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Category Archives: Historical

Annie Jump Cannon: Account of the Total Eclipse

[Background Note: Annie Jump Cannon traveled to Virginia Beach, VA to see the total solar eclipse of May 28, 1900. She wrote this journal shortly after observation. The journal is now part of the Papers of Annie Jump Cannon, 1863-1978 collection at the Harvard University Archives (HUGFP 125). This transcription of…

Eclipse Expeditions: From HCO and SAO out into the world

The eclipse of 21 August 2017 offers us the chance to witness a rare and awesome spectacle. The aesthetics of such an event have always excited the casual observer, but astronomers and other scientists often sacrifice the immediate visual beauty for their observations, by which interpretations they can illuminate a…

The First Computer: Williamina Fleming and the Horsehead Nebula

Working by day with glass-plate photographs of the night sky, the Harvard Computers of the late 1800s studied the stars in search of cosmic secrets. First among them was Williamina Fleming, an immigrant maid from Scotland. Her career in astronomy is highlighted by discoveries, stellar classification, and a work ethic…

Follow Phaedra on Social Media

We’ve created Twitter and Instagram accounts to keep you updated on Project Phaedra! Follow to learn more about our journey processing this collection, when new materials are available for transcription, and whatever neat highlights we find along the way. We’ve just sent our first batch of notebooks off to the…

PHaEDRA will be at the Smithsonian Digitization Fair!

PHAEDRA has been accepted to the Smithsonian Digitization Fair! At our exhibit table, Wolbach librarians will be available to share information and developments in our efforts to digitize and transcribe astronomical logbooks from the 19th and early 20th centuries. The theme of this year’s Digitization Fair is “Bracing for Impact: Digitizing…

Interested in Project PHAEDRA?

The history the HCO is coming together before our eyes. With the many different catalogues of the PHAEDRA items that were composed over the past 40 years, we have been hard at work to find any books missing from our collection. Already, we recovered one orphan notebook from Widener Library’s holdings at Harvard…

Updates on Project PHAEDRA

Over the past few months, our library staff has been working hard to unravel the mysteries of Project PHAEDRA. Consisting of over 100 boxes recently rediscovered that contain Harvard College Observatory’s notebooks, journals, and observations from the nineteenth century, this material has the potential to reveal aspects of the Observatory’s…

Introducing Project PHAEDRA!

Project PHAEDRA: Preserving Harvard’s Early Data and Research in Astronomy Recently, research material originally produced during the mid-to-late 19th century and early 20th century by researchers at the Harvard College Observatory was re-discovered in the HCO Plate Stacks holdings. These early notebooks and other materials are absolutely irreplaceable. The material represents…

Journal of Williamina Paton Fleming Curator of Astronomical Photographs. Harvard College Observatory

[Background Note: The “Chest of 1900” was a time-capsule project to document everyday life at Harvard University for the month of March 1900. Many project participants contributed diaries; below is that of Williamina Paton Fleming, Curator of Astronomical Photographs at the Harvard College Observatory. Raphaelle Lapotre transcribed the journal during…

Joel H. Metcalf Biography Part 4

Joel Hastings Metcalf Part 4: A Legacy of Discovery In 1910, Metcalf moved to Winchester, Massachusetts, where he continued his work as a preacher and found an eager audience, as demonstrated by his sermons being published in the local newspaper, the Winchester Star, on more than one occasion[1]. Of course,…

Joel H. Metcalf Biography Part 3

Joel Hastings Metcalf Part 3: From Amateur to Expert Following his period of study at Oxford and time of further rest away from his ministerial profession, Metcalf found himself in Taunton, Massachusetts, in 1904, where he had accepted a position at the Unitarian Church. He became associated with the Harvard…

Joel H. Metcalf Biography Part 2

Joel Hastings Metcalf Part 2: The Cultivation of a Passion Metcalf’s fascination with astronomy would prove to be much more than a youthful pursuit forgotten with age, though it would not be center of his professional life either. That role was left to his work as a preacher, a calling…

Joel H. Metcalf Biography Part 1

Popular Astronomy No. 328, Courtesy of the Maria Mitchell Observatory

 Joel Hastings Metcalf Part 1: From An Early Age The Reverend Joel Hastings Metcalf was a passionate figure who made many important and fascinating contributions to the field of astronomy at Harvard during the early part of the 20th century. Being trained and educated as a minister, astronomy was not…

Boyden Observatory through the 60″ Rockefeller Reflector

The 60-inch Rockefeller Reflector is one of the main telescopes at Boyden Observatory, currently located in Bloemfontein, South Africa. It all started when Uriah A. Boyden, a mechanical engineer in Boston, MA, donated $238,000 to Harvard College in 1879 to extend astronomical research. With the newly acquired money, Harvard declared…

The Damon Telescopes

One of the biggest contributions of Edward Pickering, who was the director of Harvard College Observatory for 42 years (1876-1918), is initiating a program to map the variability of objects in the night sky [1]. One of the main consequences of this program was to collect a huge number of…

Rediscovering the Horsehead Nebula

Rediscovering the Horsehead Nebula There are currently about 500,000 photographic plates residing at the Harvard College Observatory. The collection is unique in its coverage of the sky (both the northern and southern hemispheres), its coverage of time (data dating back to the 1880s), as well as its sheer size (the…

John G. Wolbach Library

John G. Wolbach Library, 60 Garden Street, Cambridge, MA

The John G. Wolbach Library combines the collections of the Harvard College Observatory (HCO) Library and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) Library, forming one of the world’s preeminent astronomical collections. The joint collection is known as the John G. Wolbach Library at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The principal subject areas contained within…

Every Star Speaks for Itself

Every Star Speaks for Itself: Williamina Fleming and the Work of the Harvard College Observatory by Maria C. McEachern In collaboration with fellow John G. Wolbach Library colleagues:  Michael R. Blake, Amy L. Cohen, Christopher C. Erdmann and William L. Graves To those with merely a cursory interest, the marks on the…