Regional and national lists, databases and sources
Vienna University Observatory’s Rare Book Collection is housed in the Institute of Astronomy Library. This is one of the world’s most important collections of historically significant science books, containing some 500 books printed before 1800, and including 5 older than 1500.
The Irish Astronomy Trail contains information useful for visitors to a number of Irish astronomical heritage sites including Armagh Observatory, Birr Castle, Dunsink Observatory and Newgrange passage tomb, as well as dark sky sites.
The Italian National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) is currently cataloguing all the historical instruments of Italian observatories, through a Portal for Italian Astronomical Heritage known as “Stardust” (“Polvere di Stelle”). This aims to be a reference website for the whole cultural heritage of Italian astronomy, and also includes catalogues of collections of instruments, ancient books and images. It is not yet complete, but is up and running.
The Historical Archives of the Italian Astronomical Observatories contain documents that form a vital part of the cultural heritage of Italian astronomy. These diaries, logbooks, letters and a variety of other documents, mostly handwritten, provide records of the activities of some of Italy’s oldest scientific institutions and also reveal relationships between the astronomers and the wider scientific community, politicians, and contemporary society.
Robert Harry van Gent has compiled a link collection of online resources about calendars, chronology, timekeeping, cartography and general resources for the history of astronomy.
The website of the Royal Museums Greenwich hosts a searchable on-line catalogue containing details of the large collection of astronomical and navigational instruments held at the National Maritime Museum and the Royal Observatory Greenwich. These range from astrolabes and armillary spheres to quadrants, nocturnals and sundials. (Aerial photo of Royal Observatory Greenwich © National Maritime Museum; see case study on this portal)
Members of the Society for the History of Astronomy are gradually constructing a County Survey of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland containing area-by-area information on astronomical history and heritage.
The Astronomical Photographic Data Archive (APDA) has been established at the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI) to be the primary North American archive for collections of astronomical photographic plates.
“Photographic plates were the primary data recording medium for generations of astronomers, spanning over 130 years. The data is precious, and we cannot go back in time to image the sky as it appeared to generations of astronomers. A danger exists today for the safety of these plates, estimated at over 2 million. Observatories and universities are space limited and some seek a safe home for the legacy left by so many astronomers. PARI provides space, infrastructure, and Internet access. The goal is to make the archive a resource harnessed by present and [future] generations of astronomers.”
The Harvard Plate Collection contains over 500,000 glass photographic plates which are gradually being scanned and digitized.
(Photo: Plate showing a field within Sagittarius from the Harvard Plate Collection. Ashpag’s photostream on flickr, Creative Commons licence)