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Special anniversary talks: The life and work of John Flamsteed – and the founding of the Flamsteed Astronomy Society

December 9, 2019 @ 6:30 pm - 9:30 pm

Dr Louise Devoy, Dr Rebekah Higgitt and Emma-Louise Hill

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This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Flamsteed Astronomy Society and the 300th year since the death of John Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal. Our special anniversary lecture will begin with a talk by some of the founders of the Society who will give us their very entertaining take on how it all started.

For our main lecture, we have no fewer than three guest speakers who will talk about the life and work of John Flamsteed.

Dr Louise Devoy (Royal Museums Greenwich), ‘Who was John Flamsteed?’

Here are the Royal Observatory we refer to Flamsteed’s name on a daily basis but who was the man behind the name? Why was this young astronomer from Derbyshire chosen to be the first ‘astronomical observator’? What was his role within the astronomical community of the day? In this paper I will present an overview of Flamsteed’s life, work and social connections before his royal appointment.

Dr Rebekah Higgitt (University of Kent), ‘John Flamsteed and the Teaching of Navigation’

While the Royal Observatory was founded to improve astronomy ‘so as to find out the so much-desired longitude of places for the perfecting the art of navigation’, this aim was only fully met with the publication of the Nautical Almanac nearly a century later. Flamsteed’s output is seen has having been of less direct utility but this paper will show that he and his work did nevertheless have an impact on the teaching of navigational astronomy in and around London.

Emma-Louise Hill (University of Kent), ‘The Early Royal Observatory in the Public Sphere’

References to Flamsteed and the Royal Observatory began to appear in the 1690s in widespread format, including poetry, pamphlets and guides as well as paintings sold at public auction. The existence of this material is suggestive of a broad range of engagement by a large audience. This talk will review some of these sources and take a look at the relationship between the Observatory and an increasingly interested London public.

Dr Louise Devoy

With a background in astrophysics, Dr Louise Devoy has worked at several national museums including the Smithsonian (USA) and the National Space Centre (UK) before becoming a Curator at the Royal Observatory Greenwich. She specialises in the history of instruments used in astronomy.

Dr Rebekah Higgitt

Dr Rebekah Higgitt is a Senior Lecturer in History of Science at the School of History, University of Kent. From 2008 to 2013 she was Curator of History of Science and Technology at the National Maritime Museum and the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. She is currently leading a research project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, “Metropolitan Science: Places, Objects and Cultures of Practice and Knowledge in London, 1600-1800”. She is the author of Recreating Newton: Newtonian Biography and the Making of Nineteenth-Century History of Science (2007) and co-author of Finding Longitude (2014) and Maskelyne: Astronomer Royal (2014).

Emma-Louise Hill

Emma-Louise Hill is a PhD student at University of Kent researching the early history of the Royal Observatory Greenwich.


December 9, 2019
6:30 pm - 9:30 pm
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National Maritime Museum
SE10 9NF
Greenwich, London SE10 9NF United Kingdom
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