IAU Commission 41 : Newsletters




1997-2000 Triennium -- April 1998 -- Issue # 2

Commission 41 News

Steven J. Dick, President, Commission 41

C 41 On the Web!

Thanks to the efforts of C 41 OC member Dr. Wolfgang Dick and the kindness of Prof. Peter Brosche in supplying space, Commission 41 is now on the WWW. You may access it directly at http://www.astro.uni-bonn.de/~pbrosche/iaucomm41. Or you may link to it from the IAU Web site Commission page at http://www.intastun.org/commissions.html. For now the C 41 site contains C 41 officers, members and their current addresses, and newsletters. We have plans in the future to post the Bibliography on History of Astronomy, compiled by Ruth Freitag of the Library of Congress in Washington, D. C. The C 41 site also links to the history of astronomy site maintained for several years by the History of Astronomy Working Group of the Astronomische Gesellschaft, and now also maintained on behalf of Commission 41. If you have other items for expanding the C 41 web site, please contact either myself or Wolfgang Dick. Wolfgang also welcomes input for the History of Astronomy site. I hope the C 41 site will become an important tool for communication among Commission members, as the History of Astronomy site has for communication of information about the field.

IAU Colloquium Proposal

Commission 41 has submitted a proposal to the IAU Executive Committee for an IAU Colloquium entitled "Polar Motion: Historical and Scientific Problems." Commissions 19 (Earth Rotation) and 31 (Time) are supporting Commissions, and we have also requested sponsorship by the International Association of Geodesy and the International Earth Rotation Service.

The meeting, first suggested by C 41 OC member Eduardo Proverbio (Italy), would be held in Sardinia, Italy September 27-30, 1999, on the occasion of the centennial of the International Latitude Service (ILS). The nearby Carloforte Latitude Station was one of the original ILS stations. The ILS was organized in 1895 by the forerunner of the International Association of Geodesy and was composed of observing sites on the parallel of 39 degrees, 8 minutes North. The goal was to make astronomical observations to describe the motion of the Earth's rotational pole. In 1962 it was renamed the International Polar Motion Service (IPMS) and in 1988 the IPMS was discontinued when the International Earth Rotation Service was organized. During its history the ILS/IPMS provided valuable observations of polar motion which continue to be analyzed today.

Many of the questions which the ILS was organized to address still remain, including the enigmatic nature of the excitation and damping of the polar motion. The definition of the international celestial and terrestrial reference systems are based on the ILS definition of the pole. Today's precise astronomical and geodetic observations now require a re-definition of that pole to correspond with modern levels of precision. It is fitting to take the opportunity to mark the centennial of the first ILS observations at one of its original observatories.

The EC will make a decision on the proposal at its July, 1998 meeting.

Membership List

For those who do not have access to the WWW, and for general convenience, I include with this Newsletter a hardcopy of C 41 members and addresses. This is the list as communicated to me by the IAU in November, 1997. Wolfgang has made some corrections. There are still a few names not on the list; I am trying to identify the reason with the IAU Secretariat. If you are a member not on the list, please contact me. If you have an address correction or addition (especially e-mail), please contact Wolfgang at wdi@potsdam.ifag.de.

Future Commission 41 Activities

It is not too early to begin thinking about the IAU General Assembly in Manchester, August 7-19, 2000. C 41 Plans to submit a proposal for a Joint Discussion on "Applied History of Astronomy" that will review the entire field and be of use to astronomers and historians alike. This effort will be headed by C 41 Vice President F. R. Stephenson, whose work in the field is well known. A recent example that has come across my desk is L. V. Morrison and F. R. Stephenson, "Contemporary Geophysics from Babylonian Clay Tablets," Contemporary Physics, 38 (1997), 13-23. Also, because the next GA is being held in the last year of the century (and the millennium) C 41 plans to propose a speaker for an Invited Discourse reviewing "The History of Astronomy in the 20th Century."

For those of you who really think far ahead, the XXVth General Assembly will be held in Sydney, Australia, in August 2003. For more details see IB 81, posted on the WWW at www.intastun.org.

Commission 41 50th Anniversary!

