various astronomy-related historical images

Biennial History of Astronomy Workshop - ND XV June 21-24, 2023


Wednesday June 21 Public Invited Talk

“The Heavens on Earth: Visualizing the Universe, Popularizing Astronomy in Modern Times”
Charlotte Bigg, CNRS, Centre Alexandre Koyré, Paris

The investigation of the sky has historically been connected to the study of the Earth; narratives about the universe have often chimed with earthly concerns. With the rise of astrophysics in the nineteenth century, the interplay between the heavens and the Earth took on new forms, within science but also in the cultural realm. I will propose a sketch of the interrelated history of the technologies for investigating the universe and of the techniques for popularizing astronomy in the modern age, and how this history has contributed to shape perceptions of the universe and of our place therein. As the stars gradually disappear from our increasingly bright skies, technicolor images and immersive devices promise new vistas, highlighting the paradoxes of modernity.

Thursday June 22 Workshop Papers (in presentation order)

“Work So Difficult that It Could Give the Computer a Headache”
Dana A. Freiburger, independent scholar

My talk centers around one early application of a modern high-speed digital computer to solving complicated problems connected to eclipsing binary stars. Prior to electronic computers, human computers performed the needed calculations, work so difficult that it could “give the Computer a headache.” In 1962 this headache appeared to be gone when University of Wisconsin-Madison astronomy department professor Charles M. Huffer and graduate student George Collins utilized their university’s new CDC 1604 computer to process observation data employing a FORTRAN program written by Collins that performed the necessary computations “in a few seconds.” They later remarked that “these computations would have been impossible” without this CDC system. However, my examination of this situation suggests that this headache quietly moved elsewhere, specifically to matters related to specialization within astronomy along with how research credit was assigned for work done with the support of a computer. How these new headaches emerged as the field of astronomy moved into the computer age will be the focus of my presentation.

“Communication for and through Practice: Astronomy and the Early Laboratory Class”
Sarah Reynolds, University of Indianapolis

Edward C. Pickering, later director of the Harvard College Observatory, first made his impact in teaching some of the very first “physical laboratory” classes at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Pickering’s classes and his published manual for them, Elements of Physical Manipulation, embodied a pedagogical shift in science education that directly involved students in carrying out experiments in order to learn from the process and activity itself. While some astronomy-related experiments were incorporated throughout the first volume of Pickering’s Elements, in the second volume (published later) Pickering highlighted astronomy as especially providing physicists with valuable experience in practical measurement and in methods of mathematical analysis. At the same time, he promoted the idea of teaching astronomy itself through a laboratory approach, modeled after the sort of training required in observatory research. We’ll use Pickering’s work to explore how the shift to laboratory coursework changed the way that astronomy was communicated in education and what consequences this had for the understanding of astronomy itself.

“Oppenheimer and the Cosmos”
Virginia Trimble, University of California, Irvine

Robert Oppenheimer is best known as the director of the Manhattan Project that developed the uranium and plutonium bombs during WWII. But there were two periods in his life when he evinced significant interest in the universe and its contents. The first period, 1938–39, yielded much-cited papers by Oppenheimer and Serber, Oppenheimer and Volkoff, and Oppenheimer and Snyder, on the structure of neutron stars and on continued gravitational collapse of entities too massive to form white dwarfs or neutron stars. The second period, around 1961–64, saw his participation in the first Texas Symposium, a co-organizer of a meeting in Princeton, and participation in Solvay conferences (1961 and 1964) on astrophysical topics, the second as president of the organizing committee. He did not cover himself with glory at any of these, and a “comparison sample” of particle physics meetings before and after 1953–54 suggests that it was the security hearing and denial of clearance, not the war and bombs, that dampened his spirit. Curiously the Department of Energy, in December 2022, vacated the verdict “In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer,” in effect restoring his clearance and committee chairmanships. Too late, of course, for him, by about fifty-five years.

