Recently, material originally produced during the mid-to-late 19th century and early 20th century by researchers at the Harvard College Observatory was re-discovered in the HCO Astronomical Plate Stacks collection. These early notebooks and other materials that represent the history of the Harvard College Observatory are an irreplaceable primary source documents that exemplify the evolution of observation methods and astronomy as a science. The material is also relevant to the history of women in science as the collection contains log books and notebooks produced by the Harvard Computers, women who have come back into the spotlight due to the recent release of a book by author Dava Sobel titled "The Glass Universe". Wolbach Library staff supported research for this book and were involved with the book’s launch in December 2016. Additionally, Wolbach has also received numerous reference questions in the past from researchers seeking out these types of extraordinary observations (those done by hand prior to modern photography and plates are incredibly rare). The Library anticipates that this material, once preserved and displayed prominently will support advancement efforts at the Center for Astrophysics and enable research on early astronomy for future generations.
In response to the re-discovery of this important collection, Wolbach Library staff worked with Lindsey Smith, Curator of Astronomical Photographs, to have the material transferred from the Plate Stacks’ holdings at Harvard Depository’s Records Management Department, to Wolbach’s shelves at the Depository so that the material could be cataloged, digitized, and preserved by services available to Wolbach through Harvard Library. The material will be subsequently transcribed by the Smithsonian Transcription Center in DC and be searchable in both HOLLIS (Harvard’s catalog) and the NASA Astrophysics Data System (ADS). This digitization and indexing effort is called Project PHAEDRA, or Preserving Harvard's Early Data and Research in Astronomy.
For more in depth information about the Phaedra Project read our blog.
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