Articles, Blog

Tangible Things of American Astronomy, or What Does a Computer Have in Common with a Teapot?

September 4, 2019


Sara is somebody with
a wealth of expertise that is really hard to capture
in just a couple of minutes. And so the thing that is
really easy to explain is where she went to
school because it all goes to Cambridge. And as a matter of fact,
most of it goes to Harvard. So she was an undergraduate
and a graduate student. All of her degrees– all degrees you could
get from Harvard, she has, including her PhD. But she also has an
MPhil from Cambridge because apparently writing
Cambridge in her address is very important. So anyway, so she’s
very well trained as a historian of
science, and her expertise goes across many
different fields. And some of you who’ve
been to the collection of historical
scientific instruments where she has served as
the curator since 2000 have seen this big
assortment of exhibits. And before that, she was at the
Adler planetarium in Chicago. I don’t know if anybody
is from Chicago, but her main interests, I
think, are from astronomy and the history of astronomy. And I’ve had the honor
of working with Sara over the last few
years because we’re making this big
course on prediction and people’s interests
in knowing the future. And Sara’s going to talk to
you about a different course. These are both courses
that are available online through HarvardX and EdX. And the other course that
Sara has been very involved with led even to a book
called Tangible Things, and she’s going to talk
to you about that tonight. But I’ll just tell you
that in the context of the other course, the
prediction course where I worked with Sarah, she’s told
me things that I didn’t know and that hardly
anybody else knows about comets, about
navigation, about clocks, about timekeeping,
about computers, how to restore telescopes,
how telescopes work, who did what, all kinds
of gossipy stories about the history of astronomy. And I don’t know
how much of that Sara is going to
share with us tonight, but I do know that I
should be quiet and let you hear from Sarah. And I’m just very
grateful to call Sara my collaborator and my friend. Thank you very much. Thank you, Jane and Alyssa, for
those lovely opening remarks. So, tangible things of
American astronomy– as a science that studies
distant celestial objects, astronomy deals with few things
that can be touched directly. And yet astronomy has
many tangible things– scientific instruments and
observatories, for example– which link the past
to the present. Now there is little
question about maintaining things still valuable for
scientific research purposes. But why, why, why should
we care about documenting and preserving the
old and obsolete? Well, as a historian,
I am not going to tell you that everything
old is valuable– far from it. But I will say
that there’s a lot to be learned from
many old things. And this is not just
a case of nostalgia. Indeed, outmoded objects,
when critically examined, are useful to modern
scientists because they offer insight into why
things are the way they are, why we believe what we
believe, and perhaps how we can change them. So let’s take a look
at some examples. So, the adventures of Captain
John Smith, Pocahontas, and a sundial– as our story opens in
1607, we find Captain Smith paddling upstream through
the Virginia wilderness when he is ambushed by Indians,
held prisoner, and repeatedly threatened with death
his life is spared first by the intervention
of his sundial, whose spinning compass needle
fascinates his captors, and then by Pocahontas,
the chief’s daughter, who throws herself between Smith
and a warrior ready to bash in his head. And here you see in this
scene, where she’s actually quite a young girl at the bottom
here trying to protect him. So Smith called
his globe sundial a globe-like jewel that
showed that roundness of the Earth, the course of
the sun, moon, and stars. The outer surface
was a sphere marked with the ecliptic, the equator,
and the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. Inside, a compass needle
imitated the magnetic virtues of the Earth. A gnomon was mounted over
the magnetic compass, and its shadow was
used to find the time. The other hemisphere
held a lunar [INAUDIBLE],, which is essentially
an analog computer to determine the
phases of the moon and the information needed to
use the sundial by moonlight. Now Smith saw his sundial as
a microcosm of the universe. While stalling for
time among the Indians, Smith claimed that
he lectured them about astronomy, geography,
and the diversity of nations using this sundial as a prop. Smith believed that
mathematics was the key to unlock nature’s secrets. His sundial was but one of
many mathematical instruments and methods the
ship captain used to explore and chart the waters
of Virginia and New England. Smith’s account of his escape
by virtue of his compass dial makes it clear
that he understood how mathematical practice gave
European settlers powers that seemed magical to
