Telescopes and a last will and testament. Clocks, a sketch of a comet, and a life mask. Astronomical photographs, a fly spanker, log books of data, and a tea set. Observers of Sputnik. Sheet music, trade cards, and a Wonder Woman comic strip. As disparate as they may seem, these objects are all tangible things of American astronomy in the last 200 years.
They are assembled together in this exhibition to reveal how three significant Harvard astronomers—William Cranch Bond, Annie Jump Cannon, and Fred Whipple—were not secluded on Observatory Hill nor were they removed from the social rituals, entertainments, business, and politics of their times. On the flip side, ephemeral publications such as greeting cards, advertisements, and vinyl records illustrate how contemporary popular culture drew inspiration from astronomers’ work and the celestial bodies they studied. It also reflected different cultural expectations for women and men in and out of the observatory.
This exhibition was curated by nine students working with me as their final project in a large undergraduate course at Harvard, USW30: Tangible Things: Harvard Collections in World History, taught in 2017 by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and Sara Schechner.