Public Invited Talk (Wednesday)
“The Astronomer’s Chair: A History of Sitting and Its Image”
Prof. Dr. Omar W. Nasim, University of Regensburg, Germany
At one time or another, we all have seen an astronomer pictured next to his or her instrument. Perhaps posing next to a famous telescope
or peering through its eyepiece, as if at work. But what you might not have noticed in these pictures is the chair; often there but easily overlooked
in its commonplace simplicity. Once you see these chairs, however, often used to seat the observer at the telescope, you cannot miss them—they tend
to be everywhere in the history of astronomy. In this presentation, Omar W. Nasim attempts to unearth the cultural significance of displaying chairs
in engravings and photographs for nineteenth-century audiences. After all, specialized and task-specific observing chairs began to be designed and
built by astronomers in greater numbers than ever before in the nineteenth-century. And these mechanized chairs were often pictured not just for other
astronomers but also for broader audiences. Why? By understanding what the chair and the bodily postures they afforded visually communicated and
indexed to middle-class audiences, we will also come to understand their function in observing. But even more surprisingly, we will gain access to a
gendered and racialized perspective on the presumed labor of astronomical observation and the historical place of astronomy in Western and non-Western
civilizations. Once decoded we find that the astronomer’s observing chair, in other words, embody—in their design, function, and image—a
world of assumptions and values consonant with an Age of Empires.
Thursday June 20 Workshop Papers
Paper Session: “Electronic Imaging and Sensing in Modern Astronomy”
Before the advent of solid-state detectors and their maturity in sensitivity, stability, and sufficient angular coverage to be useful to astronomy,
a wide range of electronically amplified image forming schemes were proposed and developed in Europe and the United States. There was also constant
development and improvement of one-dimensional photoelectric sensors and schemes for adapting them to imaging technologies, as well as to precision
photometry. Here we look at important examples of both one and two-dimensional imaging and photometry, asking variously what motivated the effort,
how was the effort pursued, what was the outcome, and how have these efforts changed astronomical practice? This proposal was stimulated by Lowell
Observatory astronomer William Baum’s commentary in 1966: “The development of image tubes for astronomy has been a slow and somewhat
vexing problem.” Their potential advantage over unaided photography had been well known for decades, yet their successful application to
low-light-level astronomy was still elusive. This proposed session will explore how electronic amplification became practical in observational
astronomy, including one-dimensional and two-dimensional techniques. By practical, we mean being accepted by observational astronomers as the best,
or most effective means, of gathering useful data. We will invite papers examining all forms of electronic amplification, both 1-dimensional and
2-dimensional imaging in astronomy, as a means to detect ever-fainter regimes, and regimes beyond the spectral sensitivity of the human eye or
photographic plate. Papers will be sought out that examine the full range from early efforts to amplify signals that are then recorded on photographic
media, raster scanning and television techniques, to the CCD, as well as papers exploring how electronic imagery was regarded as “real.”
“The Carnegie Image Tube Committee and the collaborative effort to provide two-dimensional imagers for astronomers”
As the electronic television industry grew during the early twentieth century, many in the astronomy community became interested in the possible
application of television technology to telescopic observations. By the early 1950s, a few groups had the interest, drive, and resources to begin
investigating electronic imaging devices for astronomical research. While some experimented with commercially available imagers already successfully
employed in television cameras, others developed devices specifically designed to address astronomers’ needs. In this talk, I will explore one effort,
carried out by the Carnegie Institution of Washington from 1954 to 1975, to develop a simple, rugged device that would enable astronomers to record
objects fainter and more distant than possible with photography alone. Development, however, did not progress in a straightforward line and the final
product struggled to find regular use in observatories. By examining the development of a technology that ultimately failed to become a routine part
of astronomical observations, I hope to better understand how astronomers acquire new tools and the obstacles that prevent them from achieving their
“Technology’s Palette: Voyager’s Otherworldly Views of Jupiter and Saturn”
Elizabeth A. Kessler, Stanford University
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, JPL widely circulated vivid false color pictures of Jupiter and Saturn from the Voyager missions. These were
both the first clear pictures of the gas giants and the last of their kind, reliant on a technological setup that began in the 1960s with the
Ranger missions and relied on an amalgam of different kinds of imaging and display technologies: the analog and digital, televisions and computers,
screens and prints on film. This paper will explore the methods used to craft these images and the history of their development at JPL, and then
turn to the aesthetics of the Voyager images. Unlike later planetary images, which tend toward more muted, even naturalistic hues, image processors
in this period operated with comparative freedom to assign colors, to adopt technology’s palette. Although intended to make evident the structure
in the clouds of Jupiter and Saturn, the results also convey a sense of the otherworldly. They demonstrate the synthetic, constructed qualities of
Voyager’s images, and they celebrate the affordances of otherworldly, technologically enhanced perception. But as far-out as their psychedelic
hues might seem, they also reference new ways of depicting our world; both process and palette had roots in Landsat observations of the Earth.
“Unmaking and Remaking the Image: The Photoelectric Dynasty in Wisconsin”
James Lattis, University of Wisconsin
Photographic photometry involved analysis of individual stellar images, and data gathering was limited only to the number of stars that could be
imaged on a plate, so it could be very efficient. But the calibration of such images for precision photometry was tedious and error prone.
