AAS 199th meeting, Washington, DC, January 2002
Session 31. HAD II: The Development of American Astrophysics: Ideas, Instruments, Observatories and Astronomers
Special Session Oral, Monday, January 7, 2002, 10:30-12:00noon, State

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[31.01] The View from the Observatory: History is Too Important to be Left to the Historians

D. E. Osterbrock (UCO/Lick Obs.'UCSC)

As the first astronomer turned historian of astronomy relatively late in life to receive the LeRoy Doggett Prize, I am especially grateful to its Committee for this high honor. I knew LeRoy well and worked with him when he was Secretary`Treasurer of the HAD before his untimely death. I will begin my lecture by paying tribute to my mentors who encouraged and helped me to become a historian of astronomy, Mary Lea Heger Shane, Owen Gingerich, Helen Wright, and William G. Hoyt. Then I will speak briefly on why I think astronomers are interested in the history of their science, buttressed by quotations from Ecclesiasticus, Henry Ford, Thucydides, and Herodotus. Basically it is because we are interested in our roots, just as members of a family are interested in its roots.

I will talk briefly about the Mary Lea Shane Archives of the Lick Observatory, and what a resource it is for my specialty, American Astronomy in the Big-Telescope Era. Its Curator, Dorothy Schaumberg, has helped me and hundreds of other historians of astronomy tremendously.

I believe it helps anyone who wants to understand the history of astronomy to know and understand astronomy. History must be based on facts, which archives, scientific papers, and books can provide. Immersion in a field like astronomy makes one better qualified to understand what others have done in that field, and how they did it, as Ibsen, Hemingway, Tuchman, and Grisham have all stated and proved by example.

Finally I will give a progress report on my current project, the life and scientific career of the early American astronomer and solar physicist Charles A. Young (1834-1908). Astronomy was very different in his ``small-telescope era," but there are many modern resonances in his problems and their solutions.

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