History of Modern Astrophysics Collection

Mss.Ms.Coll.13

Date: 1849-1979 | Size: 2 Linear feet, 2 linear feet; 67 reels of microfilm

Abstract

During the mid- to late-1970s, the American Institute of Physics sponsored a project to conduct oral history interviews documenting the recent history of astrophysics, eventually accumulating over 400 hours of fully transcribed and edited audio tapes. The project organizers placed a particular emphasis on documenting the various subdisciplines of cosmology and astronomical spectroscopy.

The History of Modern Astrophysics Collection is an important resource for the history of astrophysics in the latter half of the twentieth century. The collection is arranged in two series, the first consisting of transcripts of 52 interviews of 46 astrophysicists recorded between 1976 and 1979 by members of the Center for the History of Physics at the American Institute of Physics. The second series consists of 65 reels of microfilm of significant sets of correspondence for individual astrophysicists. The original oral history tape recordings are housed at AIP.

Background note

During the mid- to late-1970s, the Center for the History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics sponsored an oral history project designed to provide a systematic survey of late 20th century astrophysics. Slightly adjusting the model provided by the successful Sources for the History of Quantum Physics, the History of Modern Astrophysics project slightly deemphasized detailed inquiry into early scientific work, while delving more deeply into personal and social matters. Like the Quantum Physics project, they also sought out and microfilmed significant bodies of records, particularly those for observatories, that were deemed to be "in danger, or in remote locations, or of exceptional value to a broad community of scholars."

The initial list of candidates for interviews was compiled based upon recommendations that emerged from a series of exploratory interviews with astrophysicists, supplemented by individuals who were frequently cited in review articles, who were the recipients of major astronomical prizes, or who were mentioned as significant contributors in the existing secondary literature. These were then ranked and submitted to an advisory panel of historians of astronomy to fill in any omissions. Given the limitations of such a large undertaking, the project organizers inevitably chose to emphasize certain fields at the expense of others. In particular, they limited the number of interviews with radio astronomers and solar system astrophysics because these subfields were covered under other projects, while they sought extensive coverage of a variety of subfields in cosmology. Approximately 25% of the interviews were with cosmologists and a slightly smaller number concerned astronomical spectroscopy. The selection of subjects for interviews was also biased geographically: over half of the subjects were born and educated in the United States, with Britain, the Netherlands, and Germany relatively well represented, but the Soviet Union notably underrepresented.

Ultimately, the project logged over 400 hours of interviews with over 100 astronomers, resulting in over 10,000 pages of edited transcripts. Following the standard procedures established at the AIP, the interviews were fully transcribed and edited against the tape by the interviewer before being sent to the astronomer for further editing and permissions. Several different interviewers were employed during the project, including interviewers who were not members of the AIP staff.

Scope and content

The History of Modern Astrophysics Collection is an important resource for the history of astrophysics in the latter half of the twentieth century. The collection is arranged in two series, the first consisting of transcripts of 52 interviews of 46 astrophysicists recorded between 1976 and 1979 by members of the Center for the History of Physics at the American Institute of Physics. The second series consists of 65 reels of microfilm of significant sets of correspondence for individual astrophysicists. The original oral history tape recordings are housed at AIP.

Collection Information

Provenance

Deposited by the American Institute of Physics through Spencer R. Weart, 1982 (accn. no. 1982-1024ms).

Preferred citation

Cite as: History of Modern Astrophysics Collection, American Philosophical Society.

Processing information

Recatalogued by rsc, 2003.

Bibliography

The HMA project is described in Weart, Spencer R. and David H. DeVorkin, "Interviews as sources for history of Modern Astrophysics," Isis 72 (1981), 471-477.

Indexing Terms


Corporate Name(s)

  • American Institute of Physics
  • Center for History of Physics (American Institute of Physics)

Genre(s)

  • Oral histories

Occupation(s)

  • Astrophysicists.

