AST 350L

History and Philosophy of Astronomy


MWF 4:30 - 5:30 p.m.
RLM 15.216B
Unique # 43836

Instructor: Dr. R. Robert Robbins
Office: RLM 13.136
Phone: 471-7312
Office Hours: Daily: before and after class, or by appointment


Ancient Astronomers, Anthony Aveni, available at the University Co-Op
The Fabric of the Heavens, Toulmin and Goodfield (out of print). Purchase photocopies from Speedway Printing in Dobie Mall.

This course fulfills an upper division writing requirement with a minimum of 3 writing assignments totaling approximately 16 pages. The first paper assignment is going to be handed out today and is due back on September 7. For this first paper, you will choose a topic from a set of choices that I provide. For the second paper, you may choose any topic you wish, and in particular, you may start a short paper that leads (with advising and permission) into your longer term paper #3 which will be a term paper of at least 10 pages. The details of these assignments will be discussed later.


First - Approximately the first third of the class will begin by reviewing what phenomena can be seen by the naked eye (since AST 301 typically doesn't do this); that is, a study of the capabilities of the eye as an astronomical instrument. This was the only astronomy practiced anywhere until 1609, when Galileo first pointed a telescope skyward. We will examine how various cultures from ancient times forward have studied this naked-eye sky and how they have conceptualized the "heavens" and the celestial sphere in ways often quite different from the approach of modern science. We will see that there have historically been many different ways of defining nature and studying it. and by studying some of these, we might get information about ourselves as well as the Cosmos - just as I can learn much about you if I could study your parents and grandparents.

We will examine Stonehenge, Egypt, China, Africa, Mesoamerica, N. America, Inca, and Oceania.

Second - We will then take up Babylonian, Greek, and Islamic astronomy, and examine the historical track followed by western science through the Dark Ages to the Renaissance to Newton -- a legacy that fathered modern science as we know it today.

Third - Finally, we will examine selected aspects of the frontiers of modern, 20th century science that represent its most recent achievements; in particular, quantum mechanics and relativity. This last 20 or 25 percent of the course will examine the Theory of Special Relativity, as an example which dramatically illuminates the nature of 20th century science. There is no text for this portion of the class; attendance is extremely important.

Finally - Finally, we will ask - where do we go from here? Since this class is not a prerequisite for any other course, we have the freedom to ask questions and carry out discussions in any area of interest -- in particular, the future of science and society.


The class will have two short (2-3 page) papers for 30% of your grade (15% each)
It will have three short quizzes (10% each) for 30% of the grade
It will have two homework assignments (10%)
It will have your large term paper (30%)
There is no final exam.