A Shared Sky: the RASC at 150
The General Assembly of the RASC in Calgary will be a special occasion, as 2018 marks a century and a half since the planting of the seed leading to the growth of voluntarily organized astronomy in Canada, as well as six decades of the Calgary Centre’s active promotion of astronomy in the Heart of the New West.
To acknowledge these significant anniversaries, we are presenting as an integral part of the 2018 GA a symposium to celebrate 150 years of our collective history. The symposium occurs on the first, and last official days of the GA, and the sessions are open to all GA delegates.
The invited presentations will explore aspects of the nature, variety, and range of the astronomy practiced by the RASC across time. Viewed as a whole, these talks will show something of the foundations upon which the modern RASC is constructed, reveal intriguing stories of our past, and offer standpoints from which to contemplate future possibilities for the ongoing process of Societal renewal.
Friday June 29
Session I 10:30-12:00
- A. Rosenfeld, The RASC at 150: a History of Advancing Astronomy and Allied Sciences, or Sleeping through the Night?
- Andrew Oakes, Communicating Astronomy: C.A. Chant and the RASC
- Peter Broughton, J.S. Plaskett & the RASC
- tba, The RASC Viewed from the Outside
Sunday July 1
Session II 13:00-14:00
- Clark Muir, Astronomical Expeditions: the RASC in Travelling Mode
- Chris Beckett, Styles of Observing in the RASC Since 1868
- Chris Gainor, The RASC and the Space Age—Participants and Spectators
Session III 14:00-15:00
- Judy Sterner, An Anthropologist Looks at the RASC
- Tom Williams, Notable RASC Members of the AAVSO
- Heather Laird, Varieties of Female Participation in the RASC
Round Table 15:00-15:30
- So much for the first 150 years—will there be another 150 years? This is an open discussion of our possible future(s) with reference to our past
R.A. Rosenfeld, “The RASC at 150: Advancing Astronomy and Allied Sciences, or Sleeping through the Night?”. Introduces the themes which will be explored in the symposium, and looks at how we might answer “what is the RASC”?
Andrew Oakes, “Communicating Astronomy: C.A. Chant and the RASC”. Clarence Augustus Chant was one of the prime shapers of the Society in the first half of the twentieth century, and his influence arguably still plays a role in the RASC. This presentation explores some aspects of his achievements, and how he brought them about.
Peter Broughton, “J.S. Plaskett & the RASC”. John Stanley Plaskett was the first Canadian astrophysicist of international standing, and his is the most likely Canadian career to receive mention in current international histories of astronomy dealing with the period up to 1940. His long and varied relation with the RASC is surveyed here.
tba, “The RASC Viewed from the Outside”
Clark Muir, “Astronomical Expeditions: the RASC in Travelling Mode”. The RASC has a long tradition of involvement in astronomical expeditions, both collectively, or through individual members’ participation. The expeditions cover the gamut from largely professional in nature, to largely amateur. It is a tradition which exists to this day. This presentation will concentrate on the solar eclipse expeditions on which RASC members of the Proctor family (relatives of the prominent British amateur Richard Proctor) were involved, while touching on facts of other expeditions.
Chris Beckett, “Styles of Observing in the RASC Since 1868”. Mutually furthering the practice of observing was one of the prime reasons organizations like the RASC were first founded. There were commonalities in the cultures of observing in many organized groups, but the differences in what was observed, how it was observed, how observations were recorded, kept, and disseminated, and how observers were trained, are at least as important as the similarities. Changes over time to the RASC’s commitment to observing are sketched, and several aspects of the Society’s culture of observing are put under the microscope.
Chris Gainor, “The RASC and the Space Age—Participants and Spectators”. The anticipated yet surprising advent of the space age profoundly affected amateur and professional astronomy. For amateur societies, it gave a boost in membership, new opportunities for pro-am collaboration, a source of inspiration, and reflected glory and increased notice in the public sphere. This talk looks at the RASC’s response to the Space Age, and the nature of the involvement of several members.
