Publications by Type: Book

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”.


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.

Tangible Things: Making History through Objects
Ulrich, Laurel, Ivan Gaskell, Sara J. Schechner, Sarah Carter, and Samantha Gerbig van (photographer). Tangible Things: Making History through Objects. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015. OUPAbstract

In a world obsessed with the virtual, tangible things are once again making history. Tangible Things invites readers to look closely at the things around them, ordinary things like the food on their plate and extraordinary things like the transit of planets across the sky. It argues that almost any material thing, when examined closely, can be a link between present and past.

The authors of this book pulled an astonishing array of materials out of storage--from a pencil manufactured by Henry David Thoreau to a bracelet made from iridescent beetles--in a wide range of Harvard University collections to mount an innovative exhibition alongside a new general education course. The exhibition challenged the rigid distinctions between history, anthropology, science, and the arts. It showed that object-centered inquiry inevitably leads to a questioning of categories within and beyond history.

Tangible Things is both an introduction to the range and scope of Harvard's remarkable collections and an invitation to reassess collections of all sorts, including those that reside in the bottom drawers or attics of people's houses. It interrogates the nineteenth-century categories that still divide art museums from science museums and historical collections from anthropological displays and that assume history is made only from written documents. Although it builds on a larger discussion among specialists, it makes its arguments through case studies, hoping to simultaneously entertain and inspire. The twenty case studies take us from the Galapagos Islands to India and from a third-century Egyptian papyrus fragment to a board game based on the twentieth-century comic strip "Dagwood and Blondie." A companion website catalogs the more than two hundred objects in the original exhibition and suggests ways in which the principles outlined in the book might change the way people understand the tangible things that surround them.

Time and Time Again: How Science and Culture Shape the Past, Present, and Future
Schechner, Sara J. Time and Time Again: How Science and Culture Shape the Past, Present, and Future. Cambridge: Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments, Harvard University, 2014.Abstract

Time:  We find it, keep it, measure it, obey it, rely on it, waste it, save it, chop it and try to stop it.  We organize our lives around it, and yet, do we really know what time is?  Drawing upon collections in Harvard’s scientific, historical archaeological, anthropological, and natural history museums and libraries, the book explores the answers given to that question in different ages by different world cultures and disciplines.  Themes include time finding from nature and time keeping by human artifice.  Readers of this book will explore cultural beliefs about the creation and end of time, the flow of time, and personal time as marked by rites of passage.  They will take time out, and examine the power of keeping time together in music, dance, work, and faith.  They will explore time’s representation in history and objects of personal memory, its personification in art, and its expression in biological evolution and the geological transformations of our planet. Featured objects include portable sundials and precision clocks, calendars from different cultures and epochs, time charts shaped like animals, Mesopotamian, Native American, and African ritual objects, fossils, metamorphosing creatures, and Julia Child’s stopwatch.

Western Astrolabes.  Historic Scientific Instruments of the Adler Planetarium, vol. 1
Webster, Roderick S., Marjorie K. Webster, and Sara Schechner Genuth. Western Astrolabes. Historic Scientific Instruments of the Adler Planetarium, vol. 1. Chicago: Adler Planetarium, 1998.
Comets, Popular Culture, and the Birth of Modern Cosmology
Schechner, Sara J. Comets, Popular Culture, and the Birth of Modern Cosmology. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997. Princeton