Native Americans, powers that would enable them to
dominate the New World. Thomas Harriet, the
astronomer explorer who had spent nine months
at Roanoke Island in 1585, observed the same thing. He wrote, “mathematical
instruments, sea compasses, the virtue of the loadstone
in drawing iron, a perspective glass whereby was shown
many strange sights, burning glasses, wild fireworks, guns,
books, writing and reading, spring clocks that seem
to go of themselves, and many other things that we
had were so strange unto them that they thought they were
rather the works of gods than of man.” From these first encounters,
English cosmology was set on a collision
course with the world of the Native Americans. An almanac, a sermon,
and mechanical models– now as the only periodicals
in 17th century New England, what do almanacs tell us? Starting in 1639, they were
prepared by Harvard College tutors and printed on a
little press in Harvard Yard. They show familiarity with the
work of Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler. But as you can see from the
title page of this almanac from 1684, they expressed
a Puritan and Christian worldview. So for starters,
you can see here how it says it’s not just the
almanac for the year 1684, but it goes on to
say this being, you know, the year
from the creation of the world, 5,633 years– from the suffering
of our savior, 1651 years, and so on up through
the restoration of King Charles II and the last leap year. But down lower at
the bottom here, you’ll see also
this Latin phrase which I’ve written up above. And it translates as follows– the stars govern man, but
God governs the stars. Now Puritans encouraged
the study of nature but believed that natural events
reflected God’s will and should be seen as signs of the times. After learning that Harvard’s
commencement was scheduled for the date of a
solar eclipse in 1684, the college moved it up
a day just to be safe. On July 1, the
academic festivities went on without a hitch. But President John Rogers
unfortunately died the next day during the eclipse. The owner of this almanac,
Judge Samuel Sewall, a hanging judge during the
Salem witch trials of 1692, has noted the
coincidence in his copy. You’ll see his mark
on the lower right. It’s even more poignant since
this issue of the almanac had been a gift to him from
President Rogers himself. Now Roger’s successor as
president of Harvard College was Increase Mather,
the Puritan divine. In the early 1680s,
Mather had viewed the Great Comet of 1680 and
81 and Halley’s Comet of 1682 with the college’s
first telescope. The observations
of one spectator, a certain Thomas
Brattle, better known probably to you for the street
named after his family– these observations
were immortalized in Newton’s Principia. But Mather’s were
put into sermons. Mather preached that comets
were warning [INAUDIBLE] that God discharged before
his murdering pieces went off. They were portraits of political
and religious evils, death, and destruction. And here you see an example
of one of his sermons about the comets. And I’ll just point
out that this was– the printing for this was paid
for by Judge Samuel Sewall, who we just met a moment ago. Now by the time Halley’s comet
made its first predicted return in 1759, comets and
eclipses were still occasions for public
awe but not alarm. John Winthrop,
Harvard’s professor of mathematics and
natural philosophy, observed the comet in April
and gave a public lecture. Following Newton, he
said the comets were part of the solar system
and brought vital fluids to the Earth and
fuel to the sun. God contrived their orbits
to prevent collisions. He demonstrated this
wisdom with equipment such as this planetarium
and cometarium, showing that comets were signs
of God’s providence and not his punishment. The thing I want
you to know well here is these objects,
when properly interpreted, show that astronomy had not
shed its ties to religion, even though God’s role in the
cosmos had been re-evaluated. In fact, faith was still a
motivator for astronomers. Astronomical instruments
go behind enemy lines– so like comets, solar
eclipses had also become occasions for
research rather than dread in the 18th century. In 1780, Samuel Williams,
Winthrop’s successor, decided that he would
observe a total solar eclipse in Penobscot Bay, Maine, even if
the location was in a war zone. The Bay was a strategic
base for the British Navy during the American Revolution
and just a year earlier had been the site of a
major naval battle in which an American
fleet was decimated. But Williams was no stranger
to research behind enemy lines. As a student in 1761, he had
accompanied John Winthrop up to St. John’s Newfoundland
to observe the transit of Venus during the French
and Indian War. So let me take a moment to just
explain what a transit of Venus is and why you would go
all the way to Newfoundland to try to observe it. So a transit of Venus is a
rare astronomical alignment of the Earth,