“Transmission Paths of Astronomical Instrument Design Knowledge in Nineteenth-Century America”
Trudy E. Bell, independent scholar

Although general science periodicals occasionally published papers on astronomical topics, for two-thirds of the nineteenth century (before 1846 and again from 1862 through 1881), there was no dedicated astronomical periodical published in the United States. Yet especially from the 1840s on, nineteenth-century America saw the rise of several dozen telescope makers and other astronomical instrument artisans, ranging from a few quite famous to many others more specialized, regional, or less well-known. In the absence of a dedicated astronomical print publication, how did nineteenth-century US professional astronomers and amateur observers learn of various instrument makers and their technical achievements? How did US artisans draw attention to their wares and/or specialized skills? How was design knowledge transmitted and how did it evolve over the decades? This presentation will explore examples of some important venues for and types of in-person encounters, such as fairs and exhibitions (some offering prizes and medals), visits to observatories and to instrument workshops (both domestic and international), collaborations between astronomers and artisans in designing/developing/modifying new instruments, reports of experts’ tests of astronomical equipment, equipment demonstrations at meetings or at astronomical events (e.g., eclipses or transits), to pure happenstance/serendipity and even industrial espionage. After the advent of dedicated astronomical periodicals in the 1880s, print advertisements and testimonials also played a role, as did occasional instrument catalogues published by some individual artisans.

“Copernicus in the Backwoods: How the New Cosmology Reached Ordinary Americans”
Trent MacNamara, Texas A&M University

As late as the 1820s and ’30s, non-elite Americans’ cosmic worldviews tended to be profoundly three-dimensional, in the sense that personally relevant space extended beyond the earth’s surface and upwards into the heavens. Much of what was important on earth came from the sky: weather originated above; fates were decided there; perfect peace and justice were available there. After 1800 these intimate, animate heavens faced growing challenges from scientific cosmology—not just in elite circles, where the old heavens had been under siege for centuries, but in the wider world of popular ideas. As cheap print and mass scientific education proliferated, “the heavens” gradually become more like the modern “space,” a comparatively cold, empty, limitless, centerless expanse. The old cosmology survived and sometimes flourished, but only in the face of major shifts in background assumptions about the relationship of higher places and higher meaning. This paper will examine how and why this transition in popular understanding occurred in nineteenth-century America, which media were most important in bringing it about, and how laypeople reacted to the long-delayed arrival of a new cosmos.

“(Mis)Communicating Ancient Astronomy: Plato’s Planetary Order for Mercury and Venus as Exemplar of Uncritical Transmission across Millennia”
James Brannon, independent scholar

One method for communicating planetary ideas from ancient times to the modern era consists of the author writing the original scheme in clear language, later scholars reading that work, then making their own analysis and commentary, and finally passing their knowledge and insights along to succeeding generations. Many historians would consider that an ancient idea for planetary order that has been handed down over millennia by this method would have been thoroughly vetted by numerous commentators and withstood the test of time. Yet what if the analysis and commentary is insufficient, and consists of barely more than brief repetition of what the commentator thinks the original author conveys? Multiply this “miscommunication” by dozens of generations, and modern scholars may find that their acceptance of a time-honored idea is, in fact, not what the original author conveyed. Such is the case, as I argue in this presentation, for Plato and his planetary order for Mercury and Venus. What has largely passed to our current era is that Plato’s order for the first four planets is: earth-moon-sun-Venus-Mercury. Many historians of astronomy accept this as Plato’s intended order with little criticism. As I will present, Plato’s original words from his Republic and Timaeus are less clear than what many contemporary authors suppose, resulting in the order for Mercury and Venus remaining uncertain. I will conclude my presentation by arguing that Plato’s vagueness on his planetary order may have occurred for several reasons: he was unsure of the order, there was no reason to be clear on the order since it didn’t matter to him, or he purposely chose to conceal what he did know.

“Stonehenge Calendars in the Lozenge Length”
Ivy Jiang, Episcopal High School of Baton Rouge, and Eugene Jiang, MIT

