IAU Commission 41 : Newsletters




1997-2000 Triennium -- October 1997 -- Issue # 1

Commission 41 in Kyoto

Members of Commission 41 enjoyed a variety of activities in Kyoto as part of the XXIIIrd General Assembly, amidst colorful and comfortable surroundings. The details are given in the official Report attached below that will eventually be printed in the IAU Transactions; I will discuss a few of the highlights here.

The meeting began in dramatic style when Emperor Akihito, accompanied by the Empress, addressed the opening General Assembly with a brief history of astronomy in Japan. This set the stage for Commission 41, which took advantage of the surroundings to concentrate on the history of Oriental astronomy, broadly conceived. Indeed, the major Commission 41 activity was Joint Discussion 17, "History of Oriental Astronomy," organized by C 41 President S. M. R. Ansari. Kyoto was the perfect venue for many of the scholars in the field to gather and present their latest work. The sessions were lively and well-attended; a list of the participants is given below. Commission 41 also co-supported three other Joint Discussions, as mentioned in the Report. And at its business meetings, members heard reports from several countries on their latest activities in the field.

Among the important items discussed at the business meetings was the status of Commission 41 in the new Division structure of the IAU. The Commissions of the IAU have been grouped into 11 Divisions according to subject; a few, including Commission 41 remain unaffiliated. The consensus of Commission 41 members attending the business meetings, as well as other members who have communicated their thoughts to me, is that history of astronomy overarches all IAU subjects, and therefore should remain a separate Commission until such time as it can become a Division, which is largely a matter of membership numbers. This seems to be agreeable to incoming IAU officers; our only concern is that it not impede our ability to sponsor Joint Discussions and fully participate in other IAU activities.

With regard to the four resolutions passed by the Commission, members were particularly eager to see some action on the first one regarding the preservation and inventory of astronomical archives. This has been a long-standing goal of the Commission, and there has been progress in some individual countries, but not worldwide. As incoming President I will attempt to move this along; I welcome your thoughts on the best ways to do this.

We are delighted to have as our Vice President F. Richard Stephenson (UK), who is well-known for his work in applied history of astronomy. And equally delighted to have so many distinguished colleagues on the new Organizing Committee, as listed below. The increased membership of the OC should help us to increase worldwide coverage. Welcome also to all of our new members and consultants. As incoming President I am particularly interested in increasing communication among members and consultants as to ongoing interests and publications. Please send me any items you wish to see published in this Newsletter, which I will attempt to issue at least twice per year. Also, if you have not already given your e-mail address to me at the business meeting, please send it to me at the address below for publication in a future Newsletter.

The next General Assembly will meet in Manchester, UK, and plans are already underway to propose a Joint Discussion on "Applied History of Astronomy", especially in view of Professor Stephenson's close proximity. In addition we will be looking into the feasibility of Professor Proverbio's proposal for a meeting in Italy in 1999 on the historical and scientific aspects of polar motion research program, on the occasion of the centenary of the International Latitude Service (ILS).

Altogether, the XXIIIrd General Assembly was a very satisfying meeting. With concerts, a banquet, visits to Buddhist temples and other local sights, we did not forget to have a good time. We all departed with a renewed appreciation of the richness of our field, and how much remains to be done. Even as we look forward to the next meetings, we will not soon forget the hospitality of our Japanese colleagues.

Steven J. Dick
President, Commission 41
U. S. Naval Observatory
3450 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20392-5420

Report from the Kyoto General Assembly

Commission 41: History of Astronomy (Histoire de l'Astronomie)

President: S. M. R. Ansari
Vice President: Steven J. Dick
Secretary (Business meeting): W. Orchiston

I. Business Sessions (Friday, August 22 and Tuesday, August 26, 1997)

1.1 General

Commission Vice President S. Dick called the meeting to order at 1400 hours, August 22 in Room H of the Kyoto International Conference Hall. W. Orchiston was appointed Secretary, and S. Débarbat balloteer for the elections. Of the members of the 1994-1997 Organizing Committee S. Débarbat was present; the remaining members (A. Gurshtein, J. North. S. Nakayama) were unable to attend. 21 others were in attendance. A moment of silence was observed for members deceased since the last G.A., including LeRoy Doggett (U. S. Naval Observatory, Washington) and Bruno Morando (Bureau des Longitudes, Paris).

President Ansari reported on the attempts to organize a symposium on several themes, including "Astronomy in Asia and the Far East", for the current General Assembly; in the end the EC approved the present 1.5 day Joint Discussion on "The History of Oriental Astronomy". He also reported that S. Dick sent out two Commission Newsletters over the past year. In an attempt to raise the Commission membership, the President wrote a message that was posted on the World Wide Web and sent to Commission Presidents.