Venus, and the sun. So if you think
of the sun is here and Venus is going around it
and then the Earth is going around both of them,
occasionally Venus will cross between
the Earth and the sun. But most often, it is
above or below the plane that the Earth
and sun are, so it doesn’t cross right in front
of the disk of the sun. But every 105 and 1/2 years
or 121 and 1/2 years, Venus crosses in front of
the sun and looks like a little dot going across. And these transits,
as they’re called come in pairs eight years apart
with this big gap between. So in the 18th
century, Edmond Halley had suggested that
if astronomers went all over the
globe and tried to observe this transit,
the little dot going across the sun, from
different parts of the globe, they could, in
effect, triangulate on Venus and the sun
and therefore figure out the distance from the
Earth to the sun, which was an unmeasured
distance at that time. So it was one of the
great unsolved problems. So there was a multinational
collaboration where astronomers went all over the globe. And the only observer in North
America to participate in this was Professor John Winthrop,
who took Samuel Williams up to 1761. But he had to go
behind enemy lines. And these are some of the
instruments that Winthrop had carried along with letters
of safe passage written to British and
French commanders. And the expedition had
been financed by the colony in Massachusetts Bay. Now at the time of the second
transit, the pair was in 1769, and astronomy also
rose above politics. Then with the assistance
from Benjamin Franklin, Harvard reported state
of the art English astronomical instruments despite
the boycott of English goods by patriotic rebels for the
British military blockade of Boston. In 1780 now, the eclipse fell in
the midst of the official war. Like Winthrop did
before him, Williams turned to his senior statesman
and with this help received support from the American
Academy of Arts and Sciences and the new Commonwealth
of Massachusetts. The state provided use of
its row galley, a 250 ton ship powered by oars as well
as sail, with four swivel guns. The board of war
financed the expedition. John Hancock, who was Speaker
of the House in Massachusetts, wrote the following to the
British commander at Penobscot. Though we are
politically enemies, it is presumable we
shall not dissent from the practice of
all civilized people in promoting science. And the officer agreed not
to impede the astronomers. So Williams, two
Harvard faculty members, and six students plus
probably a lot of rowers provided by the Commonwealth,
the hidden people who are always involved
in these things, they departed Boston from
Penobscot Bay, Maine, in October. Now for security reasons,
the British commander limited their stay
and forced then to observe from Long Island,
now called Islesboro, Maine, rather than from the
mainland as planned. Williams had no
time to determine the longitude of the new
site to see if it would still be within the path of totality. Now modern calculations places
encampment slightly outside, but he was the first
to observe what later became known
as Bailey’s Beads, as we see in this publication. So it shows that he’s quite
close to the total path. Now this excursion
is credited as being the first solar eclipse
expedition in North America. And these are the
British instruments that Ben Franklin had ushered
through boycotts and blockades to take further by patriots
behind British enemy lines to see the eclipse. And there is a lesson
here about science rising above
politics and another about having to use the
apparatus manufactured by your current enemy. But that’s a story of political
economy for another day. So I’d like to turn now to
astronomy as public utility. A major reason that the state
had supported astronomical research was the presumption
that astronomy was useful, especially for navigation,
geodetic surveys, and timekeeping, all
needs of the Commonwealth and federal government. Proof of this
premise can be seen in the establishment and early
work of the Harvard College Observatory. So let’s start by
following the money. When the apparition of
the Great Comet of 1843 shamed Bostonians into
building an observatory worthy of observing
it, community leaders ponied up $25,000 in six weeks. The preponderance of insurance
companies on a dedication plaque underscores the
importance of Boston as a mercantile center
dependent on shipping. Before the comet, Harvard had
convinced William Cranch Bond, who you see here, to bring his
own instruments to Cambridge and work for free from a
rooftop on the Dana house, which was located at the
current side of Lemont Library. Now Bond had all this money– or Harvard out all
this money, but he could use it to build and
direct a monumental observatory with fixed instruments. Harvard bought a refractor
for Mertz and Mahler of Munich with a 15 inch aperture. So that’s the
diameter of the lens. It was the twin of the
largest in the world at the new Imperial Russian