Commission 41 was formed at the 1948 meeting of the IAU, and therefore celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. C 41 member Woody Sullivan (University of Washington) recently brought to my attention the first report of Commission 41, in IAU Transactions, 8, page 623, published in 1954. The report shows that Commission 41 had a bit of a rocky start. Otto Neugebauer, appointed the first C 41 president in his absence, expressed his conviction that "an international organization in the history of astronomy has no positive function ... my only activity during my term of service consisted in iterated attempts to resign." This is perhaps one of Neugebauer's few statements to have been proven wrong! Under the circumstances Herbert Dingle acted as President for the 1952 meeting. The first members of the Commission were Armitage, Birkenmajer, Danjon, Dijksterhuis, Dingle, Dittrich, Hubble, Idelson, Spencer Jones, Kukarin, Kulikovsky, Lundmark, Marguérat, Nordenmark, Norlund, Pannekoek, Pelseneer, Pogo, Sadykov, Seydl, Volta, and Zinner.

It is appropriate to give here the complete list of Commission 41 Presidents.

1948-1952 Neugebauer (USA)
1952-1955 Dingle (UK)
1955-1958 Dingle (UK)
1958-1961 Kulikovsky (USSR)
1961-1964 Kulikovsky (USSR)
1964-1967 Rybka (Poland)
1967-1970 Rybka (Poland)
1970-1973 Gingerich (USA)
1973-1976 Gingerich (USA)
1976-1979 Dobrzycki (Poland)
1979-1982 Hoskin (UK)
1982-1985 Pederson (Denmark)
1985-1988 Eddy (USA)
1988-1991 North (UK)
1991-1994 Débarbat (France)
1994-1997 Ansari (India)
1997-2000 Dick (USA)

In honor of our 50th annivesary, in future issues of this Newsletter I hope to provide highlights of C 41 history, not only in order to review our activities in the past, but also to reconsider our role for the future.

The General History of Astronomy

M. A. Hoskin

Some two years ago, the late Olaf Pedersen asked to retire as editor of volume 1 of GHA (Antiquity to the Renaissance), and handed the files over to John North, his chosen successor. Professor North made an intensive effort to prod delinquent contributors, and eventually was of the opinion that he had achieved the makings of a publishable volume. However, some chapters were still missing, and others were in a less-than-satisfactory state, and in the opinion of the General Editor and the Publisher a very considerable amount of work was still needed to bring the contributions up to standard. The problem was greatly exacerbated by the appearance of Astronomy Before the Telescope, which covered similar ground and included a number of contributions of high standard. The decision was therefore taken to put GHA volume 1 on ice for the present, pending the eventual recruitment of a new volume editor; and several authors accepted an invitation for their chapter, or an article based on it, to appear in JHA in the meantime.

Volumes 2A and 2B, Planetary astronomy from the Renaissance to the rise of astrophysics, edited by Taton and Wilson, were published in 1989 and 1995, while volume 4A, Astrophysics and twentieth-century astronomy to 1950, edited by Gingerich, was published in 1984. Work continues on the remaining two parts. Volume 3, Stellar astronomy, instrumentation and institutions from the Renaissance to the mid-nineteenth century, is edited by Hoskin, and volume 4B, by Gingerich.

C 41 Member Deaths

Olaf Pedersen

Olaf Pedersen died on 3 December of last year, following a heart operation. He taught physics and the history of science at Aarhus University from 1956, and his principal monuments are the Department of History of Science there, and the nearby Steno Museum of the history of science. Of his considerable and varied literary output, his A Survey of the Almagest (Odense University Press, 1974) is his magnum opus, while his Early Physics and Astronomy (Macdonald and Elsevier, 1974, with a second edition from Cambridge University Press) has been an influential tool for teachers of ancient and medieval physical science.

A full obituary will appear in the May issue of Journal for the History of Astronomy.

M. A. Hoskin

Helen Wright

Helen Wright Greuter, 82, an astronomer and author perhaps best known for her biography of George Elery Hale, died October 23, 1997 at her home in Washington, D. C. A native Washingtonian, she graduated from Vassar College with an M. A. in astronomy. She was an assistant in the Vassar astronomy department from 1937 to 1939 and was a junior astronomer at the U. S. Naval Observatory in Washington in 1942 and 1943. She was the author or co-author of 25 books on astronomers, astronomy and history of astronomy.