Physical and logical evidence of measuring instruments for prehistoric Stonehenge were derived from reverse engineering, which unintendedly reconcile the recent debate on the Antiquity Journal between Darvill (2022) and Magli and Belmonte (2023) regarding Stonehenge 365.25-day solar calendar. Key findings arise from shared angles or scaling patterns found in archaeological ruins and artifacts: the concentric rings at Stonehenge match the layers of bands on Crandon Barrow Lozenge (CBL) at the scale of 1:1000; and the 40.5° angle of Bush Barrow Lozenge (BBL) matches the axis of Stonehenge and the summer solstice sunrise at Stonehenge. Through matching, a nested square pattern, and a fundamental unit of length, 1 Lozenge=0.155m were discovered, making BBL and CBL rulers of the fundamental unit and protractors of sub-degree precision. Based on the Lozenge unit, a continuing practice of module-based N-gons design was discovered, which immediately reveals significant calendrical signatures in ALL rings at Stonehenge by both the length and number of stones or holes on their respective perimeters. The 364/365/366-day solar cycle, 29.5-day lunar cycle, and 19-year/235-month lunisolar cycles are identified, unfolding a 1400-year-long calendrical, astronomical, and more broadly, STEM development at a single site crossing the Mid-Neolithic Period and Mid-Bronze Age.

Thursday June 22 Workshop Panel

Norman Lockyer’s Networks: Rethinking His Communications

“Written on the Flyleaf: James Joyce’s Coded Communication with Astronomy”
Jason Hall, University of Exeter

This paper discusses how the modernist novelist James Joyce wove a coded astronomical context into his 1916 novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I show how the novel’s protagonist, the young Stephen Dedalus, uses particular sources associated with the nineteenth-century astronomer Norman Lockyer—sources that are themselves part of astronomy’s burgeoning communication apparatus—to process his place in the scheme of things, extending Lockyer’s own attempt to communicate with a wider audience that includes not only experts but also school children. By focusing on certain passages in the novel, I will show how a boy, aided by Lockyer’s texts and their exercises, can imagine his geo-cosmological position and even attempt to “fly” free of his immediate terrestrial experience.

“Between Scientific Naturalism and Christianity: Solar Physics and the Collaboration of Norman Lockyer and Balfour Stewart”
Richard Noakes, University of Exeter

My paper examines the collaboration between two nineteenth-century British astronomers—Joseph Norman Lockyer and Balfour Stewart—on articles designed to popularize astrophysics to nonspecialist readers. Appearing in 1869 issues of Macmillan’s Magazine, a leading monthly magazine renowned for its literary and intellectual content, Stewart and Lockyer’s articles used relatively recent research on the sun as the basis for intellectual and literary arguments for grander claims regarding the operation of subtle forces pervading the cosmos. The Stewart-Lockyer collaboration, however, would have been trickier than their overlapping astrophysical interests might suggest: Stewart was increasingly hostile to the apparently “materialist” interpretation of the cosmos expressed with increasing vigor by some of Lockyer’s closest scientific allies—John Tyndall and Thomas Henry Huxley. A close reading of their articles and other texts that they wrote independently and with others reveals the negotiations and compromises that the authors made to persuade the Victorian reading public that the fledgling science of the sun was intellectually credible but morally safe.

“‘In Cairo also I worried my archaeological friends’: Norman Lockyer and the Beginnings of Archaeoastronomy”
Beatrice Steele, University of Exeter

This paper will explore Norman Lockyer’s reputation as “the father of archaeoastronomy.” Lockyer faced considerable opposition from archaeologists and astronomers when attempting to establish archaeoastronomy as a serious field of study. He was also not afraid to engage with certain occultist beliefs concerning ancient monuments, often managing to find a grain of important truth in the midst of what was generally dismissed as superstition. As ever, he did not desire to communicate his theories solely to other scientists; publications such as The Dawn of Astronomy (1894) invited a lay audience into the debate. The archives at the Norman Lockyer Observatory in Sidmouth expose the meticulousness with which Lockyer made his case, from diagrams of solstitial temples to photographs of numerous stone circles. The quality of Lockyer’s communication in putting forward his trailblazing ideas was vital to the future of archaeoastronomy, a discipline which is expanding rapidly today.

Friday June 23 Workshop Papers at the Adler Planetarium (in presentation order)

“First and Third Wednesdays: Public Visitor Nights at Washburn Observatory since 1881”
James Lattis, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Almost immediately upon completion of the University of Wisconsin’s Washburn Observatory, in spring 1881, the director, Edward Holden, announced that the new observatory would be open to the public two nights each month, weather permitting. This policy offered regular access to what was then the third-largest telescope in the United States. Ever since then, the first and third Wednesday evenings of each month have been set aside for visitors. This paper will discuss the origins of the visitor night policy, offer some examples of its operation over nearly the past century and a half, and consider the motivations and background for this particular method of communicating astronomy to the public

