Reaching for the Stars—Astrolabes in Cultural Context

Reaching for the Stars lecture - Adler Planetarium, Chicago, IL - Mar. 20, 2013
They illustrate the covers of books on the Middle Ages and the Renaissance; they are essental props for essays on the "Golden Age of Islamic Science;" they can even be found in some of the most well-known Hollywood blockbusters. But what are astrolabes exactly? Who makes and uses them? And, most importantly maybe, what are they used for?

Invented by the ancient Greeks, developed by mathematicians and astronomers in all parts of the Islamic World, used by medieval Jewish scholars and—together with the Arabic numerals—introduced into the Christian World, the astrolabe truly is a mirror of cross-cultural inspiration. Timekeeping, direction-finding, casting of horoscopes, solving of trigonometric functions, surveying of land—all of these challenges can be met with this one instrument. And even if none of these uses appeals to the user, astrolabes are amongst the most stunning artifacts produced out of metal and a joy to behold for any museum visitor.

This lecture, which is based on twenty years of research by the speaker, puts one of the most enigmatic, sophisticated and versatile scientific instruments of all times into its cultural and social context.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013 6 p.m.

The Adler Planetarium, Chicago

Reaching for the Stars—Astrolabes in Cultural Context Silke Ackermann, with Baltic College in Schwerin, Germany, and until recently the Curator of European and Islamic

Scientific Instruments at the British Museum

The R. S. Webst er Lecture