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Letters of Intent for 2015

LoI 2015-198
Focus Meeting: Astronomy, culture and patronage through the ages

Date:

5 August 2015 to 7 August 2015

Location:

Hawaii, United States

Contact:

Rajesh Kochhar (rkochhar2000@yahoo.com)

Coordinating division:

Division C Education, Outreach and Heritage

Co-Chairs of SOC:

Rajesh Kochhar (Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Mohali)
Rubellite Kawena Kinney Johnson (Univ of Hawaii-Manoa)
Eugene Milone (University of Calgary)
Tsuko Nakamura (Teikyo-Heisei Univ.)
Christiaan Sterken (Vrije Univ. Brussels)

Chair of LOC:

()

 

Topics

Astronomy in island and in mainland cultures;astronomy as a navigational tool;astronomy as a means of securing divine patronage and as an input in mythology and sacred literature; embodiment of astronomical ideas in island language, mythology, dance and song; rock art: petroglyphs and representations of constellations and asterisms.
Utilitarian, cultural and intellectual impetuses to astronomy; role of individuals, society and state as patrons of astronomy ; big telescopes; modern astronomy from islands

 

Rationale

(Proposed by C 41 and supported by C 46 and C 55
)Human beings are born astronomers. Ever since they learnt to walk upright they have looked at the sky and wondered. The sky has remained the same but its meaning has been changing. Astronomy has always been important to humankind but at different times it has meant different things and in different geographies it has developed differently. Although we are a part of the Universe, we now tend to look at it as if from the outside. In an earlier era however human perception of the cosmic environment constituted an important input for determining the humankind’s place in the divine scheme of things.
Sky was believed to be the home of divinities and astronomical knowledge was a means of propitiating them and negotiating with them. The beginnings of astronomy are related to the requirements of the ritual in early cultures. Ritual was a means of securing divine approval and support for terrestrial actions. To be effective, the ritual had to be elaborate and well-timed, so that a careful distinction could be made between auspicious and inauspicious times. Since planetary motions provided a natural means of time keeping, their refined study became important. Early astronomical knowledge went into the making of sacred literature and mythology. Astronomical knowledge was useful too. To know where one was located on the earth one took the help of the stars. While on ground there were landmarks, in the open seas astronomy was the only navigational aid.
We thus see that through the ages, human interest in astronomy and related fields has been driven by a variety of factors: curiosity about the cosmic environment; desire to construct a world view integrating cosmic with the terrestrial and the anthropic; awe of the skies and waters; propitiation of divine forces; and utilization of knowledge for sustenance, economy, profit, adventure and domination.
Astronomy carries its cultural and historical baggage. At one time, astronomy was a means of securing divine patronage for chieftains, kings and important people. In course of time, these very people became patrons of astronomy. Unraveling of cosmic secrets has been seen as an exercise carried out on behalf of the whole humankind. Consequently, individuals and states that have perceived themselves as being placed in pre-eminent position vis-à-vis their peers have tended to take a lead in astronomical and space investigations. Organized astronomy has always required liberal patrons and large-scale patronage. This support has been forthcoming enabling astronomy to remain ‘an old, ever young science’.
In many cases, the developments in astronomy and the world view based on them have largely been autonomous with external influences, if any, being subtle. In other cases involving large culturally contiguous areas, there has been free flow of ideas and people marked by collaboration as well as competition. How patronage of the sky was sought for terrestrial actions, how in turn patronage has been extended to astronomy as an intellectual pursuit, how astronomical knowledge was sought to be utilized for practical purposes and how human perceptions of the skies created a diversity of cosmo-views are fascinating areas of enquiry worthy of study in a systematic way.
Since the 2015 General Assembly will take place in Honolulu, the Focus Meeting would like to pay special attention to the archaeo- and cultural astronomy of Oceania and Hawaii in particular. Not only will the Focus Meeting provide a forum for dissemination of recent research carried out in these areas, it would also provide an opportunity for others to obtain better acquaintance with it. At the same time, the Focus Meeting would like to place these developments in a larger integrated context by discussing developments elsewhere in the cultural domain as well as in organized and big astronomy.
While IAU discusses modern astronomy under different heads, astronomical history must necessarily cover a number of fields. The General Assembly provides an opportunity to researchers, not necessarily from within IAU, to discuss their findings with a diverse audience within a rigorous framework imposed by IAU.

 

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