Personal Name(s)

  • Aitken, Douglas Carryl, 1898-1992
  • Atkinson, Robert d'Escourt (1898-1982 )
  • Babcock, Horace W.
  • Bondi, Hermann
  • Bowyer, Stuart C.
  • Chandler, Seth Carlo, 1846-1913
  • Chandrasekhar, S. (Subrahmanya
  • Chang, Y. C.
  • Conklin, Nanielov Dieter
  • Cowling, T. G. (Thomas George)
  • Dunham, Theodore J., 1897-1984
  • Edmonson, Frank K. (Frank Kelly)
  • Greenstein, Jesse L. (Jesse Leonard), 1909-2002
  • Hall, John
  • Hayes, D. S. (Donald S.)
  • Herget, Paul, 1908-
  • Hoffleit, Dorrit
  • Hogg, Helen Sawyer
  • Hubble, Edwin Powell, 1889-1953
  • Huffer, Charles M. (Charles Mo
  • Hulst, H. C. Van de (Hendrik C
  • Jones, Burton Wadsworth, 1902-
  • Kharadze, Yevgeny Kirillovich
  • King, Ivan R.
  • Kron, Gerald E.
  • Kron, Richard G.
  • Leighton, Robert B.
  • Locanthi, Dorothy Davis
  • Massevitch, Alla Genrikhovna
  • Mayall, N. U. (Nicholas Ulrich
  • McCrea, William Hunter
  • McVittie, George C. (George Cunliffe)
  • Münch, Guido
  • O'Connell, D. J. K. (Daniel Jo
  • Oort, Jan Hendrik
  • Plaskett, Harry Hemley, 1893-1980
  • Rossi, Bruno Benedetto, 1905-
  • Russell, Henry Norris, 1877-1957
  • Salpeter, Edwin E.
  • Schatzman, Evry L.
  • Schlesinger, Frank, 1871-1943
  • Sciama, D. W. (Dennis William)
  • Shapiro, Bert
  • Shapley, Harlow, 1885-1972
  • Spinrad, Hyron, 1934-
  • Spitzer, Lyman, 1914-1997
  • Struve, Otto, 1897-1963
  • Swings, P. (Polydore), 1906-1983
  • Tinsley, Beatrice
  • Unsöld, Albrecht, 1905-1995
  • Van Agt, Steven
  • Vassilevskis, Stanislaus
  • Wesselink, Adriaan Jan, 1909-1995
  • Young, Charles Augustus, 1834-1908

Subject(s)

  • Astronomical spectroscopy.
  • Astrophysics
  • Cosmology
  • Galaxies -- Evolution
  • Quasars
  • Radio astrophysics
  • Stars -- Evolution


