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The AHS Annual Meeting 2021: Time and Observatories - Morning session
10.30 Chair’s introduction

10.35 Dr David Rooney, ‘Observatories, prestige and power politics, from Hulagu Khan to the Space Race’ (this talk replaces the advertised paper by Rossella Baldi, ‘Discovering chronometry: the origins of the Neuchâtel Observatory’ – Rossella regrets that she has had to withdraw from the meeting in unavoidable circumstances).

11.10 Professor Simon Schaffer, ‘Doing time: clocks and cosmology in the Australian penal colony’.

11.45 Dr Peter K. Thomas, ‘Clockwork-related technologies used in astronomical observatories’.

12.15 Break for lunch

The histories of time and observatories are woven tightly together. Since the early days of positional astronomy, clocks have been as important in tracking and charting celestial bodies. The rotating Earth, measured using telescopes, was our measure of time. By keeping time accurately and precisely, observatories became recognised centres of time measurement and, as time became an increasingly valuable commodity in the ages of imperial expansion and industrial development, observatories found themselves with a new role: providers of time signals. A further role grew up in some observatories – the testing and rating of watches and chronometers, either for navies or for the watchmaking trade. Observatory time had value and status, not always without controversy. The stories of some observatories, such as Greenwich, have been widely told in the English-language literature, but many astronomical institutions are less well known. The circulation of people, techniques and technologies around a global network of observatories, and the makers that supplied them is often overlooked. And studies of rivalry as well as collaboration offer fascinating insights into the social, cultural and political histories of these pioneering scientific institutions. It was a desire to learn about time and observatories besides the familiar example of Greenwich that prompted the theme for this year’s AHS Annual Meeting.

May 15, 2021 10:30 AM in London

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Dr David Rooney
David Rooney is a writer and museum curator. He was formerly Curator of Timekeeping at the Royal Observatory Greenwich and Keeper of Technologies and Engineering at the Science Museum. He is a Council Member of the AHS and sits on the management committee of the Clockmakers’ Museum. His latest book, 'About Time: A History of Civilization in Twelve Clocks' will be published by Penguin in June 2021.
Professor Simon Schaffer
Professor of History and Philosophy of Science @Cambridge University
Simon Schaffer was trained in natural sciences and history & philosophy of science at the University of Cambridge and Harvard University. He has taught history of the sciences at Imperial College London, at UCLA and at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris. He is a Fellow of the British Academy and Sarton Medallist of the History of Science Society. His research addresses the practices, materials and organisation of scientific inquiry between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, including studies of astronomy, natural philosophy, technology and the physical sciences. Schaffer has collaborated with several museum and gallery projects, is a Caird Medallist of the National Maritime Museum, and member of the advisory board of the Science Museum. He is currently a co-investigator on the Leverhulme Project 'Making Climate History'.
Dr Peter Thomas
Former Technical Director @University College London Observatory
As Observatory Manager for the UCL Observatory from 1987 to 2013, Peter was responsible for the restoration and updating of the instrumentation; the specification and development of the new buildings under the major expansion in 2000; and initiating the concept of robotic observing from the observatory, including the vision for a new, large, modern telescope facility to enhance access to research-grade equipment for undergraduate advanced projects. He was awarded his PhD for the refurbishment of the Radcliffe telescope, including design of its digital control system, completed in 1994. Peter was actively involved in fund raising efforts to fund the new large telescope. He continues to act as a consultant on the conservation and restoration of vintage telescopes for a number of observatories and institutions, including UCLO and Greenwich, He has had a life-long interest in English horology with a special emphasis on the work of the Vulliamy dynasty.