Steven J. Dick

Meetings and Celebrations

International Spring Meeting of the Astronomische Gesellschaft, Gotha, Germany, May 11-15, 1998

Professor Dr. Peter Brosche, Observatorium Hoher List der Universitätssternwarte Bonn, reports that the International Spring Meeting of the Astronomische Gesellschaft will meet in Gotha, Germany, May 11-15. The meeting takes place in commemoration of the first congress in 1798 at the Seeberg Observatory. Therefore history of astronomy is one of two special fields of the meeting, with a natural focus on 18th and 19th century. The other field is astrometry. The language will be English. Information may be obtained from the chairman of the Local Organizing Committee, Dr. O. Schwarz, Uthmannstr. 8, D-99867 Gotha, Germany. e-mail sternwGTH@aol.com. Also see the web site at http://members.aol.com/SternwGTH/.

Early Astronomy in Sydney, July 4, 1998

C 41 OC member Wayne Orchiston, Director of Carter Observatory (the National Observatory of New Zealand) reports that on 1998 July 4, the Colonial Science Club in Sydney will host a seminar on on "Colonial Astronomy in Sydney". Shirley Saunders with speak on the topic of her Ph.D thesis, Parramatta Observatory, which Governor Brisbane established in 1821. Dr Raymond Haynes from the Australia Telescope National Facility (and an author of Explorers of the Southern Sky) will examine the development of astronomy in Australia, but particularly the interrelations of science in the colonies to the management from London. Wayne Orchiston will speak on William Scott and the early years of the Sydney Observatory, based on his paper to appear in the Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage. The final speaker, Dr Nick Lomb, Curator of Astronomy at the Sydney Observatory, will present a paper about the history of the Observatory between 1870 and 1900. This paper will relate directly to the major new display at the Observatory titled "By the Light of the Southern Stars". After closing as a research institution in 1982, the Observatory became a branch of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences.

Alfraganus 1200th Anniversary, Uzbekistan, October 23-24, 1998

C 41 member Dr. Shuhrat Ehgamberdiev, Director of the Ulugh Beg Astronomical Institute of the Uzbek Academy of Sciences in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, writes that "We have now a new important tradition in Uzbekistan. We express respect to our eminent predecessors, which we couldn't do before the Independence. In 1998 we will celebrate 1225th anniversary of Imam al Bukhari, who well known in the Islamic world as a great expert in Khoran and author of the Hadises. This year we will also celebrate 1200th anniversary of great encyclopaedist, astronomer, geographer, mathematician - Ahmad al-Fargani (Alfraganus). Both jubilees will be celebrated simultaneously on 23rd and 24th Oct. 1998." The Government of Uzbekistan has invited about 100 scientists, religious people and distinguished guests. The events will take place in Samarkand and Fargana.

Third International Conference on Oriental Astronomy, Japan, October 27-30, 1998

C 41 member Kwan-Yu Chen (University of Florida) reports that the Third International Conference on Oriental Astronomy will be held in Fukuoka, Japan, October 27-30, 1998. The First Conference was held in Seoul, Korea in 1992, and the Second Conference in Yingtan, China in 1995. This year, the theme is "From Calendar Scholars to Telescopes." The program will include sessions on calendar making, star catalogues and atlases, historical records of astronomical observations, instrumentation, observatories, and exchange of astronomical knowledge between Asian countries and Japan. Dr. Chen may be contacted for more information at Dept. of Astronomy, University of Florida, 211 SSRB, Gainsville, FL 32611. Also see the web site at http://www.fukuoka-edu.ac.jp/meeting/ICOA.html, or e-mail ICOA@fukuoka-edu.ac.jp.

News from Members

Liu Ci-yuan, Shaanxi Observatory, Lintong, Shaanxi, reports that research on history of astronomy is active in China, where astronomy has flourished for thousands of years. The "Xia-Shang-Zhou Chronology Project", which attempts to understand a possible solar eclipse event in the early Zhou dynasty (11th-9th century BC), is being powerfully supported by the government. Liu Ci-yuan and colleagues have papers in press on "Records of Solar Eclipses in Ming Dynasty", which analyzes some 800 records of solar eclipses from the period 1368-1644 AD; "An Examination of Large Solar Eclipse Records in Ming Dynasty;" "Sky Brightness of Horizon Solar Eclipses," "Reports of Sky Brightness during the Solar Eclipse of March 9, 1997 from Xinjiang," and "A Study on Ancient record 'double dawn'", which analyze the recent eclipse as a key to understanding the "double dawn" recorded three thousand years ago in King Yi's time. English abstracts of these papers are available from Dr. Ci-yuan at pub2@ms.sxso.ac.cn.