“Newspaper Coverage of Astronomy in Chicago, 1860–1910”
Lee Minnerly, independent scholar

Chicago newspapers of the period published a surprisingly wide variety of astronomy-related announcements, news, editorials, opinion pieces, and book reviews aimed at informing readers about developments in the growing profession. Public lectures by visiting astronomers and astronomy popularizers, including Ormsby Mitchel, Richard and Mary Proctor, and Edward Barnard, were part of the coverage, followed by increasing numbers of news articles, feature articles, book and telescope advertisements, and even occasional editorial cartoons. Utilizing local reporting and items communicated through wire services, which were then reprinted, this paper examines the scope and content of press attention in Chicago devoted to astronomy from just prior to the Civil War through the Mars canal controversy and the arrival of Halley’s Comet.

“The Light of Arcturus: Time, Place, and Light at the Century of Progress”
Katie Boyce-Jacino, Adler Planetarium

The 1933 Century of Progress Exhibition in Chicago opened in late May, with a dramatic demonstration of technological spectacle that defined the tone of the fair. Outside of the newly built Adler Planetarium, an enormous map, wired with bulbs and connected to a custom photoelectric relay device, promised to dazzle viewers with light captured from the star Arcturus—light that had left the star at the time of the first World’s Fair in Chicago. The photoelectric relay was a newly popular technology, and its use in the display highlighted its potential. The theatricality of the display, and the work that went into its planning, is the subject of this paper. I examine records of the display in the context of the state of public astronomical education at the time, and the role of the Adler planetarium in it. I argue that Arcturus display engaged the public, and its creators, in ideas of time, place, and the role of science in the modern world.

Saturday June 24 Workshop Papers (in presentation order)

“Communicating Data to a Larger Public: FITS Liberator, a Case Study”
Maxime Harvey, University of Quebec in Montreal

Scientists, image processors, and other users of data acquired in professional observatories need to master their idiosyncratic file format, the Flexible Image Transport System, or FITS format. One software was specifically designed to liberate those data from their original format into ones that commercial image-processing software can read: the FITS Liberator. Allowing a variety of actors such as educators and amateurs to use professional data and visualize outer space with them, the software participated in the creation of new forms of communication of astronomy. In this paper, I will describe how the widening of the public of professional astronomical data was designed into FITS Liberator and how FITS data were then used by a group of amateur astronomers with the help of the software. By comparing the uses of astronomical data imagined in the development of the FITS format and FITS Liberator and actual uses by amateur astronomers, we will see that the software participated in the construction of professional data as a popular media between different communities of users, but only because the software was itself mediated by multiple actors. This study is based on document analysis from the developers and users of FITS Liberator and interviews with amateur and professional astronomers. Inspired by social studies of science and technology (STS), the paper aims to contribute to the historical understanding of the interaction between the development of information and communication technologies and scientific practices of communication.

“Documenting the Development of Data-Driven Astronomy”
Ashish Mahabal, Caltech; S. George Djorgovski, Caltech; David Zierler, Caltech; Pranav Sharma, INSA

Science is being profoundly transformed by computing and information technology, and the resulting exponential growth of data. These technologies are changing the nature of scientific inquiry and methodology across the sciences in the twenty-first century. One outcome has been the democratization of science, in terms of broader access, inclusion, and equity. As both the data and the knowledge extraction tools become openly accessible, anyone with an internet connection can participate in high-quality research. We propose a project that will lay the foundations for the history of astronomy in the era of exponential growth of data and computing capabilities beginning in the 1990s. Our main goal is to create a publicly available, rich, and diverse repository of information to enable such studies by us and other scholars in the future. The lessons learned in the course of this study will inform studies and understanding of the parallel transformations in other sciences and communities of practice. The idea to historicize and create an informational repository of information on data-driven astronomy arose within Caltech and has already begun with institutional support. Here we will present plans for the US-wide project, which we would hope to extend to all of astronomy. Our plans include creating a mobile exhibition in addition to the website that will host oral histories and databases pertaining to the project.