Photoelectric photometry dispensed with the image and measured the light of stars one at a time, but the one-dimensional measurement offered the
enormous advantage of true linearity. Sacrificing the image in photometry proved so successful that the astronomers of Wisconsin’s Washburn
Observatory dominated their field for decades. But the lure of the image remained powerful and led the Washburn astronomers to two-dimensional
photoelectric photometry and eventual experimentation with photoelectric area detectors. This paper will survey the work of three generations of
Wisconsin astronomers, led by Joel Stebbins, Albert Whitford, and Arthur Code, to improve and apply photoelectric detectors and techniques for
astronomical research in both one and two dimensions.
“Black to White? Making Images and the Political Economy of Space Astronomy, 1969 to 1990”
Robert Smith, University of Alberta
In his history of x-ray astronomy, Richard Hirsh argued that space astronomy is a gift of the Cold War. From our post-Cold War vantage point, Hirsch
was clearly correct, at least up-to-a point. In this paper, I will argue that the development of imaging technologies for space astronomy was driven
and shaped by technologies fashioned by, and knowledge and skills secured for, Cold War purposes. I will also examine the emergence of new sorts of
specialists with expertise in astronomical detectors.
“Early Mechanical Recording of the Measurement of Astronomical Images”
Allan Olley, University of Toronto
I will discuss the automation of the Star Measuring and Recording engine at IBM’s Watson Lab in the 1940s and 50s. In 1955 a patent was filed
for a device that starting from an approximate position of a star on, a photographic image, found a more precise position and punched that position
onto a punched card. The final name on that patent application was Wallace J. Eckert, astronomer and IBM Researcher. The machine in many ways marked
a culmination of Eckert’s 20 plus years of work on automating the calculation and printing of astronomical tables and catalogues, however this
was in some ways a diversion from his main area of work in celestial mechanics. The project illustrates how Eckert approached automation in astronomy.
The work of Rebecca Jones on the project also suggests the role of women in computing and astronomy at this time.
“Instrumentalizing and Visualizing the Cosmic First Light”
Connemara Doran, Harvard University
Over the centuries, light has been the instrument, the messenger, and the yet unknown in observations of the cosmos. The empirical, theoretical,
and mathematical sciences coevolved with intuitions of a geometrical nature that emerged in interrogating what lies beyond the horizon of
understanding. This nexus came to a head at the turn of the twenty-first century, when the NASA missions COBE and WMAP made the universe’s
very first light—the cosmic microwave background radiation—visible. Astrophysicists used the data collected from instruments on these satellites
(as well as from ground-based and balloon-based instruments) to produce iconic images mapping the embryonic structure of space, including imagery
modeling cosmic evolution from the big bang to today. This talk will analyze how creative aesthetic concerns appeared at all stages in these missions,
from instrument design to image production to public outreach.
“On Stage with Astral Lantern and Cosmosphere: The Astronomy Lectures of Franklin Henry Bailey”
Horace A. Smith, Michigan State University
Franklin Henry Bailey (1845–1914) was many things: a Union soldier in the Civil War, a graduate of Hillsdale College, a teacher, an author, a
socialist, and, in the 1880s, a traveling astronomy lecturer and promoter of his own pedagogical inventions. In the latter part of the 19th century,
images of astronomical objects were not for astronomers alone, they also brought the basics of the field and new discoveries to the general public.
Astronomy lecturers of that time did not have the array of visual tools easily accessible to their modern counterparts, but they did entertain and
instruct with large displays and magic lantern slides. Bailey, first in Michigan and nearby midwestern states, and later in Massachusetts and the
northeast, traveled from school, to church, to lecture hall to bring “the Queen of the Sciences” to the public. In so doing, he added
unique props to the lecturer’s tool bag: the Astral Lantern and the giant Cosmosphere, both his own inventions. Bailey’s efforts to
promote astronomy, to sell his devices, and to earn a living can be compared with the efforts of other lecturers of the day, including better known
personalities such as Robert Ball and Richard A. Proctor.
“Visual Imagery in the Lectures of Ormsby MacKnight Mitchel, 1842–1861”
Trudy E. Bell, Sky & Telescope
In the 1840s and 1850s, public lecturing around the nation enabled Cincinnati Observatory director Ormsby MacKnight Mitchel to attain financial
independence after his employer (Cincinnati College) was destroyed by fire. Unlike many other itinerant scientific lecturers, who entertained
audiences with demonstrations and special effects, Mitchel captivated audiences of 2,000+ solely through the theater of their mind’s eye.
Although Mitchel is usually called an astronomer, his first love was the stage. From childhood on, he participated in thespian, literary, and
debating societies; after teaching a class or giving a speech, he would critique his own delivery. He was an ardent student of rhetorical techniques
detailed in the 12-volume how-to textbook by the Roman orator Quintilian, whose aim was “the education of the perfect orator.” Verbatim
transcripts of Mitchel’s lectures printed in newspapers at the time (rather than the edited versions in his published books) reveal how, above
all, Mitchel’s public lectures were performances. His language was supremely visual, employing narrative suspense and guided visualization to
carry his audiences away on star-flung journeys of the imagination—not just conveying scientific facts but also evoking vivid mental images and
inspiring emotional rapture.
