15.00 Dr Lee Macdonald, 'The watch and chronometer-rating service of Kew Observatory, 1880s–1912'.
15.35 Dr Edward Gillin, 'Guns, bells, clocks, and balls: transmitting observatory time through sound and vision across Victorian Britain'.
16.10 Closing words
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.