“The Astronomy Genealogy Project: Transmission of Astronomical Knowledge and Methods from Advisor to Student”
Joseph S. Tenn, Sonoma State University

The Astronomy Genealogy Project (AstroGen) was approved as a project of the Historical Astronomy Division of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in January 2013. It went online at, courtesy of the AAS, on 25 July 2020. This date was the 159th anniversary of the awarding of the first three Ph.D.s in the United States, one of them astronomy-related. The goal of AstroGen is to compile an online database of the world's Ph.D. astronomers, including information about the astronomers, their thesis advisors (academic parents), their theses, and the universities that awarded their degrees. We also list the institutes where the research was done if they are separate from the universities. The website provides links to the astronomers, the theses, the universities, and the institutes, and we also provide academic family trees. More than 42,000 people are now included. As of January 2023, thirty-six countries are deemed to be “nearly complete,” with the inclusion of nearly all astronomy-related theses back to the beginning of the modern research-based Ph.D. around 1800. We will present a summary of what we have learned, where we go next, what you can do with AstroGen, and how the community of astrohistorians can help make AstroGen more complete.

“Celestial Movement: A History of Social Justice Activism in Astronomy”
Jörg Matthias Determann, Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar

Astronomy is usually concerned with matters very distant from Earth. Most phenomena, whether observed or theorized, transcend human spaces and timescales by orders of magnitude. Yet, many astrophysicists have been interested not just in events “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” but also in their society here and now. Since the first half of the twentieth century, an increasing number of them have pursued parallel careers as academics and activists. Besides publishing peer-reviewed papers, they have promoted a great variety of underrepresented groups within their discipline. Through working groups, conferences, newsletters, and social media, they have sought to advance the interests of women, members of racial and ethnic minorities, and LGBT and disabled people. While these activists have differed in the identities they focus on, they have come to share a conviction that diversity and inclusion are crucial for scientific excellence as well as social justice. This paper presents the biographies and institutional contexts of several key agents in the diversification of modern astronomy. Because most are recent figures whose discoveries have not been commemorated by Nobel Prizes, they are relatively unknown among historians of science. However, they have been central to discussions about who has privileged access to giant telescopes, huge databases, and other expensive resources. As such, they have also significantly shaped views of our universe.

“Cultural Astronomy and Modern Skywatching”
Steven R. Gullberg, University of Oklahoma

The relationship between astronomical observatories on Indigenous lands and the local people oftentimes is fraught with conflicts and unresolved tensions. A recent example is the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on Mauna Kea on the island of Hawai’i, which has sparked much debate among astronomers. Other US examples include the building of the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope on Haleakala, on the island of Maui, and the Mount Graham Observatory in Arizona. Observatories take a variety of approaches to foster better communication and to have more positive connections with local populations with varying results. Considering this history and the real possibility of the future expansion of existing observatories, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) Division C Working Group for Astronomy in Culture (WGAC), the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), and the American Astronomical Society (AAS) partnered to create a new initiative focused on culturally sensitive sites connected to astronomy. When creating the committee, it was important to include people outside the astronomical community including cultural astronomers, anthropologists, and other experts. This interdisciplinary group includes people that have been studying these issues and people that have experience collaborating with indigenous communities and advocating for indigenous priorities. The group is working to provide social, historical, and cultural context for astrophysicists to better understand the sites they use for astronomical observations with the goal of fostering better cross-cultural and intercultural relations with the local and indigenous people incorporating cultural perspectives. (In collaboration with Jarita Holbrook, Javier Mejuto, Annette S. Lee, and Alejandro M. López.)

“Listen to the Experts: The Untold Secrets behind Closed Backroom Deals Money, Politicians, Bureaucrats, and an Astronomy…that Affects Us All!”
Ian Tasker, Western Sydney University

Who doesn't like a bit of intrigue? Bureaucrats and their closed backroom deals. How on earth is an astronomer to get the funding to undertake his scientific pursuits, with science administrators and their own agendas running counter course. This paper includes several such sagas between state and federal politicians, as no one “Listens to the Expert,” the astronomer. With neither taking up their responsibilities at the demise of several Australian observatories. Thank goodness America steps in, taking advantage of Australia’s southern latitude and funding support beyond Australia’s capacity for modern astronomical observatories.