In the second half of the nineteenth century America was coming into its own as a significant presence in the astronomical community. Young Leonard
Waldo (1853-1929) of Cincinnati would participate in some of the earliest examples as assistant astronomer in his country’s expedition to Hobart Town,
Tasmania to observe the transit of Venus of 1874, and as leader of the government expedition to Fort Worth, Texas to observe the total solar eclipse
of 1878. His fascinating biography is replete with anecdotes of drama and conflict that touched many lives, both in and outside of the astronomical
community, and leading to a change in his professional priorities.
“The Influence of Mechanics and Mechanical Thinking on Ptolemy’s Latitude Models”
Elizabeth Hamm, St. Mary’s College of California
Claudius Ptolemy had a deep interest in astronomical models. The models he discussed took many forms ranging from the two-dimensional
geometrical models found in the Almagest, to the scaled drawings that could be used for calculations in the Handy Tables, to the working
device discussed in the Planetary Hypotheses. Some of these models were theoretical and meant to be constructed in the mind only, and
others were meant to be built into tabletop models by a skilled technician. Using the latitude theories from the Almagest and
Planetary Hypotheses, I examine the role of mechanics and mechanical thinking in Ptolemy’s work, exploring how the prospect of constructing
a physical device influenced his models.
“Images as Markers of Astronomical Phenomena: Galileo’s Study of Sunspots”
Yaakov Zik, University of Haifa, and Giora Hon, University of Haifa
As is well known, Galileo discovered with his improved telescope new objects in the sky and measured distances separating them. In addition, he
studied with this newly designed instrument the nature of sunspots. This he did by ingeniously casting with the telescope the sun’s image
on screen. In this paper we present the case of Galileo’s investigation of sunspots and analyze his achievement. What was Galileo’s
achievement? Essentially, it was the development of a technical argument on the basis of which he could consider cast images the presentation of
physical facts. Put differently, the images are marks of phenomena. To consolidate such a claim, he had to rely on his knowledge of the optics of
the telescope. In improving the performance of the telescope, Galileo successfully coped with optical difficulties associated with magnification,
field of view, illumination, and resolution. He could then bring together his acquired knowledge in the combined fields of geometry and optics to
bear on astronomical images and draw the image on paper while maintaining the appropriate scale for accurate investigation. He offered novel
explanation of the visual appearance and the physical nature of sunspots which prevailed over the explanations of his contemporaries.
“Huge, Unmoving, Dull: Kepler’s View of the Stars, and his Criticism of Bruno”
Christopher M. Graney, Jefferson Community and Technical College, Louisville, KY
In various writings, Johannes Kepler paints an image of the universe of stars. To Kepler’s mind, the visible stars are all larger than the
orbit of the Earth; the most prominent are well larger than the solar system. Furthermore, the stars are weak in luminosity, despite their vast
size. They surround the one solar system, which is, in comparison to them, tiny, but lively and brilliant. To Kepler, this is the universe demanded
by observations. It is very different from the image of a universe of suns, promoted by Giordano Bruno, an image Kepler criticizes as unworkable in
light of observations. Kepler’s views are similar in some ways to those of other Copernicans (Thomas Digges and Philips Lansbergen, for example)
whose image of the Copernican universe was one of giant stars. However, Kepler’s views differ in other ways. Compared to Bruno, Digges, or
Lansbergen, Kepler’s views are more consistent with observations.
Friday June 21 Workshop Papers
“Imagery in Mesopotamian Uranology Texts”
Erica L. Meszaros, Brown University
This presentation examines a small group of tablets from first millennium BCE Babylonia and Assyria that describe the constellations. These uranology
texts describe various aspects of constellations, including body parts, clothing, and even carried objects, and explicit references are occasionally
made to the locations of individual stars within each constellation. Some of these descriptions include statements that parts of the constellations
are “drawn.” The meaning of “drawn” in these texts is not easily understood, however. Are the texts describing the human process
of drawing images of the constellations or is the term “drawn” used metaphorically to refer to the gods having drawn the constellations in
the sky? In investigating this question, it may be significant that the verb “draw” used in the uranology texts is in the third person
indicating a description of an act rather than the second person “you draw” which we find in many Mesopotamian instructional texts. Comparison
of the descriptions in the uranology texts with preserved drawings of constellations can suggest a more complete understanding of how Mesopotamians
understood the act of drawing constellations by helping to solidify how we interpret the textual descriptions. Comparisons between preserved drawings
and the text from the uranology tablets will identify areas where description differs from image. Analysis of points of difference and points of similarity
may suggest whether the “drawing” in the uranology texts should be taken literally. This can be further bolstered by comparisons to the use of
the verb “to draw” in additional texts, which can provide further information from other contexts. More importantly, however, such comparison
will highlight how constellation images were conceptualized through both text and drawing, contributing to a more contextualized knowledge of how these
constellations were understood.
“When Did Man First Realise That Space Is Black?”
Clifford J. Cunningham, University of Southern Queensland
Imagery throughout the centuries has consistently portrayed the sky as blue, even showing stars against a blue background. This counterfactual zeitgeist
was pervasive: it was believed the entire heavens were blue, the sky only appearing black during the night because the Sun was no longer visible. The
intrinsic blue colour of belief versus the intrinsic black of reality leads us to a fundamental understanding of Man’s view of the cosmos, one that
has never before been explored. This presentation will show through paintings, poetry, literature and other sources how the colour of the cosmos was
consistently regarded as blue. Why this fundamental concept has so far been overlooked by scientists and philosophers is explored. Most importantly, it
will reveal when Man first accepted the blackness of space.