observatory at Pulkovo. So you see when
Harvard gets going, it does nothing by halves here. Now this telescope, and
you see it pictured there– it’s still up at
the observatory. It remained the largest
in the United States for 25 years when
it was surpassed by the US Naval observatory’s
26 inch telescope. And here is a big change. In 1847, the best telescope
had to come from Germany. 25 years later, it was
made down the street in Cambridge Port,
Massachusetts. Bonding and his sons– George, Joseph, and Richard– were astronomers and horologists
living at the observatory. Not only did they work
in the observatory as well as live there,
but they were also partners in the
family clock making firm William Bond and Sons. The entanglement is
revealed by this letterhead. So here is a bill for
regulating, I believe, a chronometer. And here’s the company name. And up here, they’re not
showing their offices in Boston. They’re showing the
observatory and Garden Street. In 1849 and 1850,
Bond devised what became known as
the American method of astronomical observation. The new method employed new
astronomical instruments invented by the Bonds. First, there was a clock with
an electrical brake circuit that could send time
signals along wires to a drum chronograph
which you see here in the front that recorded
the beats of the clock on that paper. And then you have
an astronomer who is observing the sky
through a transit telescope. And he can press a
telegraph key when a star crosses in front of
his micrometer eyepiece. And that moment of observation
is marked along the time chart on the paper on the chronograph. Now this new American method
took European observatories by storm. It was far more accurate
than the old ear eye hand method, in which the astronomer
would to listen to and count the beats of the clock while
simultaneously watching the transit of a star and then
jotting down the instant when it crossed a wire
in his field of view and estimating the fractions
of a second in which that happened. Now when the new
clock and chronograph were displayed at the Great
Exhibition in London in 1851, they earned a bronze
Medal for the company and were lauded in the
publication American Superiority at the World’s Fair. Now the telegraph lines
that carried timed signals inside the observatory could
reach beyond its walls. And before long, Harvard
was selling time. With the assistance of
the US Coast Survey, wires linked the Harvard
College Observatory in Cambridge to the shop of William
Bond and Son in Boston. When the New England Association
of Railroad Superintendents, which represented 15
different companies, voted in 1849 to
adopt a standard time along all the tracks in the
interest of public safety and convenient
scheduling, it decided that the time to be regulated
by William Bond and Son. And you see this
timetable here of which conductors need to bring their
watches for regulation on which days. The firm used chronometers to
adjust railroad conductors’ timepieces and installed
astronomical regulators in railroad stations. The first of these
standard clocks was Bond number 137, which was
delivered in 1855 to the Boston and Providence railroad for
use in the Boston Station. Bond clock number
394, also shown here, was one of the regulators
set up at Harvard observatory to deliver standard
mean time to New England through the agency
of the Bond firm. So the Bond firm profited
from the business, but Harvard College Observatory
delivered the signal for free under the directorships
of William Cranch Bond and then his son George Phillips Bond. Not until 1872 under the
leadership of Joseph Winlock did the observatory establish
fees for its time service. Now Bond was also a pioneer
in celestial photography, taking the first photograph of a
star other than the sun in 1850 using the great refractor
we saw a moment ago as well as daguerreotypes of
the moon and a solar eclipse. And I’d like to turn now
to some more photography and talk about
glass that altered the scale of the universe
and the work force. So I want to take you and
jump ahead some 50 years into the directorship of Edward
C. Pickering and photographs made on glass plates by
huge camera-like telescopes. Pickering was a pioneer of
the new field of astrophysics. He wasn’t interested in
simply stars’ positions, but their physical
nature as revealed by photometry and spectroscopy. Initially, he and male observers
made these measurements at the eyepiece of
telescopes and photometers, but photographs more sensitive
than the naked eye soon took over the data capture. Pickering deployed photographic
telescopes in both hemispheres. Notable among them was
the Bruce telescope. Carrying a price tag of $50,000,
which was $66 and 1/2 million in today’s money, it was
the most powerful telescope in the world when
completed in 1893. It was made by Alvin Clark
and sons of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the telescope
had two pairs of massive glass lenses with a clear
aperture of 24 inches and a combined focal
