Field of Science

Other Worlds: Rare Astronomical Works

Image courtesy of the Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas at Austin.
The Harry Ransom Center is a bastion of books. It is a research library located at the University of Texas at Austin; I used to work there and I must say it is a bibliophiles obsession. I remember that in the labyrinth of rare book stacks the fire alarms had signs posted saying something to the effect of, 'Warning: In case of fire the oxygen in this room will be removed' and below one of these warnings a page from the days of yore had scrawled, 'No one hears you scream in the stacks'. And they were right. There are so many books, so many rooms, and so many floors that I don't think anyone would hear you scream. But the authors in those books are a silent shout at an enduring literary, scientific, and artistic history.

The center is becoming something of a paragon in its field. And it is odd to ponder why do the archives of so many great writers end up in Texas? D. T. Max discusses the question in this article from the New Yorker. They also have a picture slide show on the tools of the trade.

Other Worlds: Rare Astronomical Works is a current exhibition showing at the center. They don't have an extensive web exhibition up for this collection (although they do have several other delightful online exhibits), but they do have a video discussing the collection and a nifty online preview which you may spin to visualize the Coronelli Celestial Globe. Their official blurb is below.
The Harry Ransom Center, a humanities research library and museum at The University of Texas at Austin, will present the exhibition "Other Worlds: Rare Astronomical Works," showcasing items from the center's science collection that survey some of the most important astronomical discoveries of the last 500 years.

Coinciding with the International Year of Astronomy, "Other Worlds" displays how the historical role of astronomy has come to influence the way the modern world is perceived.

With more than 40 rare editions of works by astronomers such as Johannes Kepler and Tycho Brahe, "Other Worlds" includes works by the individuals whose ideas revolutionized astronomical thought. From Nicolaus Copernicus's "De Revolutionibus," the first text to promote a heliocentric view of the solar system, to atlases of stars and constellations, the exhibition illustrates how early hypotheses laid the foundation for modern theories of the universe and its origins.

The exhibition also features items from the Ransom Center's papers of the Herschel family, a 19th-century English family of influential astronomers, including William Herschel, discoverer of the planet Uranus, and his sister Caroline Herschel, one of the first female astronomers. Highlights from the Herschel collection include the family's catalog of thousands of stars in the universe, William Herschel's 1836 account of Halley's Comet and a handmade astronomical device for locating heavenly bodies.

"Other Worlds" also examines the range of astronomy's influence on the broader culture, reflected in depictions of the moon and other worlds in literature, photography and popular works. From Jules Verne's novel "From the Earth to the Moon" to the 1923 moon illustration guide "Hutchinson's Splendour of the Heavens," the exhibition spans genres in revealing the breadth of astronomy's impact.

Read on...
Coronelli celestial globe, ca. 1688. Photo by Pete Smith. Image courtesy of
the Harry Ransom Center.

1 comment:

  1. With Descartes I did enjoy during a time to live a bit in the world of Johannes Kepler, Tycho Brahe...


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