Archive for March 1st, 2020
Back in 2016, the Special Collection Library at Vassar put on Seeing the Sun: Maria Mitchell’s Observations, 1868-1888, an exhibit featuring materials from her tenure as Vassar’s astronomer, including several notebooks of observations and calculations. Being that type of guy, I spent quite a while pondering the effort required to do science.
Perhaps this notebook appeared in the exhibit:
Here’s what “calculations” looked like in 1872:
Yeah, grinding out trigonometry by hand using seven-place logarithms:
Not just by hand, but by hand with pen and ink:
Although you’ll find an occasional ink blot, she was probably using a fountain pen, rather than a dip pen, and made very few mistakes along the way. She often recorded direct instrument observations in pencil.
The next time you start pissing & moaning about how hard solid modeling is, suck it up.
Bonus: a Ginger Snap recipe suggesting it wasn’t all toil & trouble in the observatory:
The mystery ingredient is saleratus, “aerated salt”, now known as baking soda; they used potassium bicarbonate before today’s sodium bicarbonate.
I spent several pleasant hours browsing through selected notebooks in search of computations, taking pictures of pages under field conditions in ambient light. All images from Maria Mitchell Papers, Archives and Special Collections, Vassar College Libraries.