2021 Annual Meeting

Time and observatories

The histories of time and of astronomical observatories are woven tightly together. Since the early days of positional astronomy, clocks have been as important as telescopes in tracking and charting celestial bodies. The rotating Earth, measured at observatories by telescopes, was our measure of time.

By keeping time accurately and precisely, observatories became recognised as 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 public role: providers of time signals.

A further role grew up in some observatories – the testing and rating of watches and chronometers, either for national navies or for the watchmaking trade. Observatory time had value and status, though 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 around the world are less well known. The circulation of people, techniques and technologies around a global network of observatories and the manufacturers that supplied them with instruments 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 Annual Meeting, which will be held online via Zoom on Saturday 15 May 2021.

PROGRAMME


MORNING LECTURE SESSION

10.30 Chair’s introduction

10.35 Rossella Baldi, 'Discovering chronometry: the origins of the Neuchâtel Observatory'

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'

This session will be an online Zoom Webinar. Booking link and further details will be posted nearer the time.


12.15 Break for lunch


AGM SESSION

14.00 Annual General Meeting and presentation of awards

This session will be an online Zoom Meeting. Booking link and further details will be posted nearer the time.


AFTERNOON LECTURE SESSION

15.00 Dr Lee Macdonald, 'The watch and chronometer-rating service of Kew Observatory, 1880s–1912'

15.35 Dr Paolo Brenni, 'The Italian way to modern time standards'

16.10 Dr Edward Gillin, 'Guns, bells, clocks, and balls: transmitting observatory time through sound and vision across Victorian Britain'

16.40 Closing words

This session will be an online Zoom Webinar. Booking link and further details will be posted nearer the time.