various astronomy-related historical images

Biennial History of Astronomy Workshop - ND I June 24-27, 1993

Meeting Report from the October 1993 History of Science Society Newsletter

Notre Dame Workshop on the History of Astronomy

Over forty historians of science and scientist-practitioners assembled at South Bend for a three day workshop (24-27 June 1993) on the history of astronomy. Professor Michael Crowe (Notre Dame) managed local arrangements and the program was organized by Marc Rothenberg (Smithsonian Institution) and John Lankford (West Virginia University). The editor of The Journal for the History of Astronomy, Michael Hoskin (University of Cambridge), gave the key-note address.

The workshop opened with a session chaired by Barbara Becker (Southwest Regional Laboratory) on “Astronomy in Context” in which five participants (L. Taub, S. McCluskey, S.S. Genuth, B. Becker and D. DeVorkin) explored various contexts useful for explaining the development of astronomy from the ancient and medieval periods through the Scientific Revolution, the Victorian epoch and the early twentieth century. Discussion was spirited and ran well past the noon hour. Friday afternoon was devoted to work in progress (K. J. Howell, G. Sweetnam, M. Crowe, O.R. Butler, J. Eisberg, A. Butrica and R. A. Schorn), ranging from just-completed dissertations to books in press.

Saturday morning focused on teaching astronomy with Albert Van Helden (Rice) and Owen Gingerich (Harvard) as co-chairs. About a dozen colleagues brought syllabi and reading lists to share. This session was especially valuable in that it brought into sharp relief the question of audience. Some participants teach courses in the history of astronomy for science students as part of undergraduate science programs while others function in the context of history departments. Hence some syllabi were full of mathematical and observational assignments while others included detailed bibliographies representing various historiographical perspectives.

Saturday afternoon focused on the history of astronomy since 1940 (co-chairs, Ron Doel, American Institute of Physics and John Lankford, WVU). Participants (0. Gingerich, L. Robinson, J. Tatarewicz, D. DeVorkin, S. Dick, K. Hufbauer, G. Webb, T. Williams and M. Hoskin) examined aspects of the recent history of astronomy. As with the other sessions, questions and comments from panel members and workshop participants were numerous and illuminating. Sometime after five o'clock, an exhausted group of scholars repaired to the campus inn to slake their thirst and continue the discussion.

Sunday morning focused on the history of celestial mechanics. Organized by LeRoy Doggett (U.S. Naval Observatory), the session opened with an overview of celestial mechanics presented by Professor Robert Howland (Notre Dame) and continued with presentations that ranged from Newton to the post-World War II era (C. Wilson, L. Doggett, J. Tatarewicz, P. Kammeyer, K. Waff, L. and R. Golland). The discussion was especially lively.

A business meeting concluded the workshop. The group voted to make formal application to Council of the History of Science Society for interest group status and a committee was charged with drafting a constitution. Rather than a newsletter, the group voted to create an electronic bulletin board under the supervision of Stephen McCluskey (WVU). The historians of astronomy plan to meet during the History of Science Society Santa Fe meeting in November in order to vote on the constitution. Liba Taub presented an invitation from the President of the Adler Planetarium inviting the group to hold its next meeting in Chicago in 1995. This invitation was greeted with enthusiasm.

The organizers and participants wish to express their thanks to the Director and staff of the Center for Continuing Education at Notre Dame for all their help and to the Program in the History and Philosophy of Science for financial assistance

History of Science Society Newsletter 22:4, October 1993, pp. 26-27

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