Judy Sterner, “An Anthropologist Looks at the RASC”. Astronomers in association, like any other group, can be viewed through the anthropological lens. The insights gained can help us see elements of our life in the RASC in ways we are unaccustomed to. Such changes of context can be revealing, sometimes entertaining, and useful.
Tom Williams, “Notable RASC Members of the AAVSO”. The American Association of Variable Star Observers, like the RASC, is one of the longer-lived (1911-) astronomical associations in North America. What sets the AAVSO apart is that it is an outstanding example of sustained and productive pro-am astronomical achievement, through the collection, analysis, and archiving of astrophysical data gathered largely by amateurs. From its first decades, the AAVSO has had RASC members amongst its ranks, and the two Societies have cooperated more formally at times. This presentation discusses some of the notable RASC members who have contributed to doing real science through the AAVSO.
Heather Laird, “Varieties of Female Participation in the RASC”. The nature of the Society has been a perennial concern for at least the last quarter century; do we have the right proportion of genders in the Society, varied cultural representation to reflect the changing fabric of Canadian Society, and a healthy proportion of different age groups? Are we unintentionally excluding some groups in Canadian society through our habitual modes and manner of presentation? A full survey cannot be presented here, so I’ll offer a survey of female participation in the Society, with particular attention to the activities female members undertook, whether they participated as fully as their male colleagues, and if not, what barriers (intentional or unintentional) prevented them from doing so. I close with the lessons for diversity we might learn from looking at our past, with an eye to the future.
Andrew Oakes is a long time RASC member, with a particular interest in the history of astronomy in Canada. He has an M.A. in the History of Science from the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology of the University of Toronto, and is currently writing a doctoral thesis on C.A. Chant. He has spoken at the Historical Astronomy Division (HAD) of the American Astronomical Society’s (AAS) sessions at the AAS’s 229th in 2017, and was a recipient of the HAD Student Travel Award in 2016. He is a former contributing editor to JRASC, a former National Librarian of the Society, and is a member of the RASC’s History Committee.
Peter Broughton is the doyen of RASC historians. He authored Looking Up: a History of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (1994), our official history, and his major biography Northern Star: J.S. Plaskett (University of Toronto Press) was published earlier this year. Since the early 1980s he has published significant papers on the history of astronomy in the Journal for the History of Astronomy, Annals of Science, JRASC, and elsewhere, often breaking new ground in revealing aspects of the history of Canadian astronomy. He is also a contributor to both editions of Springer’s award winning Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers (2007, 2014). Peter has held every major national office in the Society, culminating with the presidency (1992-1994), and he received the RASC’s Service Award (1987). The International Astronomical Union honoured him with the naming of minor planet 16217 Peterbroughton.
Clark Muir has published important papers on the primary graphic record of the Great Meteor Procession of 1913, one of the earliest Canadian reports of the Zodiacal light, Canadian memories of the Leonid storm of 1833, a remarkable and forgotten incident which befell the third generation of the family of Alvan Clark and Sons, and the mystery of the fate of the largest Canadian telescope at the turn of the twentieth century (all have appeared in JRASC). Clark received the Ray Koenig Award (2013) of the Kitchener-Waterloo Centre of the RASC for “outstanding service and advancement of amateur astronomy”. He is a member of the Society’s History Committee.
Chris Beckett is among the Society’s most accomplished visual observers. He is a former President of the Regina Centre of the RASC, and former Chair of the Observing Committee. He is regular contributor to the deep-sky sections of the RASC Observer’s Handbook, notably the “Wide-Field Wonders”, and the “Featured Constellation” series. Some of his observations of deep-sky objects (DSOs) have been used by astrophysicists in their papers in professional journals. Chris is particularly interested in exploring earlier observer’s accounts of discovering and encountering deep-sky objects, going from their texts to field replications of their observing experiences, as far as possible, in the belief that there are lessons to be learned by modern observers in doing so. He is one of the architects of the Society’s successful 2012 Transit of Venus program, and the Sirius B Observing Challenge, both of which used historical materials as a resource to inform the experience of modern observers. Chris is a member of the RASC History Committee.