length of 11 feet. And here, what you’re
seeing is the two pairs of lenses mounted freely
on a stand in our gallery. And what’s in front here
is another giant piece of glass, a removable prism
for dispersing starlight into spectra. And on the right here,
you see the lenses would have been here and here
and the objective prism up here. And the plate holder where
the photographs were taken are down here. Now the telescope was
sent by Harvard College to an observatory
in Arequipa, Peru, that it built and then on to
Bloemfontein, South Africa, in order to photograph
the southern sky on these giant glass plates. A single photographic
plate could reveal more than 100,000 stars. When the objective prism was
put in front of the plate, the photographs showed starlight
dispersed into bands of spectra like you see here. They look like little
smears with lines on them. Now each of these spectra
offers information on the elements
composing the star, whether the star had an orbiting
companion, how it was moving, what its temperature was. And the information was
used at the observatory to to classify stars according
to a type sequence that was OBAFGKM, which was
devised by Annie Jump Cannon and the other women working
with her at the observatory and well remembered by the later
memonic, Oh Be a Fine Girl, Kiss Me. But that didn’t come from the
ladies at the observatory. Another concern was the changing
brightness of stars over time. To measure this,
photographs were examined under magnification,
and the variable star’s image was compared to magnitude
standards on a fly spanker like you see here
that was slapped down alongside on the plate. Notes were made in India
ink on the non-emulsion side of the photographic plate,
on its paper sleeve, and in pencil in a log book. Now these annotations
leave a trail of how the work was
done, by whom, and when. I wish I could say it
was an indelible trail, but recent projects
to digitize the plates have been scrubbing
off these marks. This irreversible act
is of great concern to historians as well as
many plate-using astronomers. Henrietta Swan Leavitt was a
computer at the Harvard College Observatory who specialized
in variable stars and examined many Bruce plates. Her analysis of a special
class of variables known as cepheid variables
in the Magellanic Clouds led to her discovery
of a law connecting the absolute magnitude of
each such star with the period that its brightness fluctuated. She published her
findings in 1908 and 1912, and they would soon
be used as a way to measure the dimensions
of the universe. So when Edwin Hubble in
the 1920s using a 100 inch telescope at Mt. Wilson observatory
discovered this type of cepheid variable
star in spiral nebulae within the Milky
Way, it became clear that these nebulae,
these fuzzy patches, were independent galaxies
located far beyond our galaxy. So prior to this time
there was a common view that the Milky Way was
everything and everything was contained in it. And so now we see that
there’s these things that look like starry
patches were actually full galaxies at
a great distance. And Leavitt’s findings were able
to act like a standard candle for measuring those
distances because you could tell what the
brightness should be by how much they
flickered, in effect, like how they fluctuated in light. And so then if the brightness
wasn’t that much as observed on the
plates, then it had to mean that it was just– that
object was much further away. And so that’s how we got
these great distances. And in 2008, the American
Astronomical Society recognized the significance
of Leavitt’s work by designating the period
luminosity relationship as the Leavitt Law. So with instruments
readied in Cambridge before being shipped abroad
and crates of glass plates returned for analysis,
the observatory had become a research factory. To manage all the observing
stations and data streams, Pickering employed the
most fantastic desk in the history of astronomy. Custom made by the
observatory’s chief engineer, the desk is eight feet in
diameter with 12 drawers rotating around a central pole. A bookcase rose
independently above it. Here we see the remnants
of a label on a compartment marked Boyden Station,
which was the name of the observing station
first in Peru and then in South Africa. Pickering’s successor,
Harlow Shapley, also loved the rotating desk and
was often photographed at it. So, paper dolls
and wonder women– the reduction of the data
from hundreds of thousands of astronomical photographs
was time consuming, and Pickering could not
afford to hire more men. He turned to the daughters
of Harvard faculty, qualified Radcliffe students
in unpaid internships, and women willing to
work for $0.25 an hour. Between 1885 and 1927, 80 women
computers, as they were known, analyzed the data contained
on all those glass plates produced by Harvard’s
photographic telescopes. Shapley measured
projects in terms of what he called kilogirl hours. Now notwithstanding that Ms.
