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History of Astronomy in South Africa: The Late Modern Period

A Focus Meeting to be held at the XXXII IAU General Assembly in Cape Town, South Africa, on August 7-8, 2024



The idea for holding this Focus Meeting had its roots in the fact that in October 2020 the SAAO celebrated 200 years of existence as an astronomical observatory by organizing a virtual symposium "Beyond 200 Years of Astronomy". The theme of the symposium covered a wide range of topics, among which African ethnoastronomy and indigenous knowledge, history of astronomy in Africa, contributions to global astronomy, developments in African research, astronomy in recent decades, and astronomy and society.

The range of topics are within the remit of IAU Commission C3 (History of Astronomy), but that are also of interest to other IAU Commissions and Working Groups. The topics cover

  1. history of astronomy for the sake of history ΜΆ i.e., as studied by historians of science,
  2. history of astronomy for the sake of combining historical observational data with modern ground-based and space-based observations, and
  3. history of astronomy for the sake of enriching our understanding of the mutual impacts on, and the reciprocal influences between local cultures and the astronomical institutions and their activities.

The meeting will focus on people, instruments, and projects during the last two centuries - i.e., the period since the establishment of the South African Astronomical Observatory. Strong emphasis will be put on the outstanding scientific results that were achieved in South Africa notwithstanding the unparalleled extreme hardships and difficulties endured by the late nineteenth and twentieth century astronomical and technical personnel. Speakers will also embed aspects of education, outreach and cultural diversity in the core science that they will present.

Aim and purpose

Backbone of the presentations and discussions

The backbone of the presentations and discussions is the historiography of how a remote observatory, whose main tasks initially were tracking the stars of the southern hemisphere for the purposes of accurate navigation of the British fleet and of mapping of the British Empire, became an international observatory with instruments of world class. And how various modest observing stations became fruitful joint ventures with South African universities that provided the international astronomical community with most unique archival date that are still of great research value today.