Chris Gainor is an historian and author specializing
in space exploration. He received his Ph.D. in the history of technology at the University of Alberta after a career as a journalist and communicator. Later this year he is publishing a book based on his Ph.D. dissertation called The Bomb and America’s Missile Age (Johns Hopkins University Press), which discusses the role of the U.S. Air Force in the development of America’s first intercontinental ballistic missile in the 1950s. He is also writing a book on the history of the Hubble Space Telescope under a contract with NASA. Chris is the author of Arrows to the
Moon: Avro’s Engineers and the Space Race (Apogee, 2001), Canada in Space: The People & Stories behind Canada’s Role in the Explorations of Space (Folklore, 2006), Who Killed the Avro Arrow? (Folklore, 2007), and To a Distant Day: The Rocket Pioneers (University of Nebraska Press, 2008).
He is editor-in-chief of Quest: The History of Spaceflight Quarterly, a Fellow of the British Interplanetary Society, and he is active in the RASC as First Vice President and as a member of the History Committee, and he has been an active member of the Victoria, Vancouver and Edmonton Centres.
He first joined the RASC in his youth in 1967 and attended his first GA in 1968 in Calgary. He now lives in Victoria.
Judy Sterner holds a doctorate from the School of
Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, and taught anthropology, material culture, and ceramics at the Alberta College of Art & Design until her retirement. Between 1984 and 2008 she conducted fieldwork in the Mandara Mountains of Cameroon and Nigeria and published a book on the region, The Ways of the Mandara Mountains in 2003, besides numerous articles. She has also contributed to several ethnographic films. She is an active observer, a member of the Calgary Centre of the RASC, and a member of the Calgary Centre’s committee for the Society’s sesquicentennial GA.
Tom Williams worked as a professional chemist till his retirement, then studied under Al van Helden at Rice University for his doctorate, with a thesis on “Getting Organized: a History of Amateur Astronomy in the United States” (2000). With Michael Saladyga he wrote Advancing Variable Star Astronomy: The Centennial History of the American Association of Variable Star Observers (Cambridge University Press, 2011), and has contributed papers to the Journal of the American Association of Variable Star Observers, Sky & Telescope, Journal for the History of Astronomy, and elsewhere. Tom has been a member of the AAVSO for half a century, and has held all the major offices in that Society, including terms as President (1985-1987, 1992-1993), and several years after his last term he received the AAVSO’s Merit Award (1995). He and his wife were honoured by the naming of the AAVSO Archives “The Thomas R. and Anna Fay Williams AAVSO Archives”. He is a member of the American Astronomical Society (AAS), and its Historical Astronomy Division (HAD). With Marc Rothenberg he wrote the chapter on “Amateurs and the Society during the Formative Years” for The American Astronomical Society’s First Century, ed. David DeVorkin (American Institute of Physics, 1999). Tom was an editor of both editions of the award-winning Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers (Springer, 2007, 2014).
Heather Laird has a particular interest in education and public outreach (EPO), and how the materials of astronomical history and heritage can be used for EPO mediated through new technologies. She is pursuing an interest in the careers and lives of female astronomers, and making them better known. She is one of the hosts of the RASC 2018 History Podcast, and serves on the Board of the Society as a Director. She is also a member of the RASC’s HIstory Committee.
R.A. Rosenfeld is the RASC’s Archivist. He is a contributor to the second edition of Springer’s Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers (2014), and is a contributing editor to JRASC. He has twice been a winner in the Griffith Observatory Writing Contest (2008, 2013), received the RASC’s Simon Newcomb Award (2012), the RASC President’s Award (2012), and the Society’s Service Award (2017), and the International Astronomical Union honoured him by naming Asteroid 283990 Randallrosenfeld. He was a Peter Sim Memorial Lecturer for the Calgary Centre of the RASC (2016). He is a member of the Canadian Astronomical Society, and serves on the CASCA Heritage Committee. He is Chair of the RASC’s History Committee, and Chair of the RASC 2018 Working Group.