“From Technical and Textbooks to Literature and Poetry: Images and Astronomical Knowledge”
Durruty Jesús de Alba Martínez, Universidad de Guadalajara
Wandering in the History from New Spain to XIX Century and first half XX Century México in this work is made a review of rare manuscripts,
as Physica Particularis by Francisco Xavier Clavigero S.J. (1765?) and Pasatiempos de Cosmologia (1789) by Fr. Andrés de Guevara y Basoazábal S.J.,
technical and textbooks as Cosmographia, sive descriptio vniuersi orbis (1584) by Apianus and Physica Specvlatio (1557, 1569, 1573)
by Fr. Alonso de la Vera Cruz O.S.A, Lecciones de Astronomía (1872) by Pbro. Jesús Torres their use of images, to literary and poetic
works where words draw images that represents some astronomical knowledge, last ones as Primero Sueño (1692) by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz
and Al filo del agua (1947) by Agustín Yañez; in some of them the teaching and spread of Copernican heliocentrism is described and commented.
“Zodiac Interrupted: Astronomy in the School of Chartres”
Marion Dolan, Independent Scholar
During the Middle Ages astronomical knowledge was often encoded in art, literature and poetry but unrecognized by most art historians. The sculptural
program on the west façade of Chartres Cathedral, constructed and carved in the mid-twelfth century, incorporates important astronomical information.
The twelve Signs of the Zodiac were often included in the iconographic programs of ecclesiastic structures recognized as symbols of God’s creation
and dominion over the vast heavens. The arrangement of the twelve zodiacal constellations in artworks always followed the traditional order, except
for the zodiacal program decorating Chartres Cathedral. The medieval scholars who designed the décor of the celebrated west façade, often called the
Royal Portal, broke with tradition and rearranged the twelve Signs displacing two constellations. Why the Chartrian theologians designed the exterior
sculpture in this unusual manner has puzzled art historians, but no one has ventured an explanation. This paper presents a probable explanation for its
encoded astronomical knowledge.
“Adam Elsheimer and the Renaissance Night Sky”
Stefan Zieme, Humboldt University Berlin
Adam Elsheimer’s The Flight into Egypt (1609) has triggered a longstanding debate among art historians. For five decades, the novel
naturalistic representation of the night sky in Elsheimer’s copper painting has been linked to Galileo’s telescopic observations. To
explain the astronomical details of this painting, scholars have contended that Elsheimer observed, before Galileo, the night sky with one of the
first telescopes available in Rome at the time. However, so far the debate has been lacking a rigorous input from the history of astronomy. The
paper contextualizes the analysis of the artwork within the prevailing astronomical knowledge of its time—before the edition of Galileo’s
Sidereus Nuncius—and frames it within the network of, and debates among, prominent figures of Galileo’s and Elsheimer’s time.
Through the analysis of the scientific and cultural practices of discerning the night sky in 1600, it proposes a revisionist account of Elsheimer’s
most famous artwork.
“The Great Divorce: An Oxford Don Revises Ptolemaic Christian Cosmology”
James R. Powell, Forever Learning Institute
In his book The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis envisages a fantastic universe of the Earth, Heaven and Hell with a debt to Dante (and apologies
to Blake), yet containing a thoroughly modern approach to cosmology influenced by elements of Einsteinian concepts of matter, space and time. Lewis
replaces the purely Ptolemaic and Euclidian concepts of the nine circles of Hell and ten spheres of Heaven in The Divine Comedy with a
non-Euclidian, relativistic, multi-dimensional, exponentially curved realm, embracing the entire cosmos. In this trumpet-shaped, asymmetrical
universe, Hell is at the end where the closed, converging curvature tapers to nothing at an infinite distance from Heaven which emerges out of the
trumpet’s bell in an open, expanding curvature without limit. The curvature of his universe extends to the nature of matter as well. Lewis
describes matter in Paradise as being more “real” in that the stem of a flower is denser and stronger than a ship’s cable (like
a neutron star) contrasted to the relative “near-nothingness” of Hell as a space-time singularity, or geometric point. There is but one
substantial discontinuity in this non-isotropic universe. It is the Earth itself, overlapping the converging abyss of Hell, and the ever-expanding
realm of Heaven. In this intercalary world a hint from the ancient philosophers is rekindled in that the Earth is indeed the “center” of
the universe - poised in between the infinitesimally small and the infinitely large. Time in Hell is perpetually frozen in a relativistic moment of
rainy twilight; on Earth time is seeing the infinite through the wrong end of a telescope or in the frames of a long motion picture - but either way
illusions. Lewis describes Eternal Time far beyond the realm of cosmology. It is not in terms of past, present or future, or in terms of timelessness,
but as Eternal Reality as Time itself, and all phenomena that fill Time, a state when possibilities cease to exist and only the Real World remains.
Paper Session: “Concepts of Space, Scale, and the Visual Culture of Astronomy”
The dimensions and structure of the Universe, as well as the size and place of the Earth with relation to those of the celestial bodies, are
enduring issues pervading various cultural contexts and historical periods. But how have such issues been addressed from a visual standpoint?
