AAS 199th meeting, Washington, DC, January 2002
Session 1. HAD I: New Views of Historical Research in the 21st Century
Special Session Oral, Sunday, January 6, 2002, 2:00-4:00pm, Caucus

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[1.02] Crimson Tide: The Harvard Books on Astronomy

R.P. Lindner (The University of Michigan)

The Harvard Books on Astronomy, a series of crimson clad, fully illustrated volumes, cornered, for more than a generation, the market of readers interested in astronomy. A large number of astronomers owe their first serious initiation to the literature of astronomy to these books. Their style, presentation, design, and tone marked a clear departure from the inherited traditions in the field. Each summed up a field, awarded points for merit, and staked out paths for future study.

No doubt each of the more mature readers of this abstract has his or her favorite volume, and even his or her own favorite edition of a particular volume. How the volumes evolved and what happened to the series with Harlow Shapley's retirement are not only questions in the history of the book but also form a commentary on the standards of scientific writing for the educated public. For this the major evidence comes from the volumes by Shapley himself, Leo Goldberg and Lawrence Aller, and the Boks.

This paper discusses the origins of the series, the purpose of the works, the varying successes of the volumes, and the impact they had on the future astronomical community. In part, this is a contribution to the impact of Harlow Shapley upon the wider field and the role of Harvard in the American astronomical community. It is also a meditation upon the ways of recruitment into the field and forming ways of looking at research problems.

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