1.2 Election of Officers, New Members and Consultants

Elections duly held, taking into account absentee ballots, resulted in the following officers for the 1997-2000 triennium:

President: S. J. Dick (USA)
Vice-President: F. R. Stephenson (UK)
Immediate Past President:S. M. R. Ansari (India)
Organizing Committee: Wolfgang Dick (Germany)
Alex Gurshtein (Russia)
Il.-S. Nha (Korea)
Wayne Orchiston (New Zealand)
Edoardo Proverbio (Italy)
Woodruff T. Sullivan (USA)
Xi Zezong (China)

New members of the Commission approved were Emmanuel Danezis (Greece), Joseph. S. Mikhail (Egypt), Dimitrios Papathanasoglou (Greece), Efstratios Theodossiou (Greece), Maria Stathopolou (Greece), Theofanis Grammenos (Greece), Ian Glass (S. Africa), John Hearnshaw (New Zealand), Alan Batten (Canada), Brian Warner (S. Africa), Kwan-Yu Chen (USA), Jang-Hae Jeong (Korea), Yong-Sam Lee (Korea), Chun-Hwey Kim (Korea), Yonggi Kim (Korea) Hi-Il Kim (Korea), Woo-Baik Lee (Korea), Kyu-Dong Oh (Korea), Tiberiu Oproiu (Romania), Y. Sobouti (Iran), Virginia Trimble (USA), Shi-zhu Cui (China PR), Roslynn Haynes (Australia), Thomas Hockey (USA), Wolfgang Kokott (Germany), Chun-yuuu Ma (China PR), Nagahoshi Ohashi (USA), John Perdrix (Australia), Sh. Ehgamberdiev (Uzbekistan), John Whiteoak (Australia), David Jauncey (Australia), Mike Bessell (Australia), Don Matthewson (Australia), Bruce McAdam (Australia), Ken Freeman (Australia), William Tobin (New Zealand), Kitiro Hurukawa (Japan). Of these Cui, Haynes, Hockey, Kokott, Ma, Ohashi and Perdrix were elected new members of the IAU during this General Assembly.

New consultants voted were Brenda Corbin (USA), David A. King (Germany), E. S. Kennedy (USA), K. Locher (Switzerland), Stephen McCluskey (USA), J. F. Oudet (France), Clive Ruggles (UK), and M. Yano (Japan). Consultants reelected were J. Tenn (USA), J. Bennett (UK), K. Bracher (USA), J. Evans (USA), R. Freitag (USA), A. Jones, S. R. Sarma (India), B. G. Sidharth (India), B. van Dalen (Netherlands), T. Williams (USA) and L. Wlodarczyk.

The total membership of the Commission, including the new members, stands at 147, plus 17 consultants.

1.3 Resolutions

Débarbat read the resolutions passed at the last General Assembly regarding the organizing and cataloguing of IAU archives and the preservation of relics related to F. G. W. Struve's measurement of the arc of the meridian. Regarding the first, Débarbat reported that the IAU archives have been deposited in Paris with the General Secretariat. Regarding the latter, Batten reported that the resolution has had some effect, notably by contacts with the International Union of Geodetic Surveyors, and that efforts are continuing.

New resolutions included the following:

1) Whereas historical astronomical records are important to the heritage of astronomy and may be essential to applied astronomy

The IAU supports the recovery, inventory and preservation of astronomical archives of national and international institutions, including observatories, societies and other institutions.

2) That Commission 41 records its serious concern regarding grave losses at Pulkovo as the result of fire, and supports the assessment of these losses to the cultural heritage of astronomy.

3) That, in order to facilitate research into the history of astronomy in a country (the "host country") that was subjugated or governed by another country ("governing country"), and where the relevant source material now resides in the governing country, every attempt should be made to provide copies of such source material to the host country.

4) Noting that vital primary source material pertaining to history of astronomy in a country (the host country) that was ruled or governed by another (the governing country) resides in the governing country, it is recommended that visiting fellowships be created by IAU, European Union, and bilateral agreements between countries to enable researchers from a host country to consult source material in a governing country.

1.4 Commission 41 Status in IAU

The members voted to support the position that "History of astronomy is a discipline that overarches the entire field of study of the IAU, and therefore should not be confined to one Division. We wish to remain a separate Commission until such time as we can become a separate History of Astronomy Division."

Discussions with incoming General Secretary Johannes Anderson and incoming President Robert Kraft indicated that this is not a problem.

1.5 Future Meetings

The Commission endorsed a proposal by Edoardo Proverbio that a meeting (probably an IAU colloquium) on "Polar Motion: Historical and Scientific Problems" be held in Italy on the occasion of the centenary of the International Latitude Service (ILS) in 1999. The meeting would be held immediately before or after the Italian Astronomical Society meeting in September/October, 1999, hosted by the Cagliari Astronomical Observatory. Co-sponsorship by Commissions 19 (Earth Rotation) and 31 (Time) are being sought.

Looking forward to the next General Assembly in Manchester, the chair proposed as a possible topic for a Joint Discussion "Applied History of Astronomy", especially since the world's leading scholar in the field (F. R. Stephenson) is in the UK, and he is now V. P. of Commission 41. This proposal was enthusiastically endorsed by the members.

In light of the fact that the next General Assembly will be held in the year 2000, it was suggested that Commission 41 sponsor an Invited Discourse on "The History of Astronomy in the 20th Century". President S. Dick will follow up.