In other words, what strategies, techniques, and conventions have been used to depict and visualize the structure, size, and scale of the Universe
and the celestial bodies? How did they emerge, and how do they relate to particular historical contexts and ideas about space? Inspired by the
general theme of NDXIV, this session brings together scholars and museum professionals engaged with the history of astronomy, history of art,
and art & science projects, who will address those questions using insights from their research and professional practice. The session will be
complemented with a special viewing of related books, prints, and instruments from the collections of the Adler Planetarium.
“Cosmic Structures Expressed and Revitalized in the Mesoamerican World”
Elizabeth I. Pope, Art Institute of Chicago
Throughout the ancient Americas, cultures understood the natural world to be sacred and alive. Its physical structure was formed during creation
and it served as the model upon which human communities defined and conceptualized themselves. Within Mesoamerica—notably the Maya and the
Aztecs—the sacred design of the cosmos was expressed in works of art, architecture, and ritual performance. These served to assert the essential
connection between the human world and the supernatural realm, uniting the historical present and the time of creation. Moreover, through the
movements of astronomical bodies in the night sky, the cosmic and mythic was ever present, ensuring the perpetuation of the original cosmic design.
“Representing Space Below and Above the Earth’s Surface in Early Modern Florence: Dante, Galileo, and Stradano”
Lia Markey, Newberry Library
This paper considers the conception of space, both real and imagined, in the prints and drawings of Giovanno Stradano (also known as Johannes
Stradanus and Jan Van der Straet) in the late 1580s. Stradano’s drawings illustrating Dante’s Divine Comedy and his print series
entitled the Nova Reperta were commissioned and informed by his patron Luigi Alamanni. Together Stradano and Alamanni used the writings of Dante,
Vespucci, Galileo, and others to depict the underworld, the earth itself, and the stars above. While new modes of measuring and understanding
space were developing thanks to the astrolabe, the compass, and eyeglasses - tools celebrated in the Nova Reperta - Stradano’s images derive
from the imagination.
“Sizes of Celestial Bodies: An Image from the Harmonia Macrocosmica of Andreas Cellarius”
Christopher M. Graney, Jefferson Community and Technical College, Louisville, KY
The 1660 Harmonia Macrocosmica of Andreas Cellarius contains a large image (plate 10) labeled “Corporum Coelestium Magnitudines
—“Sizes of the Celestial Bodies.” The image shows relative sizes by superimposing one body upon the other. It shows the absolute
size of those bodies by means of a graduated scale of German miles. It also provides a less-precise scale of terrestrial diameters. The largest body
is the sun. The next largest is a first-magnitude star, then Jupiter, and on down to Venus, the Moon, and Mercury, which are all substantially
smaller than the Earth. The focus of this portion of the session will be on what this image says about the both stars and the model of the universe
upon which these sizes were determined.
“Scale in Astronomical Illustrations: A Historical Survey”
Pedro M. P. Raposo, Adler Planetarium
In this paper I will present results from a preliminary survey of astronomical illustrations produced between the 17th century and the 20th century
to convey notions of scale. This survey is part of an investigation on how certain visual strategies to represent size and scale gained a solid
footing in astronomy and cosmology, and why they became widely used in textbooks, popular publications, museum displays, and even large-scale
installations at the intersection between public art and popular science. I will briefly discuss the cultural contexts surrounding the rise and
circulation of such visual strategies, and how they relate to broader debates on cosmological, theological, and societal issues.
“Fabric of the Universe: Exploring the Cosmic Web in 3-Dimensional Woven Textiles”
Isaac Facio, Art Institute of Chicago
The Fabric of the Universe is an art & science collaboration that explores the cosmic web using unconventional methods, weaving. Pushing the
boundaries of scientific data analysis and material technology by charting these structures through jacquard looms, data takes the form of a
complex textile web, rendering the unseen, seen, and the immaterial, material.
Paper Session: “Images in Medieval and Renaissance Astronomy and Natural Philosophy”
This panel will explore the use of images to convey technical and pedagogical information in the fields of astronomy and astrology during the
medieval and renaissance period. Through looking at sources in medieval Islam and the Latin world, we can see how geometric figures were used
to convey knowledge about astronomical models and the mathematics underlying these models. Through renaissance astrological imagery we can see
how images were employed in order to convey natural-philosophical information about the stars. In combining these sources, we get a view of how
imagery was used across a broad cultural arena in the pre-modern world to convey information about the cosmos.