Saturday June 24 Workshop Panel

Capturing the Stars: Multi-disciplinary Approaches to the History of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Chicago

Panel Organizer: Kristine Palmieri, University of Chicago

Since 2019, the Capturing the Stars Research Group at the University of Chicago has brought together faculty, students, and staff from the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, the University of Chicago Library, and the Department of History to study the scientific and historical legacy of Yerkes Observatory. One focus of the project has been to develop methods and procedures that utilize low-barrier, financially accessible equipment for the digitization of glass plates, so as to make them—and their data—accessible for both scientific and historical research. A second focus has been on reconstructing the scientific work and lived experiences of women who worked at Yerkes Observatory during the early twentieth century. This research, in turn, is informed by a more general interest in the transformation of scientific practices in astronomy and astrophysics from the late nineteenth century through the 1930s. Finally, our work is united by a broader interest in the history of research methods and knowledge-making practices across time and space. This panel highlights the work of our undergraduate research assistants, who have played a crucial role in the project since its foundation. It also emphasizes the ways in which this project can serve as a model for providing research opportunities for undergraduates in a variety of fields including, but not limited to, astronomy, history, and computer science.

“Deciphering E. E. Barnard’s Notes on 61 Cygni”
Michael N. Martinez, University of Wisconsin-Madison

The sheets of computations created by astronomers, an often overlooked “middle step” between observations and publications, can shed new light on the workflow and structure of astronomical research as well as on the transformation of astronomical methods over time. However, these documents can be difficult for a modern astronomer to study precisely because of how astronomical practices and observatory labor have evolved. In this paper, I provide a case study in the form of Yerkes astronomer E. E. Barnard’s work on the nearby visual binary star 61 Cygni, a subset of which appeared in Astronomische Nachrichten in 1906. Using computation sheets in the E. E. Barnard Papers at the University of Chicago Archive, I reconstruct the workflow from telescope to journal article and reproduce Barnard’s calculations, including those which never led to a publication. I also place Barnard’s work on 61 Cygni within the broader context of the astronomical community’s interest in that star system and its relation to early twentieth-century astronomy as a whole. Finally, I highlight the contributions that Mary Ross Calvert made to these calculations, which provides an example of the role women played at the Yerkes Observatory during this time.

“Digitization and Analysis of a Yerkes Observatory Spectroscopic Glass Plate”
Isaiah Escapa, University of Chicago; Rowen Glusman, University of Chicago; Daniel Babnigg, University of Chicago; Rachel Kovach-Fuentes, University of Chicago; and Ha Do, University of Chicago

Many observatories have large collections of glass plate spectra chronicling a century’s worth of astrophysical data. This data often records events that are transient or periodic, for example, measuring nova outbursts or the characteristics of comets as they approach the Sun. When digitized, this can contribute wide ranges of data to fields such as time-domain astronomy. In this discussion, we present the methods we have developed to preserve historical spectra from Yerkes Observatory. In order to make this analog data scientifically relevant once again, we explore the digitization and calibration of this medium, culminating in a discussion of the efficacy of our work. Our goal is to make our data broadly accessible, alongside a description of our methods in a peer-reviewed article. Additionally, we believe that there is value to the history of science community in this data, and we encourage feedback from conference attendees in order to ensure that future work on this topic has interdisciplinary significance.

“A Biographical Approach to Histories of Science and Gender in the Early Twentieth Century: Frances Lowater and Women’s Work at the Yerkes Observatory”
Chloe Brettman, University of Chicago, and Elena Tiedens, University of Chicago

Capturing the Stars seeks to reconstruct the lived experience and scientific work of the women of Yerkes Observatory in the early twentieth century. These women made observations, computed complex calculations, co-wrote or independently authored scientific papers and star atlases, and were centrally important members of the observatory and its research staff–—a reality that is, however, ill-reflected in both existing scholarship on Yerkes Observatory and in the historiography of women in astronomy more broadly. In this paper, we look at the case study of Dr. Frances Lowater, who published extensively on stellar and laboratory spectrography and spent numerous summers conducting research at Yerkes as well as joining the Yerkes expedition to Green River, Wyoming, to observe the solar eclipse in 1918. Determining how to effectively categorize Lowater, however, presents some interesting challenges. As a researcher, Lowater moved across disciplinary, professional, institutional, and international boundaries: trained in Britain and the United States, she was primarily employed as a demonstrator and then professor of physics, first at Bryn Mawr, then at the Western College for Women (Oxford, Ohio), and then at Wellesley until her retirement in 1927. Archival correspondence allows for unusual depth and nuance in reconstructing her scientific practices, professional interests, and personal commitments, ranging from political activism during World War I to family caregiving work. In this paper, I seek to use Lowater to examine the research and life experiences of a woman who does not neatly fit into the existing historiographical categories for women in astronomy and astrophysics.