Il-Seong Nha, retired from Yonsei University, Seoul, Korea, and now honored as the Professor Emeritus, reports plans are proceeding for construction of a new museum of astronomy in Korea, as reported in JD-17 in Kyoto. The museum will be located in Yecheon Prefecture, Korea, with an opening date of October, 1999. The museum will exhibit astronomical works available in Korea, China, Japan and other regions of the Far East, serve the public with written material for the study of the history of Oriental astronomy, and operate a 40-cm reflecting telescope for professional and amateur research. A long-term project is the reconstruction of King Sejong's instruments, made in the 15th century.

Ian Glass, South African Astronomical Observatory, reports the publication of his book Victorian Telescope Makers: The Lives and Letters of Thomas and Howard Grubb, Institute of Physics Publishing, Bristol and Philadelphia. Price 30 pounds or $50. ISBN 0 7503 0454 5 (hardbound). Pp xiii + 279. Pub. date June 1997.

If you have News, please send to Steven Dick.

New Journal, Culture and Cosmos

Following the announcement in the last C 41 News of the new Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage comes the announcement of a new biennial journal Culture and Cosmos. The editorial policy states, in part, that

"Culture and Cosmos is the first peer-reviewed journal to be devoted to the study of the history of both astrology and cultural astronomy. If astrology is the use of celestial phenomena to provide meaning for human life, then cultural astronomy is the broader use of astronomical beliefs and theories to regulate and inform society, politics, the arts and every aspect of human life, or the cultural pressures which motivate astronomical advances, including the more specific disciplines of ethnoastronomy and archaeoastronomy.

"Since the publication in 1905 of Lynn Thorndike's 'The Place of Magic in the Intellectual History of Europe' historians have grappled with astrology's historical role. Though now largely discredited from an academic standpoint, views of its past importance vary. It has been argued that its history is central to the history of science, or the history of religion or the history of ideas in general. Yet there is no journal which provides a single forum for publication and the exchange of ideas. Culture and Cosmos is intended to fill this gap.

"In that the journal will also deal with the history of cultural astronomy, we will publish material of wider interest. From Megalithic science, Sumerian astrology and Egyptian astral religion to the cultural impact of the Copernican or Einsteinian revolutions, down to the contemporary belief in alien abductions, we intend the journal to become a forum for debate on the broader impact of astronomical ideas on human society. In this sense we will overlap with some existing journals, such as the JHA, but we do not intend to carry papers on purely technical or mathematical aspects of the history of astronomy.

We will also carry correspondence, reviews and news of any developments in the field."

Inquiries should be addressed to Nicholas Campion, Culture and Cosmos, PO Box 1071, Bristol BS 99 1HE, UK.

Progress Report on the New Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage

We are making good progress with the JAH2, and expect to see the first issue off the press on schedule, in June. It will feature the following research papers:

We are happy to announce that in addition to papers and book reviews, each issue of JAH2 will feature Ruth Freitag's on-going bibliographies on the history of astronomy.

The composition of the Editorial Board has been finalised, and comprises:

Dr Dave Andrews (Northern Ireland), Dr Alan Batten (Canada), Dr Allan Chapman (England), Dr Steve Dick (USA), Dr Wolfgang Dick (Germany), Professor Ben Gascoigne (Australia), Professor Bambang Hidayat (Indonesia), Commander Derek Howse (England), Professor Rajesh Kochhar (India), Professor Don Osterbrock (USA), and Professor Brian Warner (South Africa).

Subscriptions information is available from the Managing Editor on astral@psinet.net.au, while enquiries regarding papers should be directed to the Papers Editor at: Wayne.Orchiston@vuw.ac.nz. A "Guide for Authors" is on the WEB at:


John Perdrix (Managing Editor)
Wayne Orchiston (Papers Editor)

Indian Society for the History of Astronomy

The B.M. Birla Science Centre has conducted a One Day National Symposium on "Indian Astronomy Through the Ages" on October 13, 1997. The symposium dealt mainly with the ancient Indian and medieval Indian-Islamic astronomy. Eminent scientists from all over the country participated in this seminar. During the scientific sessions, some talks were on researches which dated back the Vedic civilization to more than 5000 B.C. on the basis of astronomical evidence. Other talks were on medieval Indian astronomy (Arabic-Persian, Malyalam, Telugu sources).

