October 23, 2010 #094 - Thoughts on Astronomical History

In my fun research into Astronomical History I am struck by how little people have changed over the past 250 years. On the earth we have been through much human struggling, slavery, suffrage, women trying to raise their standing in a male dominated society, political strife, competing economic systems, degradation of the environment, the fight for land and resources, the list goes on and on!

One of the surprises that has hit me as I delve into the past is that the world of Astronomy was not above it all. I, in my naive way thought that the field was on a higher plain. How could the study of the Cosmos, one of the purest sciences, be corrupted. I forgot one important fact, astronomy is conducted by human beings.

Within my lifetime I have read about the fights to build observatories on mountain tops that were the habitat of the last remnant of a fading species of plant or animal. There were political and economic battles over the prestige of having the latest technologically advanced astronomical instruments built in a specific country. Then of course there is the battle of egos, as a scientists work is refuted by a contemporary or  the next generation of researchers.

One of the most obvious shortcomings of the astronomical community in the past was the value placed on women's contributions to the field. It is plain that many of the major accomplishments of the past were made by women working in the background, assisting husbands, working as human computers calculating data, sifting through millions of photographic plates, and contributing understanding to the field with brilliant minds, only to have it presented by others in papers and at gatherings of "Astronomers".  Many of these great women were only recognized after they passed away, in obituaries of the time printed in obscure journals.

I might refer you to POPULAR ASTRONOMY 1898 Vol. VI (Woman Astronomers 400A.D. - 1750), (Woman Astronomers 1750 - 1890), and (Woman Astronomers Contemporary) Written by Herman Davis. This is a good primer on the subject. It can be read on Google Books.

Below are a couple clippings from my historical "scrapbook" that I think illustrate how things have changed very little. 

(Click on picture to enlarge for reading.) 

I don't recall my wife ever waking me and telling me that the occultation was about to start or wasn't the eclipse of the moon supposed to be about now. But then she did wake me for work when I had spent to long at the eyepiece, probably way more important in the scheme of things.

I guess this means that employees were just as unhappy with the boss in 1913 as people are today.

Clear Sky - Rich

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