rise of science in one culture and its decline in another. Analyzing scientific translation also provides insights into cross-cultural interaction and how scientific ideas travel within and between cultures. This paper will focus primarily on the sciences of astronomy and physics and comes from a doctoral dissertation currently being written.

Lee Minnerly, Harper College
“Some Statements about Astronomy and Extraterrestrial Life in Canonical Texts of the Baha’i Religion”
Historians of science writing on the extraterrestrial life debate and its relationships with astronomy and religion describe various ways that ideas about extraterrestrials have challenged or have been incorporated within the beliefs and core doctrines of several religions and religious movements. Post-Copernican examples include Paine’s Age of Reason (1794), which rejected Christianity based on the argument that its fundamental doctrines of the divine incarnation and redemption are incompatible with belief in extraterrestrial life, and statements clearly supporting a plurality of inhabited worlds found in canonical works of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints published after The Book of Mormon (1830). This presentation will, for the first time in historical treatments of the debate, outline ideas about extraterrestrial life and astronomy in canonical texts of the Bahá’í faith, an Abrahamic religion founded in mid-nineteenth century Persia by Mirzá Ḥusayn-`Alí, surnamed Bahá’u’lláh (1819–1892). Readings of authorized translations of original works in Farsi and Arabic by the founder and central figures of the religion indicate the Bahá’í faith supports the idea of extraterrestrial life, references astronomy almost exclusively in didactic terms, and reveals a cosmology both similar to and distinctive from other Abrahamic traditions. Individually and collectively these observations introduce new information relevant to the subject of astronomy and religion in the debate.

David Pankenier
“Were Ancient Chinese Astronomy and Astrology Transmitted from Babylonia?”
This talk explores the question of the diffusion of Babylonian astronomy and astral divination to East Asia during the second to first millennia BCE. Early studies, strongly influenced by the Pan-Babylonian intellectual currents of the early twentieth century, claimed to discern seminal Mesopotamian influence on Chinese astronomy and astrology. This claim has persisted essentially unchallenged by sinologists for a century. The present paper re-examines the evidence for transmission in the light of more recent research and archaeological discoveries, with particular reference to the author’s study of the authoritative “Treatise on the Celestial Offices” by Sima Qian in his monumental history The Grand Scribe’s Records (Shiji, ca. 100 BCE). Joseph Needham, who subscribed to the diffusionist view, nevertheless described Sima Qian’s treatise as “a text of the highest importance for ancient Chinese astronomy.”

N. Rathnasree, Nehru Planetarium, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library
“Selective Diffusion of Astronomical Ideas in the Indian Context, Feroz Shah Tughlaq and Sawai Jai Singh: Two Case Studies”
Two case studies of astronomical endeavors, in the Indian context, are presented here. Diffusion and formative influences of Indian Siddhantic, classical Greco-Roman, Arabic/Persian as well as emerging modern European ideas (or their absence) in the case of the astronomical endeavors of Sawai Jai Singh (1688–1743 AD), has been studied in some thoroughness of detail, in literature. However, diffusion of astronomical influences to the common populace in the eighteenth century, as evidenced through extant art from Rajasthan from this period, as well as current-day dissemination of basic astronomy teaching to non-scientist visitors from the world over, through the astronomical endeavors of Sawai Jai Singh, has not been sufficiently appreciated. Likewise, the astronomical endeavors of the fourteenth-century Sultan of Delhi, Feroz Shah Tughlaq, have themselves never been explored in sufficient detail hitherto, let alone discussions of possible Arabic/Persian influences of astronomical ideas in some of the extant structures built by this sultan, which possibly do incorporate some astronomical usage. The paper is the first discussion in literature looking comprehensively into the possible astronomical endeavors of this Tughlaq sultan and looking at the tremendous potential that the Jantar Mantar observatories have as a teaching laboratory of astronomy through actual observational activities conducted with students.

Steven L. Renshaw, Kanda University of International Studies
“Cultural Adaptation of Astronomical Knowledge in Early Japanese History”
Japan is known more for its contributions to modern astronomy than for significant sites of astronomical alignment or for unique ancient knowledge of astronomical concepts. However, the adaptation of astronomical principles resulting from Japan’s interaction with neighbors on the Asian continent, especially in the latter part of the era sometimes referred to as “Ancient Japan” (approximately fourth through eighth centuries CE), provides a particularly fascinating study in how external knowledge and practice can be filtered through indigenous value systems to meet particular cultural and political purposes of a developing society. Following brief discussion of a theoretical framework for viewing cultural diffusion and an overview of historical context, this paper explores: (1) the significant relation between rising political hegemony in early Japan and the adoption of continentally derived astronomical principles (including calendar study), (2) the use and adaptation of Chinese cosmology and geomancy in the construction of cities, tombs, and other iconography, and (3) the integration of external astronomically based symbolism and practice in agricultural and other seasonally based lore, tradition, and behavior of common Japanese citizens.

