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Theaters of Time and Space

Theaters of Time and Space: American Planetaria, 1930-1970

Jordan D. Marché
Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Theaters of Time and Space
    Book Description:

    Every year, millions of Americans visit planetariums and are captivated by their strikingly realistic portrayal of the night sky. Today, it is indeed difficult to imagine astronomy education without these magnificent celestial theaters. But projection planetariums, first developed in Germany, have been a part of American museum pedagogy only since the early twentieth century and were not widespread until the 1960s. In this unique social history, former planetarium director and historian of science Jordan D. Marché II offers the first complete account of the community of individuals and institutions that, during the period between 1930 and 1970, made planetariums the popular teaching aids they are today. Marché addresses issues such as the role of gender and social developments within the planetarium community, institutional patronage, and the popularization of science. He reveals how, at different times, various groups, including financial donors, amateur scientists, and government officials, viewed the planetarium as an instrument through which they could shape public understanding and perceptions of astronomy and space science. Offering an insightful, wide-ranging look into the origins of an institution that has fascinated millions,Theaters of Timeand Spacebrings new perspectives to how one educational community changed the cultural complexion of science, helped shape public attitudes toward the U.S. space program, and even contributed to policy decisions regarding allocations for future space research.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-3766-5
    Subjects: Astronomy, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    Historians and sociologists of science have increasingly paid attention to the importance of collective biographies, or community-level studies, over the past generation. Scholars have examined the social structures and research practices within a broad range of American and European scientific disciplines.¹ Analyses have appeared on the emergence of nationalistic communities in nineteenth-century American and British science, while other studies have documented the barriers faced by women scientists of every discipline.² Collective biography looks beyond the knowledge-production activities of individual scientists and regards the disciplinary community to which these men and women belonged as “a fundamental unit of social/historical analysis.”³


  6. Part I Origins of the Projection Planetarium

    • Chapter 1 Zeiss Planetaria in Europe, 1923–1929
      (pp. 9-22)

      Human attempts to create models of the universe extend back to antiquity and beyond. Over the past two millennia or so, many of the proffered solutions have tried to represent the positions of the fixed stars upon the surface of a globe, while the apparent motions of the brighter celestial objects (the Sun, Moon, and planets) have been replicated through mechanical devices of various sophistication. Despite considerable ingenuity, none of these innovations offered more than an imperfect and incomplete rendering of the phenomena. Oddly enough, a full realization of this goal had to await the arrival of the twentieth century,...

  7. Part II Zeiss Planetaria in America, 1930–1946

    • Chapter 2 Planetaria, Patrons, and Cultural Values
      (pp. 25-47)

      The extraordinary success of European planetaria raised hopes of duplicating these institutions on American soil. Even before the Model II instrument was mass produced, movements were underway to secure a Zeiss planetarium for the United States. A host of social and cultural factors underlay the acquisition of each new institution. Public expression of the planetarium’s educational potential was intermixed with the personal motivations of donors in promoting popular study of the heavens. Astronomer George E. Hale envisioned planetaria as scientific institutions at which astronomical research, as well as public education, was to be conducted. Major differences were apparent in the...

    • Chapter 3 Personnel, Training, and Careers
      (pp. 48-67)

      By the middle to late 1930s the notion of a community of American planetaria, their directors, and support staff had begun to take hold. One of the leading factors behind this emergence was the accumulation and interchange of employment opportunities associated with each institution. Experienced lecturers and assistants came to fill temporary or permanent slots created within the newer facilities. The similarities in Zeiss projection hardware and public programming philosophies encouraged the transfer of knowledge and skills between institutions. More importantly, directors of the Fels (Philadelphia) and Hayden (New York) planetaria organized the first pair of meetings to which their...

