webinar register page

The AHS Annual Meeting 2021: Time and Observatories - Afternoon session
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.

May 15, 2021 03:00 PM in London

Webinar logo
* Required information

By registering, I agree to the Privacy Statement and Terms of Service.



Dr Lee Macdonald
Sackler Research Fellow @Royal Museums Greenwich
Dr Lee Macdonald is currently working on a two-year Sackler Research Fellowship with Royal Museums Greenwich, researching the history of the Royal Observatory in the 1900-1950 period. Until July 2020 he was Research Facilitator (effectively librarian and archivist) at the History of Science Museum at the University of Oxford. He is the author of the book, 'Kew Observatory and the Evolution of Victorian Science, 1840-1910' (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018).
Dr Edward Gillin
Leverhulme Early Career Fellow @Leeds University
Edward Gillin is a cultural historian specialising in science, technology, architecture, and politics in the nineteenth century. His DPhil at Oxford (2015) examined the use of scientific knowledge in the building of Charles Barry’s Houses of Parliament (1834–1860). In 2017, he published ‘The Victorian Palace of Science: scientific knowledge and the building of the Houses of Parliament’, developing his doctoral research and was proxime accessit for the Royal Historical Society’s 2018 Whitfield Prize. Since then he has worked as a research fellow on David Trippett’s ERC-funded project ‘Sound and Materialism in the Nineteenth Century’ at Cambridge. Between 2016 and 2019, he examined the intersections between music and science, and how materialistic conceptions of sound shaped new approaches to music. The results will be published as ‘Sound Authorities: scientific and musical knowledge in nineteenth-century Britain’. He is currently a Leverhulme Research Fellow at the University of Leeds.