Amanda Richard, Florida State University
“ Conceptions of Space and Place in Plato’s Timaeus
While many scholars discern an inconsistency in structure and subject between the two halves of the Timaeus, I propose that Plato continues the discussion of the eidetic city from the Republic and proceeds to the ontogenesis of the universe in order to formulate a complete conception of space and place inclusive of both physical and metaphysical objects. Rather than use a clearly delineated set of terms, such as V (“place”) or (“void”), I will demonstrate that the lexical ambiguity of (“place”), which Plato employs in several contexts throughout the text, allows for a complete cosmological picture and demonstrates its unique explanatory power. In the paper I address the composition of different types of bodies and the properties of space and place in the presence and absence of those bodies, as well as the issue of extension for material and immaterial substances. I conclude that Plato is not only formulating a cosmological system, but proceeding from the ideal city in the Republic which also had a complete physical and metaphysical picture, the Timaeus is Plato’s utopic conception of the universe.

Woodruff T. Sullivan, III, University of Washington
“William Herschel’s Legacy throughout the Nineteenth Century: A Complex Case of the Diffusion of Ideas”
William Herschel (1738–1822) made fundamental contributions to astronomy and telescope technology during the period 1780–1810, and during the remainder of the nineteenth century he was generally hailed as an unparalleled observer and telescope builder. Yet his influence was mixed during the nineteenth-century course of astronomy. In some subfields astronomers built heavily on his observations and ideas, while in other areas Herschel’s work for a long time was either ignored or taken for granted. There were also Herschelian results that were just plain wrong, misleading researchers for decades; examples include four claimed moons of Uranus, a squarish shape for Saturn, and a cool solid interior for the sun. This paper examines these various aspects of Herschel’s legacy, attempting to understand how his data and interpretations diffused into the future in such a variety of manners. Especially interesting aspects include: (a) the work on double stars and catalogs of clusters and nebulae by his son John; (b) the progress in reflector telescope technology (most famously with Lord Rosse’s six-foot reflector) and the (lack of) science from these telescopes; and (c) ideas on evolution of star clusters and nebulae.

Luís Tirapicos, Universidade de Lisboa
“Jesuit Astronomer Giovanni Battista Carbone as a Networker”
In this presentation I will address the role of Jesuit astronomer Giovanni Battista Carbone (1694–1750) as a pivot in the diffusion of astronomical knowledge. Between 1722 and 1750 Carbone served in the court of King João V (1689–1750), in Lisbon, and had access to the Portuguese diplomatic network, in addition to his participation in the vast, although centralized, network of the Jesuits. The Neapolitan astronomer was a central point in communicating astronomical data arriving from Beijing, Ingolstadt, Rome, Toulon or Bologna. He was also an important figure in the diffusion of new instruments—such was the case of a reflecting telescope by Samuel Molyneux (1689–1728) offered by King João V to Francesco Bianchini (1662–1729).

Silvia Zueck, UNAM, and Jorge Bartolucci, UNAM
“Circulation of Scientific Knowledge in Mexico: Annals of the National Astronomical Observatory of Chapultepec (1880–1900)”
This paper highlights the strategic importance of the Annals of the Observatorio Astronómico Nacional edited in a scientific institution founded in Mexico in the last third of the nineteenth century, a period during which communication was established primarily through print media to reach their destination by boat, train, mule, and carts. It is difficult to imagine how the scientific world communicated and integrated without the technology we have now developed. In previous times, establishing communication through letters, which were then mailed and distributed through transportation, meant long waiting periods before receiving a product. Readers also waited patiently to receive a book, magazine, or newspaper that kept them informed of everything that was happening locally, nationally, and internationally. Attending a conference at the Paris Observatory could involve a forty-day transatlantic crossing. Despite this long wait, everyone that was attracted by a common scientific goal found themselves communicating and exchanging information on a international scale. Accordingly, such printed products from those times may be seen to be analogous to current ones and one may appreciate that strategic importance of these as suitable instruments in the process of circulation and legitimation of scientific knowledge. Such exchange of knowledge through letters and journals generated in the annals allowed it to become an important scientific circle and within institutions and individuals across the country. The sociological approach adopted in this paper allows us to analyze the information collected from a perspective that not only includes descriptions of studies and astronomical instruments, but also the needs, interests, and expectations of stakeholders expressed in his work. Together this reflects the scientific mentality of the time as a result of the movement of astronomical knowledge between different cultures. Our main reference sources have been the National Astronomical Observatory Fund, Historical Archive, The library of Instituto de Astronomía, the Earth Sciences Historical Archive, and the Historical Archive of the Palacio de Minería, all of them at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

Poster Paper

Joseph S. Tenn, Sonoma State University
“The Astronomy Genealogy Project”
The Astronomy Genealogy Project, to be known as AstroGen, will list as many as possible of the world’s astronomers with their academic parents (aka thesis advisors) and enable the reader to trace both academic ancestors and descendants. It will be very similar to the highly successful Mathematics Genealogy Project (MGP), available at The MGP, which has been in operation since 1996, now contains the names of about 170,000 “mathematicians.” These include many physicists and astronomers, as well as practitioners of related sciences. Mitchel Keller, the director of the MGP, has generously shared the software used in that project, and the American Astronomical Society (AAS) will host AstroGen, a project of the AAS Historical Astronomy Division, on its website. Before we can start entering astronomers, a number of decisions must be made, for example, how to list university names, whether to translate thesis titles, standards for including those without doctorates, name changes, mentors vs. advisors, transliterations, inclusion of additional information such as years of birth and death. This paper is a call for volunteers to help make these decisions and run the project. We are especially seeking people with expertise in languages and in tracking down such information as old dissertations or their titles.

© 2014 University of Notre Dame.     Image Credits