A visit with Owen Gingerich, part 2

Posted by David Eicher
on Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The great astronomical historian Owen Gingerich opens an extremely rare copy of John Flamsteed’s Historiae coelestis, his famous star catalog, that is actually an unauthorized edition produced by Isaac Newton and Edmond Halley; Gingerich’s office at Harvard University, September 20, 2013. // Credit: David J. Eicher
While I was at Harvard late last week, I had the chance to visit with quite a few astronomers. Many thanks again to Harvard’s David Aguilar and Christine Pulliam for scheduling this and making it all happen. You will see some exciting work from some of Harvard’s astronomers showing up in the pages of Astronomy magazine soon.

As I was walking through the halls of the venerable institution, they took me aside to the office of none other than Owen Gingerich, the preeminent American historian of astronomy. Now 83 and with neatly combed white hair, Gingerich is a fixture in the world of Harvard. Having been at the institution for more than 50 years, he has been one of the principal American authors of the history of science, and his work on the landmark work of Copernicus, De revolutionibus, is extremely well known, as is his expertise on Kepler, Newton, Messier, and many other great astronomers of the past.

Owen expressed that he really wanted to see me. Accompanied by friends Steve O’Meara (Astronomy’s well-known columnist) and the unstoppable duo Imelda Joson and Ed Aguirre (both former editors of Sky & Telescope magazine), we dropped in on Owen on Friday morning. After chatting for a while about all of our activities, a silence spread over Owen’s office, which is stuffed with books floor-to-ceiling.

He suddenly murmured, “Well, let’s look at some books.”

The tour he led us on for the next 90 minutes will not be forgotten. One by one, he removed a succession of tomes from one of his safes, showing us treasures of Kepler, Robert Hooke, Messier, Galileo, and many more.

I already shared some of the photos in this blog yesterday and am now continuing with a further sample.

Thank goodness for the great energy, enthusiasm, and spirit of this legendary historian of science. Our world is very much richer and more well-informed for his great work of the past half century.

For all the photos of the Harvard tour, visit our Trips & Tours page.

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