Publications

Submitted
Schechner, Sara J., and Susanna Cecilia Berger. “Observations on Niccolò Tornioli’s The Astronomers” (Submitted).Abstract
We analyze the iconography of the painting, paying special attention to the scientific instruments, diagrams, celestial phenomena, and individuals, in order to show the limitiations of an iconographic approach as well as to offer new interpretations.  We suggest that the painting highlights the importance of visual representations and guided conversation in scientific observational practices in early modern Europe,
2020
Great Collections: Harvard's Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments and Its Founder, David P. Wheatland
Schechner, Sara J.Great Collections: Harvard's Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments and Its Founder, David P. Wheatland.” Journal of Antiques and Collectibles September (2020): 34-35. Publisher's Web PostingAbstract

This is a story of the impact a collector can have on creating one of the world’s most celebrated of specialized museums. The museum is Harvard University’s Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments and the man responsible is David P. Wheatland of Topsfield, Massachusetts.

The publisher's print version is attached as a PDF.  The web version of the essay is here.

Schechner_jantiquescoll_sept_2020_great_collections.pdf
Sundials
Schechner, Sara J., Meredith Stepien, and Pedro Raposo. “Sundials.” Adler Astronomy Live. Adler Planetarium, Chicago, 2020. Publisher's VersionAbstract

cite as: Sara J. Schechner, "Sundials," interview with Meredith Stepien and Pedro Raposo, Adler Astronomy Live, streamed live on October 8, 2020, YouTube video, 55:50, https://youtu.be/Xfo9ifTixIg.

Hello stargazers! Welcome to Adler Astronomy Live: Sundials! ☀️

The Adler Planetarium has the best and most comprehensive collection of sundials in North America. Sundials played a central role in shaping people’s sense of time, and show how the latter has been influenced by their culture, politics, religion, labor, society, and geography throughout the ages. ⏰ Join us for a conversation with Dr. Sara J. Schechner, author of Time of Our Lives: Sundials of the Adler Planetarium, on some of the most spectacular sundials in the Adler’s collections and their stories.

Watch the YouTube video here.

Historic Challenges for Harvard Women of Science with Sara Schechner, David P. Wheatland Curator of the Harvard Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments
Schechner, Sara J., and Jennifer Berglund. “Historic Challenges for Harvard Women of Science with Sara Schechner, David P. Wheatland Curator of the Harvard Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments.” HMSC Connects! Podcast. Harvard Museums of Science & Culture, 2020. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Cite as: Sara J. Schechner, “Historic Challenges for Harvard Women of Science,”  interview with Jennifer Berglund, HMSC Connects! Podcast, Harvard Museums of Science & Culture, podcast audio, 26:58, August 12, 2020, https://www.podbean.com/ew/pb-pstaj-e6c60d.

Welcome to HMSC Connects! where Jennifer Berglund goes behind the scenes of four Harvard museums to explore the connections between us, our big, beautiful world, and even what lies beyond.

For our second episode celebrating women's suffrage this month, Jennifer is speaking with Sara Schechner, curator of the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments.  Sara is a historian of science, specializing in material culture and the history of astronomy. She's also an expert in the history of women in science.

Listen to podcast here.

IAU Commission C3 Newsletter
Schechner, Sara J., ed.IAU Commission C3 Newsletter,” 2020, vol. 2020, no. 2, 57pp.Abstract
Newsletter of the International Astronomical Union Commission C3 (History of Astronomy), edited and published semiannually at the Summer and Winter Solstices by Sara Schechner, Secretary of IAU Commission C3. 
iau-c3-newsletter-2020-2.pdf
IAU Commission C3 Newsletter
Schechner, Sara J., ed.IAU Commission C3 Newsletter,” 2020, vol. 2020, no. 1, 57pp.Abstract
Newsletter of the International Astronomical Union Commission C3 (History of Astronomy), edited and published semiannually at the Summer and Winter Solstices by Sara Schechner, Secretary of IAU Commission C3. 
iau-c3-newsletter-2020-1.pdf
Stork, David G., Christopher W. Tyler, and Sara J. Schechner. “Did Tim Paint a Vermeer?Journal of Imaging Science and Technology 64, no. 6 (2020): 60403-1 - 60403-12. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Tim’s Vermeer is a recent documentary feature film following engineer and self-described non-artist Tim Jenison’s extensive efforts to “paint a Vermeer” by means of a novel optical telescope and mirror-comparator procedure. His efforts were inspired by the controversial claim that some Western painters as early as 1420 secretly built optical devices and traced passages in projected images during the execution of some of their works, thereby achieving a novel and compelling “optical look.” We examine the proposed telescope optics in historical perspective, the difficulty and efficacy of the mirror comparator procedure as revealed by an independent artist/copyist’s attempts to replicate the procedure, and the particular visual evidence adduced in support of the comparator hypothesis. Specifically, we find that the luminance gradient along the rear wall in the duplicate painting is far from being rare or difficult to achieve, as was claimed; in fact, such gradients appear in numerous Old Master paintings that show no ancillary evidence of having been executed with optics. There is indeed a slight bowing of a single contour in the Vermeer original, which one would nominally expect to be straight; however, the optical explanation for this bowing implies numerous other lines would be similarly bowed, but in fact all are straight. The proposed method does not explain some of the most compelling “optical” evidence in Vermeer’s works, such as the small disk-shaped highlights, which appear like the blur spots that arise in an out-of-focus projected image. Likewise, the comparator-based explanations for the presence of pinprick holes at central vanishing points, and the presence of underdrawings and pentimenti in several of Vermeer’s works, have more plausible non-optical explanations. Finally, an independent experimental attempt to replicate the procedure fails overall to provide support for the telescope claim. In light of these considerations and evidence we conclude that it is extremely unlikely that Vermeer used the proposed mirror-comparator procedure.

