Lecture, Barnard's Inn Hall, Wednesday, 18 Oct 2023 - 16:00

Astronomy and the Forging of Mathematical Communities

Male head filled with galaxy and stars surrounded by mathematical doodles

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Shaping Mathematical Practices Of The Science of the Stars by Dr Laure Miolo
Extant manuscripts, early library catalogues, lists of loans and wills are key witnesses for better understanding the mathematical practices and innovations in different milieux at the end of the Middle Ages. A systematic exploration of those sources allows to delineate ‘communities of learning’, consisting of scholars versed in similar readings and practices. This lecture looks at how astronomical practices have been shaped by those communities at the end of the Middle Ages, through the activity of a group of 14th century Oxonian scholars. 

Victorian Era Astronomy: On Land And In the Skies by Dr Eva Kaufholz-Soldat
In the late 19th-century, astronomical research could be practical, using telescopes and spectroscopes, or be based on mathematical reasoning. Astronomers could be professionals or amateurs, and explored the skies in observatories, on field trips to faraway lands, in their own backyards, or aboard hot air balloons. Although this diversity of research practices enabled historically marginalised astronomers, such as women or those of a working-class background, to access astronomical research, this talk will show that existing social hierarchies were persistently maintained.

19th-Century Eclipse Expeditions by Professor Deborah Kent (keynote)
During the late 19th century, British and American organisations such as the US Coast Survey, the Royal Society, and the Royal Astronomical Society, as well as individuals like Elizabeth Brown and James Gilliss, planned expeditions to observe a total solar eclipse. These high-stakes astronomical expeditions involved many scientific practitioners whose collective eclipse experience helped to grow and sustain 19th-century mathematical communities. Especially in the United States, connections and friendships forged beneath the sun’s shadow sparked creative ideas, set in motion new journals, and helped establish a precedent for government funding for maths there.

Professor Deborah Kent

Professor Deborah Kent

Senior Lecturer in History of Mathematics at St Andrew's University

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Dr Eva Maria Kaufholz-Soldat

Dr Eva Kaufholz-Soldat

Eva Kaufholz-Soldat studied mathematics and history of mathematics at the University of Hamburg and received her diploma with a technical thesis on the beginnings of...

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