History

In 1982 I gave a talk at the First Texas Star Party on the contributions that amateur astronomers can make to astronomy, and thought it would be useful to include,as part of that talk, a list of the noteworthy amateur astronomers. That list was finally produced, but I was only able to identify about 30 names. I felt it should be easier to identify more noteworthy amateurs, but found that historians tended to obscure the status of amateurs whenever the individual involved made some noteworthy contribution to astronomy. As a result of this talk, a similar talk to the AAVSO Spring meeting in Milwaukee the next year, I was encouraged by many to continue the development of that list. The result was the gradual evolution of my interest into a broader interest in the history of amateur contributions to astronomy.

The first step in generating the list of amateur astronomers was the development of a definition of what is meant by amateur astronomer. That definition was presented to the American Astronomical Society Historical Astronomy Division at their meeting in Washington, D.C. in June, 1984, and has been clarified and refined since then. At the time of the Washington AAS-HAD meeting, the list of amateur astronomers had grown to about 200 names. Since then, I have presented papers at a number of meetings and published a few articles and chapters in books on amateurs and related topics. For a listing of these see my bibliography.

Participation in organizations that promote research and publication in the history of science in general, and in the history of astronomy in particular has been an enriching experience for me. As indicated above, my first such experience was with the AAS-HAD , but since then I have become a member of the History of Science Society. Also, a few years ago, I was invited to serve as a member of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific's History Committee .

The Unedited List of Amateur and Professional Astronomers, as it came to be known, has continued to be an interest. The list now contains over 1,200 names, and is updated and distributed to historians of astronomy who express an interest and have contributed to the history of amateur contributions to astronomy. The last updated version is dated February 5, 1997 and is available in hard copy to interested historians. You can contact me by e-mail or by snail-mail at the address below to arrange for a copy. I hope to put this list up as a link from this page in the near future.

Another project of interest is the assembly of a database of astronomical observatories in the United States in the nineteenth century. This will be published as a directory at this site in the near future.

Tom Williams, 1750 Albans Road, Houston, TX 77005-1704, USA

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Comments or suggestions are welcome: Tom Williams, trw@rice.edu