Schechner, Sara J.Boston Electric: Science by ‘Mail Order’ and Bricolage at Colonial Harvard.” In The Oxford Handbook of History and Material Culture, edited by Ivan Gaskell and Sarah Anne Carter, 170-199. New York: Oxford University Press, 2020.Abstract

With a focus on the experimental apparatus employed and the sociable exchange of ideas, this chapter examines how electricity was taught to Harvard students and members of polite society in the Boston area over the course of the century. Without local instrument makers or suppliers of glass and brass parts, colonial American experimenters had to import equipment and repair parts from London. When time and money discouraged imports, they became bricoleurs, incorporating recycled, traded, and ready-to-hand materials into their apparatus. Benjamin Franklin was an important intermediary in getting scientific instruments from London to Boston and Cambridge, and he shared instructional know-how so that locals could assemble their own Leyden jars and other electrical instruments.

2019
Schechner, Sara J."Telling Time in Tokugawa Japan." Review of Making Time: Astronomical Measurement in Tokugawa Japan by Yulia Frumer.Physics Today 72, no. 6 (2019): 57-58. Publisher's Version phyics_today_72.6_2019_review_of_frumer.pdf
Schechner, Sara J.Introduction.” In From Celestial to Terrestrial Timekeeping: Clock Making in the Bond Family, by Donald Saff, xii-xiii. London: Antiquarian Horological Society, 2019.
Time of Our Lives: Sundials of the Adler Planetarium.
Schechner, Sara J. Time of Our Lives: Sundials of the Adler Planetarium.. Chicago: Adler Planetarium, 2019. Publisher's VersionAbstract

 

Time of Our Lives

Sundials of the Adler Planetarium

Sara J. Schechner

 

Published by the Adler Planetarium, with the support of the North American Sundial Society

 

The Adler Planetarium of Chicago has the best and most comprehensive collection of sundials and time-finding instruments in North America. Now many of these objects can be yours to explore. This volume encompasses a dazzling array of sundials, 268 in all, that date from the 15th to 20th centuries.

What makes this catalogue special is that it is written to engage non-specialists approaching sundials for the first time. Although the organizational logic is astronomical and mathematical, the primary Interpretive essays set the sundials into cultural and social context.

The catalogue divides sundials into classes according to the element of the Sun’s apparent motion that they track (e.g. hour-angle, altitude, azimuth, or a combination) and the orientation of the surfaces on which the hour lines are mathematically drawn. Within each chapter, the instruments are organized chronologically and by workshop, thereby giving readers insight into that type’s development over time and differences among makers. Technical object descriptions are supplemented by tables of divisions, gazetteers, saints’ days, weather forecasts, and in the case of polyhedral dials, the dial types, orientations, and hour systems drawn on every face. The tables offer a snapshot of the precision to which the maker aimed and the sundial’s complexity. Color photographs of each sundial show its overall appearance and details.

Chapter introductions go beyond mathematical descriptions of how each type works. Drawing upon research findings presented here for the first time, the essays offer insights into early production techniques, fads and fashions, social hierarchy among users, the impact of church and civil authorities, and the history of the sundial classes.

Throughout the ages, people’s sense of time has been influenced by their culture, politics, religion, labor, society, and geography. This catalogue offers concrete evidence, for every sundial in it embodies the time-related needs and values of its maker and users.

The catalogue includes a taxonomy of compass needles, glossary, bibliography, and index. It is hardcover, 488 pages, 9.75” x 11”.

 

Pages