“Bi-Visible Venus in the Medieval Cosmos: Using Heliocentric Diagrams to Explain a Rare Celestial Event”
James Brannon, Independent Scholar
On rare occasions Venus is visible both after sunset and again before sunrise of the next morning. That medieval celestial scholars were even
aware of this phenomenon is surprising. Yet in at least two astronomy works of that era, not only was the spectacle described (most likely read
or heard from an unknown source), but an innovative use of circumsolar Venus was employed to rationalize the event. In William of Conches’s
twelfth-century account Dragmaticon (Latin, ca. 1145), and in an anonymous Latin manuscript about one-hundred years later
(Incipit septima liberalium artium scientia scilicet astrologia, ca. 1250), each author provided an explanatory diagram for the occurrence
that drew upon the Martianus Capella-inspired circumsolarity of Venus. Those diagrams and supporting text sought to demonstrate that only
when Venus remained for a sufficient period at its highest point above the sun (superior conjunction) in its circumsolar journey could the
bi-visible event occur. Based upon a close reading of the text from both medieval accounts, I have constructed a third diagram that will be
shown in order to clarify the medieval ideas. This same diagram will also be used to argue that circumsolar Venus was actually not required
in order for the medieval explanation to remain valid. But in that case, a geocentric planetary order that positioned the sun below Venus was
“Visualizing the Configuration (hayʿa): Manuscript Images and Text in Islamic Astronomy Education and Research”
Scott Trigg, University of Hong Kong
Ulugh Beg’s 15th c. Samarqand observatory, with its associated madrasa, is one of the most famous Islamic scientific institutions, producing
astronomical observations that were not equaled until Tycho Brahe. Less is known, however, about the process of research and education at Samarqand,
but a number of commentaries produced by Samarqand scholars promise to shed light on the intellectual life of the classroom. Instruction in the
sciences was primarily an aural process, in which students listened as a text was read aloud, with frequent breaks for the instructor to comment
and elaborate. However, as anyone who has perused the Almagest can attest, it is quite difficult to visualize the complex and dynamic motions
produced by the machinery of eccentrics and epicycles without the aid of images. In this paper, I explore the ways in which Islamic manuscript
diagrams and illustrations worked in conjunction with text and commentaries to help the student/reader visualize different kinds of motions and
extrapolate from two-dimensional static “mathematical” images to the three-dimensional dynamic “physical” motions of the heavens. Building on
images of components of more complex astronomical models, readers could begin to understand how they combined to produce the apparently irregular
motions we observe, as well as the outstanding problems of Ptolemaic planetary models that Islamic astronomers were attempting to resolve.
“Geometric Figures in Medieval Pedagogy—A Bridge Between Campanus of Novara’s translation and the Almagest”
Joseph Baxley, University of Notre Dame
One under-appreciated aspect of astronomical and geometrical education in medieval astronomy is the geometric figures which accompanied mathematical
and astronomical proofs. Often, these figures have been overlooked and the information they convey about the interaction of geometrical and
astronomical education has been unappreciated. By looking closely at the geometrical figures contained in Campanus of Novara’s Elements and
comparing those proofs to Ptolemy’s Almagest, we can see a deliberate interaction intended to help students better learn astronomy. Using
this as a case study, we can get a clearer picture of specialist education in the medieval era.
Saturday June 22 Workshop Papers
“Photosensitive Imaging and William Herschel’s ‘Black-Making Rays’: On a Letter of John Herschel to François Arago”
Christophe Wall-Romana, University of Minnesota
This talk is part of a book manuscript exploring what the proto-technics of photography and cinema owe to 18th- and 19th-century astronomical optics,
light research, cosmological modeling, and concomitant photological reflections on skin color, race and slavery. The talk focuses on an unpublished
letter of John Herschel to François Arago concerning William Herschel (about whom Arago was then writing a biographical portrait). It reveals that
Herschel père believed ‘black-making rays’ were the component of light responsible for a form of darkening besides umbra/penumbra and related to
diffraction phenomena and perhaps silver salt photochemistry.
This 1839 letter is a crucial document for several reasons. First it shows the two astronomers ignored the smoldering pseudo-nationalist rivalry pitting their
associates Talbot and Daguerre as inventors of photography (Talbot had in fact first explored his astronomical avocation with Arago in 1825). But more importantly,
John’s letter discloses a mistaken belief of William (similar to his notorious obsession with solar inhabitants) while leaving it up entirely to Arago to use.
John adds he would never share this quixotic notion with anyone else. The talk explains that, in so doing, John was making a complicated gambit whereby Arago
could not tell the story of black-making rays without involving William as a precursor of both the wave theory of light and photography. Indeed, in an early draft
of his epochal 1840 piece on photography John states plainly that Arago and Fresnel, in conducting experiments in 1821 proving the wave theory of light via
photosensitive images of interference fringes, had de facto demonstrated the “photographic process.” Such interrelations, kept under silence in large part
because of John and Arago’s legendary circumspection, is but one of many episodes showing astronomy’s entwinement with the emergence of photosensitive medias.
“Images of the Periodic Table That Encouraged the Discoveries of Nebulium, Helium, and Coronium”
Virginia Trimble, UCI & LCOGT
No, Mendeleev’s 1869 “Sootnoshenie svoisty s atomnym vesom elementon” wasn’t the first, but it did have that great, gaping hole between H = 1 and
Li = 7 that absolutely begged to be filled in by something very light. Even earlier, Hinrich’s 1867 “Program der Atomechanik oder die Chemie eine Mechanik
de Pantome” in spiral form clearly invited another spoke, inserting one element each between H and Li, F and Na, Cl and K, Br and Rb, and I and Cs. Curiously, the
discoveries of Nebulium (1864 Huggins), Helium (1868 Lockyer and Pogson, but not Janssen), and Coronium (1869 Young and Harkness) came in a tight
temporal cluster, just before magnifying glasses and eyes at the business ends of spectroscopes gave way to photographing with spectrograms
For each also the sorting out took many years: forbidden excited transitions in light elements CNO (Ira Sprague Bowen, 1927), a whole new column
(He, Ne, Ar…, Ramsey 1904 Chemistry Nobel); and forbidden groundstate transitions (the analogues of 21 cm from hydrogen) in multiply-ionized Fe
etc. (Grotrian and Edlen 1939-43).
