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DAVID AUBIN, CHARLOTTE BIGG and H. OTTO SIBUM (eds.), The Heavens on Earth: Observatories and Astronomy in Nineteenth-Century Science and Culture. Durham, NC and London: Duke
 

Summary: DAVID AUBIN, CHARLOTTE BIGG and H. OTTO SIBUM (eds.), The Heavens on Earth: Observatories
and Astronomy in Nineteenth-Century Science and Culture. Durham, NC and London: Duke
University Press, 2010. Pp. xii+384. ISBN 978-0-8223-4640-1. £16.99 (paperback).
doi:10.1017/S000708741000141X
Although the title stresses observatories and astronomy, this book's contents roam far more
widely. We are fixed neither to physical observatories nor to one discipline but take in the
laboratory, the field and the theatre, and range from geodesy, cartography, meteorology,
navigation, chemistry and physics to the popularization of science. These topics are linked by
recurring themes, including the use of `observatory techniques', the variety of spaces in which they
have been undertaken or promoted and the cultural and political contexts in which they have been
situated. Given the dominant rhetorical position of astronomy within science and the history of
science, it seems surprising that this book is, as the editors say in their useful introduction, `a first
attempt at surveying the observatory's multiple roles in nineteenth-century scientific, economic,
and cultural life' (p. 2). It provides an excellent starting point: as well as considering these sciences
in their broadest contexts, this volume is impressive in presenting British, French, Italian, Russian,
German, Swedish, colonial and American case studies.
Three chapters focus on individual observatories, making important points about their
interaction with politics, patronage and nation-building. Simon Werrett considers Pulkovo
Observatory under Tsar Nicholas I, arguing that it had two functions, both designed to convince
the West of Russia's modernity. On the one hand it was, with limited success, an imperial

  

Source: Aubin, David - Institut de Mathématiques de Jussieu, Université Pierre-et-Marie-Curie, Paris 6

 

Collections: Mathematics; Multidisciplinary Databases and Resources