Katherine Bruce and Mrs. Mary Anna Palmer Draper funded
a lot of this work, the women were actually
not treated very well by the university. Take, for instance,
Anne John Cannon. Now she personally classified
more than 350,000 stars by their spectra and created
the Harvard classification system still used today. She was elected the first
female officer of the American Astronomical Society in 1912,
and her astrophysical work earned her many accolades
during her lifetime. And yet Harvard refused to
grant her a faculty appointment until 1938. In spite of all the
pioneering work of computers such as Cannon and Leavitt,
this 1980 photograph depicts them holding hands
in a paper doll-like pose. It’s a charming photo until
you start to think about it. Now I do get some satisfaction
in seeing Cannon’s life story featured in 1949 in
“Wonder Women of History,” a series bound with the
“Wonder Woman” comic books. But this comic strip
is in sharp contrast to the depiction of female
astronomers in the media, dressed in high heels, short
skirts, and white evening gloves. Women are posed next to fancy
telescopes marketed to men. Puns are made about
heavenly bodies. These are the stereotypes that
prominent women astronomers such as Vera Reuben
and Virginia Trimble had to overcome in
the 60s, 70s, and 80s. So what does a computer have
in common with a teapot? Well, this brings up the
topic of popular culture and the public’s
fascination with things astronomical and how that has
been mobilized to advertise products and support research. Astronomers, of course, were not
secluded on Observatory Hill, nor were they removed from the
social rituals, entertainments, business, and politics
of their times. William Cranch
Bond, for instance, had took the time to have
this life mask made in 1844. And we could look at it like
his photographs and chronographs as capturing an instant in time. This silver tea set, engraved
with the initials ACJ, brings to mind the work
of its owner, Anne John Cannon, a computer who daily
assigned alphabet letters to the stars she classified. Cannon enjoyed serving
tea in her home, Star Cottage on Bond Street
alongside Observatory Hill. She used one of her logbooks
to record her various guests and visitors. Or consider that in 1879, only a
year after Gilbert and Sullivan produced HMS Pinafore,
a Harvard astronomer wrote a parody based
on observatory life. Now, like, how many
songs do you know about prisms and photometers? This is where you’ll find them. 50 years later, it was
performed by another generation at the observatory. On the flipside,
ephemeral publications such as greeting
cards, advertisements, and vinyl records illustrate
how contemporary popular culture drew inspiration
from astronomers’ work and the celestial
bodies they studied. Sheet music and recordings
brought the stars home. So did products
promising their users an out of this world experience. D-Zerta drew on the anticipated
return of Comet Hailey 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, California, was used to
sell Buicks and bread. The associations promoted and
how high tech and innovative the goods were. In some cases, profits
went to support astronomy. Take, for instance, this
Warner’s Safe Yeast trade card featuring children
looking at a comet. The product was part of
the patent medicine empire that made Holbert H.