Saturday June 24 Workshop Practicum Session

“Testing a Sixteenth-Century Observational Instrument: The St. John’s College Tychonic Armillary”
William H. Donahue, St. John’s College

Since 2019, when the instrument was installed at St. John’s College, Santa Fe, I have been able to gain some experience in using a functioning replica of Tycho Brahe’s Second Equatorial Armillary, which was completed in 1584. Like its prototype, the armillary (built in England by David Harber and his team of artisans) incorporates the two features that enabled Brahe to increase the precision of observations by an order of magnitude, from ±10' to ±1'. These features were:

  1. Double-slit pinnules, by which a single star or planet is sighted simultaneously on opposite sides of a cylindrical front sight;
  2. An application of the diagonal scale invented in the fourteenth century by Levi ben Gerson, which made it possible to read a linear scale with an accuracy down to single arc minutes.

I will explain and illustrate (in part by using videos) the functioning of these features, which Kepler identified as crucial for providing the Mars positions that were precise enough to distinguish between a circular orbit and a slightly oval one. How do the pinnules work in practice? What difficulties are involved in their use? How close can we come to the accuracy claimed by Brahe? We have raw data from the recent Mars opposition, which I will use to show, at least in concept, how Brahe’s team of observers produced the all-important opposition positions of Mars that Kepler used in Astronomia Nova (1609). I also have video clips of observations which illustrate vividly how the armillary works in practice. This session will incorporate an outdoor session where we can to some extent experience the functioning of the pinnules and experience the operation of the sights.

Special Presentation Abstract

“The Evolution of Planispheric Celestial Volvelles in the Marketplace”
Thomas Hockey, University of Northern Iowa

Planispheric celestial volvelles [PCVs] follow in the lineage of Greek astrolabes. Their modern construction out of paper dates from the eighteenth century. It is during the nineteenth century that we see mass production of “planispheres” and can attempt to assign to them some cultural role. PCVs appear to have been first commercialized by George Philip circa 1886. The ornate decoration of his planisphere, which serves no function, suggests that these were largely parlor objects d’art. “Hammett’s Planisphere” clearly is modeled after the Philips. It created a new, professional market for PCVs, the community of teachers. By the 1920s, PCVs became more utilitarian. Astronomical content in text was printed on the reverse. Examples from the 1930s explicitly target amateur astronomers. In the 1940s, PCVs were made in support of navigation for military pilots. By 1960, the PCV was repurposed as an aid to finding artificial satellites. In 1977, David Chandler introduced a two-sided PCV designed to reduce map distortion. Starting with Chandler, the cartographer for the planisphere become a celebrity-selling point. Perhaps the twentieth-century sky events that most resonated with people of the world were the apparitions of Comet 1/P Halley. A unique 1985 PCV was manufactured that incorporated the path of the comet on its star disk. Today, digital planispheres supplant physical ones. In contemporary mechanical PCVs, we see artists constructing four-color revisionisms that hark back to those of the 1800s, ones based upon aesthetic considerations as much as uranographical verisimilitude. The planispheric celestial volvelle has come full circle.

Workshop Banquet Lecture

“The Science of Lunar Portraiture”
Charlotte Bigg, CNRS, Centre Alexandre Koyré, Paris

The moon figures prominently as an object of early astronomical photography. I will argue that the reasons for this are not only technical. Drawing from the cultural history of photography and the history of science, I will seek to contextualize early lunar photography as part of the widespread interest in photographic portraiture in the mid-nineteenth century as well as within the context of the emergent geographical physiognomies of landscape. This also makes it possible to reconsider the role of amateurs in the development of astrophotography.

Acknowledgments: Generous support for the workshop is provided by the Graduate Program in the History and Philosophy of Science, the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts (ISLA), the College of Science’s Nieuwland Lecture Series, the College of Arts and Letters, the Department of Physics of the University of Notre Dame, and the Program of Liberal Studies of the University of Notre Dame, and the Adler Planetarium.
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