Asterium Newtonium, Cassiopeium, and Aldabaranium had much shorter half-lives. Another distinguished 19th century scientist suggested that every
star had its own elements, so we should be grateful to have been spared Vegium (a rigorous diet), Regulium (good for what ails you), Atrium (good
for getting into things), and so forth. All have their stories.
How we all discovered how much there is of what, and why, are whole other stories for another time, but mention should be made of Cecilia Helena
Payne Gaposchkin, who died 45 years ago.
Paper Session: “Starstruck: The Commercial Use of Astronomical Imagery”
Images of telescopes, astronomers and observatories have long filled the printed press, in both factual and fictional terms. In this session we
will consider the use and iconography of these images specifically within advertising from the 19th century to the present day.
“Astronomical Imagery in Early Twentieth-Century Advertising: The Great Observatories”
Ken Rumstay, Valdosta State University
During the twentieth century, astronomical imagery was widely used to promote distinctly non-astronomical products and services. One of the earliest
and most famous examples is the 1893 Chicago newspaper advertisement for Kirk’s Soap, which was inspired by the opening of the Yerkes Observatory.
Images of great telescopes, especially, were invoked to capture the public imagination and to associate a product or service with the noble pursuit
of astronomical knowledge. These advertisements fall into three general categories:
(1) In many cases the advertiser may have participated directly in the construction or operation of a new telescope or observatory which was in
the public eye (most notably the ones atop Mount Wilson and Palomar Mountain). In those cases the facility would be accurately rendered, usually
by a photograph, and identified.
(2) In some cases a service or product might have at best a tangential relation to a particular facility. Even so, the advertiser would co-opt
the qualities of precision and timeliness, commonly associated with astronomy, for the advertiser’s product.
(3)In the case of a product or service which had at best a tangential relation to astronomy (or indeed none at all), a generic telescope or
observatory dome might be pictured, with no identification. In many cases the artist may have had only the vaguest idea of how telescopes were
designed, and as a result some remarkably imaginative examples of astronomical engineering graced the pages of our periodicals!
Examples of magazine advertisements from each category, spanning nearly a century, will be presented for comparison and discussion.
“Bringing the Stars Home: Astronomical Advertising to Sell Goods”
Sara J. Schechner, Harvard University
Celestial bodies have long evoked wonder, and many companies took advantage of the symbolism of astronomy and its instruments to market their
products in the 19th and 20th centuries. D-Zerta drew on the anticipated return of Comet Halley in 1910 to launch its new pudding. Excitement
over the opening of the world’s largest telescope in 1949—the 200-inch telescope at Palomar Observatory—was used to sell Buicks and bread.
This talk will focus on the diverse ways that images of astronomical instruments—especially sundials and portable telescopes—were used to sell
consumer goods and lifestyle choices.
The advertisements for goods and services unrelated to astronomy fall into three categories. Victorian trade cards often had romantic, comic,
or historic images to catch the eye of consumers who would take and share the cards that promoted food stuffs, farm tools, patent medicines,
local haberdashers and other businesses. The second group of advertisements (mostly found in magazines) associated a characteristic of the
depicted scientific instrument with the product. For example, an astrolabe might be associated with the complexity and usefulness of a typewriter;
a sundial with the time-tested endurance of a refrigerator, a shoe for every hour of the day, or cocktails for those happy hours; or a telescope
for the search and discovery of sexy underwear or the best motor oil. The third group drew upon the spectacle and romance of stargazing to suggest
that the product would delight the consumer with an out-of-this-world experience be it through Life Saver candy or plush carpet. I will also exhibit
a fourth category of advertisements that promoted the purchase of telescopes to amateur astronomers by placing attractive women next to them.
“Luring Visitors to the Royal Observatory: A Century of Advertising Posters on the London Underground”
Louise Devoy, Greenwich Observatory
Advertising on the London Underground (affectionately known as ‘the Tube’) and London Tramways has been a major part of London’s graphic
design scene over the past century. While adverts for products helped raise income, Underground chiefs realised that intriguing posters about
different venues and attractions across the city could encourage more people to use the Tube for leisure travel, rather than just the daily commute.
One such destination was Greenwich, home of the Royal Naval College, Greenwich Park and the Royal Observatory. From the 1920s, posters were used
to encourage Londoners to seek fresh air and exercise in Greenwich Park with the Observatory’s distinctive profile as a backdrop. By the 1960s the
posters shifted in tone away from the bucolic appeal of the Observatory’s location towards a more sci-fi flavour based on geometric shapes, bold
colours and astronomical motifs such as stars, crescent moons and ringed planets. At the same time, the Observatory was undergoing a transitional
phase from a functional site to a tourist destination and became an attraction in its own right, rather than merely a backdrop. The advertising
refocused on the visitors’ own experience of standing on the historic Prime Meridian, a theme that continues today.
In this paper I will present a chronological review of Tube and Tramway posters to map the distinctive trends that mirrored the Observatory’s
changing purpose over the twentieth century. I hope that this topic will encourage a wider discussion about the history of observatories as
“Visual Media and the Yerkes Telescope in Late Nineteenth-Century Chicago”
Lee Minnerly, Independent Scholar
In 1892 the University of Chicago’s acquisition of two 40-inch glass disks set in motion plans to build the world’s largest refracting telescope.