Warner a millionaire. He used his fortune to
build the Warner observatory in Rochester, create
various comment prizes, and finance Lewis Swift
and E.E. Bernard, two eminent astronomers. So what about homemade
and recycled telescope? Any object-based history
of American astronomy should take into account
amateur telescope makers whose mecca is Stellafane, shown
here, and participants in groups such as the American
Association of Variable Star Observers. But I’d like to take a moment to
focus on Operation Moon Watch. During the International
Geophysical Year, which ran from July 1957
through December 1958– and yes, that’s
more than a year. And it was the largest
multi-national collaboration of scientists at that time. But during that year, the United
States and the Soviet Union planned to launch the
first artificial satellites to study the Earth’s
shape and atmosphere. The satellites would
need to be tracked, and the job was given to Fred
Whipple, an expert on meteor tracking and photography. As director of the Smithsonian
Astrophysical Observatory, Whipple planned a
two-prong professional and amateur approach
12 professionally manned Baker Nunn telescopes
were being deployed to photograph the
satellites in order to determine their orbits. But the big cameras
needed to know where to look for
these faint objects. This was the job of
Operation Moon Watch. The Smithsonian observatory
published inserts in Sky and Telescope
magazine that called for the [INAUDIBLE]
of teams of amateurs who would observe the
satellites passing overhead and relay their data
back to the observatory. They were equipped with modified
army M17 elbow telescopes and cheap satellite tracking
telescopes made specifically for this purpose. But when Sputnik
launched unexpectedly on October 4, 1957,
the United States was caught with its
professional telescopes down. The moon watch observations
of citizen scientists filled the breach. Project Moon Watch speaks to
the importance of amateurs and crowdsourcing
and giving an assist to professional astronomers. It also speaks to
the entwinement of military security and
astronomical institutions and the development
and deployment of high tech, often classified,
optical instruments. So to draw some
conclusions here, I’d like to return to what I
said at the start of this talk, when I asked why should
we care about documenting and preserving the
old and obsolete. Now a simple answer is that
material things enhance our knowledge of astronomy’s
history in ways that written text alone cannot do. But I think a more
important answer is that learning about the past
helps us to live critically in the present. Captain Smith’s
sundial sheds light on the imperialistic
arrogance of colonizers and the roots of conflict with
native peoples about cosmology, an ongoing situation in
the location of mountaintop observatories. Mechanical models
of the solar system must be understood along with
almanacs and sermons, not only as a means to teach astronomy,
but also to promote piety in colonial New England. They lead us to ask how changing
religious beliefs in America today might affect academic and
federal support for science. Clocks, telescopes,
and quadrants taken behind enemy lines
on research expeditions declare not only
a noble commitment to place science above
politics but also the importance of state
funding to support the work. These are both worthy but
difficult goals still. And then we saw how the
improved clocks, chronographs, and telegraph
wires were deployed to increase
astronomical accuracy and deliver standard
time as a public utility. Motivation came from a
partnership between business and astronomy, represented in
the entanglement of personnel of the Harvard College
Observatory and the William Bond and Son firm. The story of glass in the
form of large lenses, prisms, and photographic plates takes
us into a global network of observing stations and
expanded astronomy workforce and the creation
of a data library which can still be mined for
information 100 years later. The observatory director has
become a business manager seated at an enormous desk when
he is not out raising money. The glass plates
and paper ephemera also raise our consciousness
about the role and treatment of women over time. And moon watch telescopes
show us the power and value of amateurs. Astronomers, of
course, have always imbibed the values
of their times, as t-sats, images of baseball,
and life masks remind us. The thing, though, is us to be
mindful of the public’s romance with the stars and remember
how popular media can be used to build
support for dark skies and great new telescopes. So to close my talk,
I just want to say that many of the objects
that I showed you tonight are on display in two
galleries in the Science Center at the collection of historical
scientific instruments. Many are on display
in the Putnam gallery on the first floor
of the Science Center in an exhibit called
Time, Life, and Matter– Science in Cambridge. And on the third floor at the
foyer of the history of science department, we have
a little gallery where we have an exhibit
called Starstruck– Astronomers in Popular Culture. And the exhibit
there was curated by nine students from the
Tangible Things course that Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
and I co-taught last fall. And you’ll see in it the t-sat,
the life mask, moon watch telescopes, many of the things
that you also saw in this talk. And I may have some
of the students who co-curated that exhibit with
me here in the audience. I see one in the back– Isabella, I think. And so if you’re interested in
that project, do speak to her. The other thing– these
exhibits are open on– both are open on weekdays, and
the one in the Putnam gallery is also open on Sundays. So you’ll have an opportunity
to see both exhibits. One’s permanent,
one’s temporary, but it’ll be up until the
end of September, the one called Starstruck– Astronomers in Popular Culture. So I do encourage you to
come see the real thing. Thank you.

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