History and Philosophy of Astronomy
Spring 2002
    Unique No. 45600 TTH 2-3:30 RLM 15.216B


Dr. R. Robert Robbins
RLM 13.136, 471-7312
Office hours: Daily 2-3 or by appt.

Required Textbooks

Ancient Astronomers - Anthony Aveni
The Fabric of the Heavens - Toulmin

Brief Description of Class
This course fulfills an upper division writing requirement with 3 writing assignments totaling some 16-18 pages. The largest of the writing assignments will be a term paper of at least 10 pages. The topic of the first writing assignment will be given to you and handed out on the first day of class. For the second and third papers, you will choose your own topic.

The first third (approximately) of the class will begin with a summary of the capabilities of the eye as an astronomical instrument, and then examine how various cultures from ancient times forward have studied the 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 studying nature and by studying some of these, we might gain insight about ourselves as well as the cosmos.

We will successively examine Stonehenge, Egypt, Asia, Africa, Mesoamerica, North America, the Andean cultures and Oceania.

We will then take up Babylonian, Greek and Islamic astronomy and examine the historical track followed by western science from the Dark Ages through the Renaissance -- a legacy that fathered modern science as we know it today. Finally, we will examine selected aspects of the frontiers of modern 20th century science that represent its highest achievements; in particular, quantum mechanics and relativity.

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. Your textbook is new and written by the #1 authority in the field of archaeoastronomy, but there are concepts that he covers rapidly and the lecture can be important in filling in the necessary understanding. This means that you will get a lot more out of the lecture if you do the reading in advance and come equipped with your questions. From the listing on the back of this page, it should generally be fairly obvious where we are in the sequence.

Important Deadlines and University and Course Drop Information
Classes begin; Mon Jan 14 . The last day to drop without a possible academic penalty is Monday Feb 11. You may drop between Feb 11 and Monday Marchh 25 if you are working at a C level (University Regulations). After March 25, you can drop only for non-academic emergencies and the drop decision is made by the Student Dean of your college. Up until March 25, you can change your registration from graded to pass-fail, or vice versa. Note, however, that a pass-fail registration does not satisfy the B.A. Plan science requirement. You would receive 3 units of elective credit

Comments on the writing
All papers must be typed (so that I can read them) and double-spaced, so that there is room for me to make comments. Handwritten papers are not acceptable. Late papers will be penalized 10 percent per class meeting e.g. if a paper counts 10 points and is handed in 2 classes late (a week), it can grade at most 8 points. Further details about paper formatting and grading guidelines will be given in class.

The first paper will give me a sample of your writing. The second gives you an opportunity to explore an area of interest to you. The third paper allows you to research more deeply into a topic of your choice. The first and second papers must earn a grade of C or be rewritten. For the term paper, there is not enough time to be able to make use of rewriting.

Please make your first paper as good as you can, so I can have an accurate idea of your writing. The ability to rewrite papers should make it possible to sharpen your writing skills. To achieve this, your first paper will be graded with care.

The term paper should be thought of as an opportunity to study a field of your own choosing, not just an assignment.

Reading Sequences to accompany the lectures

Aveni Reading Toulmin Reading
Chapters 1 and 2 (Intro, Calendars, Stonehenge) x
Chapter 3 Egypt. Stop at page 43 x
Chapter 5 Asia x
Chapter 6 Africa x
Chapter 7 Mesoamerican (Maya, etc) x
Chapter 8 North America x
Chapter 9 Andean astronomy x
Chapter 10 Oceania x
Return to Chapter 3, page 43 -> 53 (Babylonia) pages 11 to 149
Chapter 3 Greek Astronomy (to page 61) x
Chapter 4 Islam pp 153-158
x Copernicus to Newton pp. 158-271

We will spend the last 20 or 25 percent of the course examining 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. You should be easily able to correlate the timing of your reading with the lectures. If you read a chapter before it is discussed in lecture, you will certainly get more out of the lecture.

The following assignments and tests will determine your final grade (100 points.)

Paper 1 (2 pages) Tues 22 Jan (10 points)
Paper 2 (2-3 pages) Tues 19 Feb. (15 points)
Title and Brief Outline of Term Paper after spring vacation x
Midterm Exam Tues 9 April (35 points)
2 Homeworks TBA (10 points)
Term Paper due May 2 (30 points)
There is no final exam May 3 = last day of class

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2 November 2001
UT Astronomy Program • The University of Texas at Austin • Austin, Texas 78712
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