Concurrent with its development the City of Chicago in 1893 hosted the World’s Columbian Exposition, the largest display of global technology
and culture up to that point in time. This paper examines the exhibition of the telescope tube during the fair and visual media associated with
what was popularly known as the “Great Yerkes Telescope,” so named for its financial benefactor, Charles Tyson Yerkes (1837–1905), before,
during, and after the exposition. Depictions of the telescope at the fair and in the press prior to its 1896–97 installation at Yerkes
Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin, reached a large audience, reflecting ideas on such diverse topics as spending priorities, technological
progress, and extraterrestrial life.
“Communicating the History of Astronomy with Interactive Visualizations”
Todd Timberlake, Berry College
Images have played an important role in the history of astronomy, but throughout most of history astronomers were limited by the kinds of images
they could produce. These limitations prevented some astronomers from creating visual displays of their data and ideas, and the visualizations
that were produced were almost always static. Today we have the tools to create dynamic, and even interactive, visualizations to illustrate
historically important astronomical data and ideas. Interactive simulations can help audiences to quickly gain a deep understanding of technical
details in the history of astronomy. I will review several ways in which such simulations can be used: to provide insight into a theory’s structure
(Eudoxan planetary theory), to compare predictions of different theories (phases of Venus, Kepler’s orbits for Mars), to explore the assumptions
used to derive predictions (falling body on a rotating Earth), to show how theoretical predictions compare to observational data (differential
galactic rotation), and to provide three-dimensional visualizations (models of the Milky Way).
“@HistAstro: The Impact of Images in the History of Astronomy on Tweeple in the Twitterverse”
Voula Saridakis, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago
In March 2015, I created @HistAstro, a Twitter handle to showcase the multidisciplinary and multicultural aspects of the history of astronomy.
Drawing from hundreds of online sources, I post a broad variety of images across all time periods that represent not only the usual narrative of
the history of astronomy (astronomers, instruments, manuscripts, etc.), but also the inspiration that the study of the heavens has instilled over
the millennia (fine arts, decorative arts, architecture, etc.). In this talk, I will share images of the most popular tweets of the past four years
and consider reasons why these images in the history of astronomy have been so popular with tweeple in the twitterverse.
Invited Speaker Lecture (Saturday)
“Astrophotography: Rethinking the History of Photography”
Prof. Dr. Omar W. Nasim, University of Regensburg, Germany
In this lecture, I intend to examine some ways that astronomical photo-archives can be used to challenge a number of widespread assumptions about
photography and its history, particularly in the history of science. I do this by sharing initial findings from my work at over a dozen archives
in the USA, Europe and the UK. What emerges is a very different picture of how photography was used in practice. More specifically, this history
shows that photography was dealt with as things much more than just as printed images. When taken from this perspective, we begin to appreciate a
number of techniques implicated in the handling of photography as things. In fact, we will see how paper and marker, projecting and tracing,
microscopes and stands, and a series of other hand-based techniques and assemblages were used to stabilize the materiality of photography in order
to derive the celestial objects for subsequent publication and commentary. By using the rich case of astrophotography and its history, what I want
to share in this talk is another way of looking at photography.
Poster Paper Abstracts
“The Accurate Interrelation between the Almagest and al-Khwarizmi Planetary Coordinates as Are Listed for Three Epochs in His Work on the Jewish Calendar”
Ariel Cohen, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
I show that by the correct interpretation of the years believed by al-Khwarizmi to be the epochs of “the building of the Temple” and of
“the years of the Two Horned,” the corresponding planetary coordinates and in particular the lunar apogee and the lunar node presented by him,
agree to a high degree of accuracy with the results obtained by calculations based on the Almagest. Such an agreement between the data from the two
discussed sources provide, I suggest, new information regarding the role of the Almagest in the ninth century, including its values describing
the planetary motion as well as on al-Khwarizmi’s incorrect understanding of the value of the year of “the first of the days of Adam.”
(quoted phrases = terms used by al-Khwarizmi)
“James Curley, S.J., a ‘Jesuit comet’ in Nineteenth-century American Astronomy”
Dana A. Freiburger, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Rev. James Curley, S.J. (1796-1889), an astronomy professor at Georgetown University, gained a moment of fame when in 1850 he determined the
longitude (and latitude) of Washington, D.C., to a higher degree of precision than previous measurements. Working with first-class instruments
housed in the new campus observatory he designed and directed, his results appeared in the local newspapers and, with the help of Alexander Bache,
President of the AAAS, in the Astronomical Journal. Curley’s expertise would win him a seat on the AAAS American Meridian Committee
and AAAS membership in 1854. For another seven years, Curley remained visible in the annual AAAS directory at which point he just winked out of sight.
This ‘Jesuit comet’ flashed bright for a time at the highest levels of American science, visible in D.C. and beyond, then simply faded
from view. When Curley died in 1889, the AAAS made no mention of his passing, only a short notice would appear in the local D.C. newspapers. All of
this stood in obvious contrast to his nearly 50 years of teaching astronomy at Georgetown, work that was unmistakably observable to the American
Catholic higher education community. My poster will explore these contrasting aspects of Father Curley in light of the emerging mid-century shift
in American higher educational from teaching to research.