    • Chapter 4 Planetaria and Popular Audiences
      (pp. 68-84)

      At Chicago’s Adler Planetarium in the 1930s and 1940s, Philip Fox and Maude Bennot devised a regularly changing schedule of monthly programs. They recognized that “[f]or the audience there are no intellectual prerequisites; there is a mixture of age and interest through wide range.” Twelve lecture topics were developed in order “to show the various possibilities of the [star] instrument.” The planetarium’s original schedule consisted of the following program rotation:

      January: Winter Constellations of the Home Sky

      February: Time and Place

      March: The Calendar

      April: The Moon and Its Motions

      May: The Way of the Planets

      June: The Midnight Sun...

  8. Part III The Postwar Period, 1947–1957

    • Chapter 5 Armand N. Spitz and Pinhole-Style Planetaria
      (pp. 87-116)

      The possibility of creating a much less expensive planetarium instrument by simplifying star projection techniques to the use of proportionally sized pinholes was chiefly realized by Philadelphia entrepreneur Armand N. Spitz (1904–1971). Spitz envisioned the establishment of smaller planetaria throughout the nation’s public schools, museums, and colleges. He advocated cross-disciplinary instruction and subject-matter integration for planetarium audiences of all ages. Through a combination of technical innovations, effective marketing strategies, and altered social circumstances, Spitz distributed his projectors on an unprecedented scale. By the close of this second period of American planetarium development, more than a hundred permanent installations were...

  9. Part IV Planetaria in the Space Age, 1958–1970

    • Chapter 6 Sputnik and Federal Aid to Education
      (pp. 119-136)

      Launch of the firstSputniksatellite on 4 October 1957 caught Americans off guard as dramatically as news of Pearl Harbor.¹ Soviet technological prowess was confirmed when a much heavier satellite and its canine passenger were boosted into orbit the following month. Project Vanguard, by contrast, suffered embarrassing failures; the U.S. Army was directed to loftExplorer Iinto space on 31 January 1958. Political historian Walter A. McDougall has argued that by not anticipatingSputnik’s extraordinary propaganda value, the Eisenhower administration was dealt its “greatest defeat.”² Understanding how and why Americans reacted with such alarm toSputnikis essential...

    • Chapter 7 New Horizons in Planetarium Utilization
      (pp. 137-151)

      Anumber of new initiatives in American planetaria arose during the third developmental period. These ranged from almost purely instructional functions (involving the training of NASA’s Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo astronauts) to the strictly theatrical (experimental stagings of the first planetarium light shows). “Fisheye” cinematography, a new “immersive” projection technology, made its debut in the planetarium community. While the first two initiatives were confined to major facilities, the third was pioneered in a smaller collegiate installation.

      In addition, planetaria were transformed into research laboratories whose artificial skies were employed to study the star-recognition abilities of nocturnally migrating birds. More importantly,...

    • Chapter 8 New Routes to Professionalization
      (pp. 152-169)

      Fundamental steps toward disciplinary professionalization were achieved among American planetaria by the close of the third developmental period. These stages reflected the tremendous institutional growth that resulted from federal legislation enacted in the wake ofSputnik, in which hundreds of new planetaria, chiefly in public schools and districts, were created (see chapter 6).

      Recruitment and training of new planetarium instructors became one of the most important issues faced by planetarium leaders. A host of strategies, including NSF-sponsored summer institute programs, planetarium internships, and graduate degree programs, were created to alleviate this manpower shortage.

      Starting in the mid–1960s, planetarium educators...

  10. Epilogue
    (pp. 170-178)

    The number of American planetaria and their personnel continued to increase during the remaining years of the twentieth century. Because fundamental questions of how best to organize and professionalize its members had been answered, the discipline could turn its attention to more immediate concerns. Only a broad outline of the community’s leading issues and developments can be described in this brief synopsis. A plethora of new media, technologies, and educational practices were initiated,¹ while the nature of its international character was expanded beyond the boundaries of the North American continent.

    One of the principal changes concerned a reversal of the...

  11. Appendix: North American Planetaria
    (pp. 179-188)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 189-232)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 233-254)
  14. Index
    (pp. 255-266)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 267-268)
  16. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)