1.6 Other New Business

W. Orchiston (New Zealand) discussed a proposal to form a new "Journal for the History and Heritage of Astronomy". It would replace the current Australian Journal of Astronomy, and John L. Perdrix (Australia) would remain its editor. It would not wish to be competitive with the current Journal for the History of Astronomy, but would seek to publish a wider variety of articles.

1.7 Country Reports and other Papers

At the end of the first business meeting Rajesh Kochhar spoke on the History of Astronomy in India, and Wayne Orchiston on history of astronomy activities in New Zealand. Following the Joint Discussion at the second business meeting, Suzanne Débarbat spoke on the history of astronomy activities in the Department of Fundamental Astronomy at Paris Observatory, and Il.-S. Nha reported on a new Museum of Astronomy in Korea, to open in October, 1998.

Incoming President S. Dick thanked outgoing President Ansari, Professor Yano, and the members of the Scientific Organizing Committee of JD 17 for putting together a successful meeting. He also thanked the outgoing members of the Commission 41 OC, and wished Suzanne Débarbat best wishes in her retirement.

II. Scientific Sessions: Joint Discussion 17, August 25-26

The entire day Monday, August 25 and the first part of the morning August 26, were devoted to JD 17 "History of Oriental Astronomy". Approximately 100 people in attendance heard papers on the ancient and medieval periods, including: the earliest stage of Chinese astronomy (Y. Maeyama), Islamic astronomy in China (B. van Dalen), an Arabic commentary on al-Tusi's Tadhkirah and its Sanskrit translation (T. Kusuba), Ancient Indian astronomy in China (J. Xiao-Yuan), Korean star maps of the 18th century (Il-S. Nha), Knowledge of the starry sky in Indonesia (B. Hidayat), the projection method of star mapping in the Song Dynasty, astronomy in the Orient to the 12th and 13th centuries (K.-Y. Chen), Vedanga astronomy (Y. Ohashi), spherical trigonometry in the astronomy of the medieval Kerala school (K. Plofker), and astronomical dating and statistical analysis of Shang dynasty oracle bone records (K. Pang, K. Yau and H. Chou).

Among the papers in the modern astronomy session were The Drkpaksasarani: A Sanskrit version of de la Hire's Tabulae Astronomicae (D. Pingree), Modern astronomy in Indo-Persian sources (S. M. R. Ansari), Takamine and Saha's contacts with western astrophysics (D. DeVorkin), contemporary astronomy in Iran (Y. Sobouti), astronomy education in the East (S. Isobe), Kepler's law in China (K. Hashimoto), the status of astronomy in Uzbekistan (S. Ehgamberdiev), Power and politics in 19th century Australian astronomy (W. Orchiston), old Burmese sky charts (M. Nishiyama), and an overview of Oriental astronomy (S. Nakayama).

III. Other Sessions

In addition to JD 17, Commission 41 also supported JD 8 "Stellar Evolution in Real Time", JD 20 "Enhancing Astronomical Research and Education in Developing Countries" and JD 23 "The Leonid Meteor Stream: Historical Significance and Upcoming Opportunities". S. Dick gave a paper in the latter on "Observations of the Leonids over the Last Millennium."


Following extensive discussions at the recent General Assembly of the IAU, a research publication titled the Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage is to be launched in 1998. This will go some way towards providing an alternative outlet for those who liked to publish in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society and in Vistas in Astronomy.

JAH2 will be published twice-yearly, in June and December, and will feature review papers, research papers, short communications, and book reviews. Papers on all aspects of astronomical history will be considered, including studies which place the evolution of astronomy in political, economic and cultural context. Papers on astronomical heritage may deal with historic telescopes and observatories, conservation projects (including the conversion of historic observatories into museums of astronomy), and historical or industrial archaeological investigations of astronomical sites and buildings. All papers will be refereed prior to publication.

Managing Editor of the new journal is John L. Perdrix, from Perth, Australia, who is closing down the Australian Journal of Astronomy in order to activate the new journal. Papers Editor is Dr Wayne Orchiston, Executive Director of the Carter Observatory (the National Observatory of New Zealand). An international Editorial Board is in the process of being formed, and Dr Bambang Hidayat (Indonesia, and IAU Vice-President), Professor Rajesh Kochhar (India), Professor Brian Warner (South Africa), Commander Derek Howse (England) , Dr. Wolfgang Dick (Germany) and Dr. David Andrews (Northern Ireland) have already agreed to join.

The annual subscription, for individuals, is just $US20. Queries regarding subscriptions, book reviews and the production of the new journal should be directed to Mr J. Perdrix at Astral Press, PO Box 107, Wembley, WA 6014, Australia (or e-mail: geochem@techpkwa.curtin.edu.au). Queries regarding papers should be directed to Dr W. Orchiston at the Carter Observatory, PO Box 2909, Wellington, New Zealand (or e-mail: Wayne.Orchiston@vuw.ac.nz).

Announcements, news of your research, or other items, should be sent to me at the address on page 2, or via e-mail. Please send your e-mail address, so we can better communicate. This Newsletter is published approximately every six months.


IAU Commission 41

HTML version: Wolfgang R. Dick

13 Mar 1998