Hansteen and the Observatory
The project aims at analyzing the natural sciences during the formative decades of a national culture in Norway. (Norsk)
The observatory in Christiania
About the project
While focusing primarily on Christopher Hansteen and the observatory in Christiania, three sub-projects will address the broader scientific culture in Norway during the nineteenth century. Thus, the project will provide original historical research that is relevant not only for the bicentennial anniversary for the University of Oslo in 2011, but also the national anniversary in 2014. A further ambition is to promote and stimulate the development of professional Norwegian history of science in an international perspective.
Within Norwegian historiography, the role of the natural sciences has not been sufficiently taken into account when analyzing the process of state-formation during the nineteenth century. This project will challenge such interpretations by focusing, first, on Christopher Hansteen, the most prominent scientific «nation builder» in the years after 1814, and, second, on the role of the observatory established in the early 1830s. In relation to international history of science, it is evident that the organisation, functions, and techniques of such observatories have been systematically studied to a much lesser extent than universities, libraries, museums, laboratories, and disciplines. Consequently, a study of Hansteen and the observatory will be an important contribution both to Norwegian historiography and to the history of science internationally.
Focusing more specifically on the spatial dimension of the observatory, the international networks for exchange of scientific instruments and practices, the actual scientific techniques concerning geodesy, astronomy, surveying, cartography, meteorology and metrology, and, finally, the social use of the observatory and the various audiences Hansteen addressed, the project will concentrate on the practical, technical, and spatial dimensions of the observatory. How can we understand and explain the role, the relevance, and the use of Hansteen’s work at the observatory in relation to the emerging Norwegian national state?
Theoretically, the approach is informed by socio-historical studies of networks of knowledge, interests, and power, but also more cultural approaches focusing on the prestige, patronage, and public image of science. There is also a strong emphasis on material culture, focusing on practices and techniques, the use and calibration of instruments, and the specific design of the observatory. In addition, the approach is inspired by more recent studies within the history of science emphasizing the spatial and geographical aspects of science related to place and space.
The project also has an important institutional objective by promoting and developing the professional study of history of science in Norway in a disciplinary sense.