Stork, David G., Christopher W. Tyler, and Sara J. Schechner. “Did Tim Paint a Vermeer?” (Submitted).Abstract

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., 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,
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.

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”.


Schechner, Sara J.These Are Not Your Mother’s Sundials: Or, Time and Astronomy’s Authority.” In The Science of Time 2016: Time in Astronomy & Society, Past, Present and Future, edited by Pavol Gabor Catherine Hohenkerk Kenneth Seidelmann and Elisa Arias, Ludwig Combrinck, 49-73. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing, 2017. schechner_978-3-319-59909-0_8.pdf
Schechner, Sara J., and David Sliski. “Preservation Recommendations for Historic Photographic Jackets.” Journal for the History of Astronomy 47, no. 1 (2016): Supplement. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Appendix III to “The Scientific and Historical Value of Annotations on Astronomical Photographic Plates”

Schechner, Sara J., and David Sliski. “Preservation Recommendations for Historic Photographic Jackets.” Journal for the History of Astronomy 47, no. 1 (2016): supplement. Publisher's Version
Schechner, Sara J., and David Sliski. “The Scientific and Historical Value of Annotations on Astronomical Photographic Plates.” arXiv (2016). Publisher's VersionAbstract

The Scientific and Historical Value of Annotations on Astronomical Photographic Plates

Authors: Sara J. Schechner, David H. Sliski
Comments: 46 pages, 9 figures, Published in the Journal for the History of Astronomy, February 2016

arXiv:1602.03475v2 [physics.hist-ph]
DOI: 10.1177/0021828615624094
Subj-class: History and Philosophy of Physics (physics.hist-ph)

How Scientific Instruments Have Changed Hands, Scientific Instruments and Collections 5
Morrison-Low, A. D., Sara J. Schechner, and Paolo Brenni, ed. How Scientific Instruments Have Changed Hands, Scientific Instruments and Collections 5. Leiden: Brill, 2016.Abstract

This collection of essays discusses the marketing of scientific and medical instruments from the eighteenth century to the First World War. The evidence presented here is derived from sources as diverse as contemporary trade literature, through newspaper advertisements, to rarely-surviving inventories, and from the instruments themselves. The picture may not yet be complete, but it has been acknowledged that it is more complex than sketched out twenty-five or even fifty years ago. Here is a collection of case-studies from the United Kingdom, the Americas and Europe showing instruments moving from maker to market-place, and, to some extent, what happened next.

Schechner, Sara J.European Pocket Sundials for Colonial Use in American Territories.” In How Scientific Instruments Have Changed Hands, Scientific Instruments and Collections, 5:119-170. Leiden: Brill, 2016. schechner_07_how_instruments_have_changed_hands.pdf schechner_07_color_plates.pdf