Detailed Inventory

Series I. Oral histories
1976-197952 files
Abell, George. Interview conducted by Spencer Weart
1977 November box 1
Aitken, Douglas Carryl. Interview conducted by David DeVorkin
1977 July box 1
Babcock, Horace W., Interview conducted by Spencer Weart
1977 July box 1
Bondi, Herman. Interview conducted by David DeVorkin
  box 1
Bowyer, C. Stuart. Interview conducted by Richard Hirsch
1976 July box 1
Chandrasekhar, Subrahmanyan. Interview conducted by Spencer Weart
1977 May box 1
Chang, Y. C., Interview conducted by David DeVorkin
1979 August box 1
Conklin, Nanielou Dieter. Interview conducted by David DeVorkin
1977 July box 1
Cowling, Thomas George. Interview conducted by David DeVorkin
1978 March box 1
Edmonson, Frank K., Interview conducted by David DeVorkin
1977 April box 1
Edmonson, Frank K., Interview conducted by David DeVorkin
1978 February box 1
Greenstein, Jesse. Interview conducted by Spencer Weart
1977 April box 1
Greenstein, Jesse. Interview conducted by Spencer Weart
1977 July box 1
Greenstein, Jesse. Interview conducted by Spencer Weart
1978 May box 1
Hall, John. Interview conducted by David DeVorkin
1979 February box 1
Hayes, Donald S., Interview conducted by David DeVorkin
1977 November box 1
Herget, Paul. Interview conducted by David DeVorkin
1977 April box 1
Hoffleit, Dorrit. Interview conducted by David DeVorkin
1979 August box 1
Hogg, Helen Sawyer. Interview conducted by David DeVorkin
1979 August box 1
Huffer, C. M., Interview conducted by David DeVorkin
1977 July box 1
Hulst, Hendrik Christoffell van de. Interview conducted by David DeVorkin
1978 July box 1
Jones, Burton. Interview conducted by David DeVorkin
1977 July box 1
Kharadze, Yevgeny Kirillovich. Interview conducted by David DeVorkin
1979 August box 1
King, Ivan. Interview conducted by David DeVorkin
1977 July box 1
King, Ivan. Interview conducted by David DeVorkin
1978 July box 1
Kron, Gerald. Interview conducted by David DeVorkin
1979 May box 1
Kron, Richard. Interview conducted by David DeVorkin
1977 July box 1
Leighton, R. B., Interview conducted by David DeVorkin
1977 July box 1
Locanthi, Dorothy Davis. Interview conducted by David DeVorkin
1977 August box 1
Masevitch, Alla Genrikhovna. Interview conducted by Spencer Weart
1976 September box 1
Mayall, Nicholas U., Interview conducted by Bert Shapiro
1976 June box 1
Mayall, Nicholas U., Interview conducted by Norris Heatherington
1977 February box 1
McCrea, William Hunter. Interview conducted by Robert Smith
1978 September box 1
McVittie, George Cunliffe. Interview conducted by David DeVorkin
1978 March box 1
Munch, Guido. Interview conducted by David DeVorkin
1977 July box 1
O'Connell, Daniel Joseph Kelly. Interview conducted by Spencer Weart
1976 August box 1
Oort, Jan H., Interview conducted by David DeVorkin
1977 November box 1
Plaskett, Harry Hemley. Interview conducted by David DeVorkin
1978 March box 1
Rossi, Bruno. Interview conducted by Richard Hirsch
1976 July box 1
Russell, Henry Norris, Jr., Interview conducted by David DeVorkin
1977 November box 1
Salpeter, Edwin E., Interview conducted by Spencer Weart
1978 March box 1
Schatzman, Evry. Interview conducted by Spencer Weart
1979 August box 1
Sciama, Dennis. Interview conducted by Spencer Weart
1978 March box 1
Shapiro, Bert. Interview
1977 July box 1
Spinrad, Hyron. Interview conducted by David DeVorkin
1977 July box 1
Spitzer, Lyman. Interview conducted by Joan Brumberg
1978 May box 1
Tinsley, Beatrice. Interview conducted by David DeVorkin
1977 June box 1
Unsold, Albrecht. Interview conducted by Owen Gingerich
1978 June box 1
Van Agt, Steven. Interview conducted by David DeVorkin
1977 November box 1
Vassilevskis, Stanislaus. Interview conducted by David DeVorkin
1977 July box 1
Wesselink, A. J. Interview conducted by David DeVorkin
1977 September box 1
Wesselink, A. J. Interview conducted by David DeVorkin
1978 June box 1
Series II. Microfilms
1849-197967 reels
Atkinson, Robert d'Escourt (1898-1982 ).
Papers
1927-19551 reelreel 1
Chandler, Seth Carlo, 1846-1913.
Papers
1861-19141 reelreel 2

Location of originals: Microfilmed from originals in possession of the family.

Dunham, Theodore J., 1897-1984.
Papers
1921-19793 reelsreel 3-5

Location of originals: Originals at APS (Ms. Coll. 40).

Edmonson, Frank K. (Frank Kelly).
Papers
 1 reelreel 6
Hubble, Edwin Powell, 1889-1953.
Papers
1900-19601 reelreel 7

Location of originals: Originals at Huntington Library, San Marino, Calif.

McVittie, George C. (George Cunliffe).
Papers
1926-19751 reelreel 8

Location of originals: Originals at University of Illinois Archives.

Oort, Jan Hendrik.
Papers
1927-19561 reelreel 9

Location of originals: Originals at Leiden University, Netherlands.

Schlesinger, Frank, 1871-1943.
Papers
1905-194131 reelsreel 10-40

Location of originals: Originals at University of Pittsburgh and Yale University

Shapley, Harlow, 1885-1972.
Papers
1910-19233 reelsreel 41-43

Location of originals: Originals at Harvard University Archives.

Struve, Otto.
Papers
1932-194516 reelsreel 44-59

Location of originals: Originals in Yerkes Observatory Archives, University of Chicago

Swings, P. (Polydore), 1906-1983.
Correspondence with Otto Struve
1932-19633 reelsreel 60-62

Location of originals: Originals in possession of the family at the time of filming.

Young, Charles A..
Papers
1849-19083 reelsreel 63-65

Location of originals: Originals at Dartmouth College Archives.

Oral history transcripts: Abel-King
 1 reelreel 66
Oral history transcripts: Kron-Wood
 1 reelreel 67