Though India has the longest continuing tradition of astronomy in the world, its contribution to the field has not got its due place in the World History of Science. This is also true for other countries in Asia, e.g. West Central Asia. Consequently the seminar was concluded by launching the much awaited 'Indian Society for the History of Astronomy' (ISHA). The following governing council of the society was elected by the founder members of the society.

  1. President - Prof. S.M.R. Ansari, the first Asian as (former) President of the International Astronomical Union's Commission for History of Astronomy. He is retired Professor of Physics of Aligarh Muslim University.
  2. Vice-President - Prof. K.D. Abhyankar, Professor Emeritus, Astronomy Department, Osmania University, Hyderabad.
  3. Secretary - Dr. B.G. Sidharth, Director-General, B.M. Birla Science Centre, Hyderabad.
  4. Joint Secretary - Mr. Y. Ravi Kiron, Assistant Director, B.M. Birla Science Centre, Hyderabad.
  5. Treasurer - D. G.M. Ballabh, Department of Astronomy, Osmania University, Hyderabad.
  6. Counsellor - Dr. B.V. Subbarayappa, President, International Union for the History and Philosophy of Science, which he is currently holding.
  7. Counsellor - Dr. A. Bandyopadhyay, Former Director, Positional Astronomy Centre, Calcutta.
  8. Counsellor - Dr. S.D. Sharma, Physics Department, Patiala University, Punjab.

The society is to be registered shortly at Hyderabad. Its office will be located at B.M. Birla Science Centre, Adarsh Nagar, Hyderabad - 500 063 (India).

Some of the main activities of the society will be as follows:

  1. To promote research studies of all apects of the history of astronomy in general, Indian astronomy and astronomy in Asia, in particular.
  2. To ensure such publications (e.g. journal, newsletter etc.) from time to time as may be decided by the executive council of the society.
  3. To hold scientific meetings for presentation of original papers, review talks etc.
  4. To keep liaison with other historians of Indian and Oriental astronomy all over the world, and also with the international groups or commissions for history of astronomy.
  5. To collect all possible literature concerning ancient and medieval Indian astronomy (Vedic, Islamic and South Indian language sources etc.) thereby to set up a data base on history of astronomy in Asia.
  6. To draw young scholars to the discipline of history of science, to make them aware of our Indian and Asian astronomical heritage and to coordinate researches among Indian historians of astronomy.

Dr. B.G. Sidharth
Secretary of ISHA
B.M. Birla Science Centre
Adarsh Nagar
Hyderabad - 500 063 (India)

Prof. S.M.R. Ansari
President of ISHA
C/o Physics Department
Aligarh Muslim University
Aligarh - 202002 (India)

History of Astronomy Research by Australian and New Zealand Scholars

Those reading Professor Ansari's review of the history of astronomy research between the 1994 and 1997 General Assemblies [see C 41 News, February 1997 and IAU Transactions volume XXIIIA) could be excused for assuming that little if any research was carried out during that period by Australian and New Zealand scholars.

This certainly was not the case. In addition to various papers published in the Australian Journal of Astronomy, Australian Journal of Physics, Historical Records of Australian Science, Journal of the British Astronomical Association, Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia, Southern Stars and Vistas in Astronomy, two important books appeared:

These will remain standard reference works for many years to come. Popular books also were prepared on Australia's leading nineteenth century astronomer, John Tebbutt, and on Alfred Barrett Biggs, one of Tasmania's leading amateur astronomers, while staff at the Carter Observatory produced a series of historical Information Sheets about New Zealand astronomy.

Dr Wayne Orchiston
Carter Observatory (The National Observatory of New Zealand)

Future Newsletters

Items for future Newsletters should be sent to

Steven J. Dick
U. S. Naval Observatory
3450 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, D. C. 20392-5420

or (preferably) by e-mail to dick@ariel.usno.navy.mil

IAU Commission 41

HTML version: Wolfgang R. Dick

9 Apr 1998, updated 28 May 1998