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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 the history of the Harvard College Observatory and comprises remarkable examples of primary source material showing the evolution of observation methods, along with early astronomy as a whole. The documents are also relevant to the history of women in science as the collection contains material produced by the Harvard Computers, about whom increased interest is anticipated due to the upcoming release of a book by author Dava Sobel: The Glass Universe. Wolbach Library staff have supported research for this book and the CfA will be involved with the book’s release on Dec. 6th, 2016. Additionally, Wolbach has also received numerous reference questions in the past from researchers seeking out these types of extraordinary observations; those done by hand prior to modern photography and plates are incredibly rare. The Library anticipates that this material, once preserved and displayed prominently will support advancement efforts at the CfA and enable research on early astronomy for future generations!

Miss A.J. Cannon

“Miss A.J. Cannon” written on the inside of one of the notebooks to be digitized as part of Project PHAEDRA

In support of increased access to this important collection, Wolbach Library staff worked with the Plate Stacks’ Acting Curator, Lindsay Smith, to have the material (108 large boxes) transferred from the Plate Stacks’ holdings at Harvard Depository’s Records Management Department, to Wolbach’s shelves at the Depository so that the material could be cataloged, digitized, and preserved as needed by services available to Wolbach through Harvard Library. The material will be subsequently transcribed by the Smithsonian Transcription Center (which is already working with the Plate Stacks to transcribe logbooks from their collection!) and will eventually be searchable in both HOLLIS (Harvard’s catalog) and the NASA Astrophysics Data System (ADS). The project is now being referred to as Project PHAEDRA, or Preserving Harvard’s Early Data and Research in Astronomy.

Logo for Project PHAEDRA showing images of the HCO Great Refractor telescope, a plate from the HCO Plate Stacks, and an early image of the moon.
Stay tuned and watch the Galactic Gazette for updates about Project PHAEDRA!

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