Grounds of Harvard College Observatory circa 1899. Black and white image of buildings with domes on a hill.Harvard College Observatory circ. 1899.

Center for Astrophysics History

In 1973, the Smithsonian Institution and Harvard University formalized a collaboration to coordinate the related research activities of the Harvard College Observatory (HCO) and the Smithsonian Astsrophysical Observatory (SAO) under a single director. Today, HCO and SAO have combined staff in six research divisions: Atomic and Molecular Physics; High Energy Astrophysics; Optical and Infrared Astronomy; Radio and Geoastronomy; Solar, Stellar, and Planetary Sciences; and Theoretical Astrophysics.

A Library for the CfA

The HCO library collection results from the traditional exchange of scholarly works between observatories in the 1800s, and expanded further as commercially published materials became available. The SAO Library dates back to about 1959, when items were selected from the collection of astronomical material in Washington, DC and moved to Cambridge, MA. In 1975, the two libraries, which had been housed in separate parts of the CfA, were merged into the Wolbach Library in Perkin Building. In 1992, the administration of the HCO and SAO collections was merged under one Head Librarian and staff. In 2022, the HCO's Astronomical Photographic Glass Plate Collection was incorporated into the Wolbach Library.

Historical Collections

The Wolbach’s special collections include primary sources associated with the institution’s history, as well as archival publications, papers, and objects created by observatories worldwide. 

History-Related Initiatives

Library projects are often related to the history of astronomy, our collections, and the Observatories. Check out our historical initiatives to find out more.