Records of the Harvard College Observatory Associate Director, Bart J. Bok: administrative files
Bart J. Bok (1906-1983), an astronomer, was the Robert Wheeler Willson Professor of Astronomy at Harvard University (1947-1957). Bok's principal fields of research included the study of the Milky Way, cosmic evolution, dark Nebulae, the spiral structure of the Galaxy, Star Clouds of Magellan, and radio astronomy. The Records of the Harvard College Observatory Associate Director, Bart J. Bok: administrative files, including correspondence, agendas, proposals, meeting minutes, scientific reports, financial statements, and memoranda, document the administration of the Harvard College Observatory chiefly in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Agassiz Station in Harvard, Massachusetts, and Boyden Station in South Africa from 1946 to 1957.
- 1946 - 1957
- Harvard College Observatory (Organization)
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Extent.70 cubic feet (2 document boxes)
The Records of the Harvard College Observatory Associate Director, Bart J. Bok: administrative files, including correspondence, agendas, proposals, meeting minutes, scientific reports, financial statements, and memoranda, document the administration of the Harvard College Observatory chiefly in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Agassiz Station in Harvard, Massachusetts, and Boyden Station in South Africa from 1946 to 1957. The Harvard College Observatory's scientific relationships with observatories in the western United States, including at Alamogordo, New Mexico, at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, the Sommers-Bausch Observatory at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado, and the Sacramento Peak Observatory in Sunspot, New Mexico are also detailed. Agendas
and meeting minutes in this series illustrate the choices taken by the Harvard College Observatory Council, the Observatory's policy-making body, of which Bart J. Bok was a member. Notable Harvard correspondents advising the Observatory's scientific program include Harlow Shapley, Donald H. Menzel, Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, Fred L. Whipple, and Walter O. Roberts.
Recurring themes addressed in this series include the Observatory's financial affairs, the construction and rehabilitation of buildings, improvements to office space, the efficient use of the library, the reorganization of the Harvard Plate Collection, the publication of reports, maintenance of buildings and grounds, endowment needs, the purchase of instruments, and the appointment of astronomers. Meeting minutes and proposals document the collaboration between the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Harvard College Observatory and its eventual relocation to Cambridge in 1955. Reports, memoranda, and correspondence record the process by which the administration of Boyden Station was transferred from the responsibility of the Harvard College Observatory to a consortium of European observatories in 1954. The Harvard College Observatory's relationship with the American Association of Variable Star Observers is described in correspondence and reports, as is the Observatory's decision to stop financing that group in 1953.
The series also provides an overview of the scientific program at the Harvard College Observatory in the 1940s and 1950s, including studies of the structure of the Milky Way, the evolution of the stars (photometric, spectroscopic, theoretical), solar astronomy, the study of meteors, comets, the earth's upper atmosphere, and the study of galaxies and variable stars. Reports document the use of telescopes and instruments at the Observatory, examine their condition, assess their usefulness for scientific research, and include recommendations for their disposition. Highlighted are the design and construction of new telescopes for Boyden Station (Baker-Schmidt reflector) and Agassiz Station (photometers).
This series also chronicles Bok's association with the Harvard College Observatory. Correspondence, course descriptions, and reports highlight Bok's contribution to developing a graduate astronomy program at Harvard, awarding fellowships to students, and planning PhD examinations. Reports, meeting minutes, and memoranda detail Bok's supervision of Boyden Station in the 1950s and his role in the station's scientific program of stellar observation, spectral classification, variable star observation, and galaxy surveying. Bok's administration of the photometric work and graduate instruction undertaken at Agassiz Station in Harvard, Massachusetts, is also noted. In addition, correspondence and progress reports document Bok's interest in radio astronomy and constructing a radio telescope facility at Agassiz Station to study the Milky Way, the Sun, and stars from 1952 to 1956.
Historical note on the Harvard College Observatory
In 1839, the Harvard Corporation appointed William Cranch Bond, the first Astronomical Observer, to the University, thereby taking the first step in establishing the Harvard College Observatory, after which the first telescope was installed in 1847. Scholars and students had studied astronomy at Harvard since the seventeenth century, but it wasn't until a large comet sparked public interest in 1843 that donors began donating funds to build an observatory. During the tenure of the Harvard College Observatory's first three directors, William Cranch Bond (1839-1859), George Phillips Bond (1859-1865), and Joseph Winlock (1866-1875), the Observatory's research focused on lunar photography and chronometric activities. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, under the direction of Edward C. Pickering (1877-1919), research shifted from celestial mechanics and positional astronomy to astrophysics. As a result, the Observatory developed into a major research institution, focusing on photographic star surveys and spectroscopic analysis, culminating in the publication of the Henry Draper Catalogue, with spectroscopic classifications for 225,300 stars. During Pickering's tenure, many women astronomers, including Annie Jump Cannon, Henrietta Swan Leavitt, Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, and Williamina Fleming, performed essential research at the Observatory.
During the next several years, the Observatory became an important center for astronomical training and research. Harlow Shapley, director from 1921 to 1952, inaugurated a graduate study program in astronomy. Mandating that public education be a part of the Observatory's mission, Shapley required students in the Harvard program to present lectures on astronomy to public school children. Donald H. Menzel (1952-1966) arranged a cooperative relationship with the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (founded in 1890) and its relocation to Cambridge in 1955. Financial support for the Observatory expanded under Leo Goldberg (1966-1970), and in 1973 George B. Field (1972-1983) created an administrative umbrella organization, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, to coordinate the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Harvard College Observatory's programs. Today, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics continues studies in astronomy, Earth and space sciences, and science education, while the Harvard College Observatory supports Harvard's Department of Astronomy.
Biographical note on Bart J. Bok
Bart J. Bok (1906-1983), an astronomer, was the Robert Wheeler Willson Professor of Astronomy at Harvard University (1947-1957). Bok's principal fields of research included the study of the Milky Way, cosmic evolution, dark Nebulae, the spiral structure of the Galaxy, Star Clouds of Magellan, and radio astronomy.
Bartholomeus Jan Bok was born in Hoorn, Netherlands to Jan and Gesina Annetta (van der Lee) Bok on April 28, 1906. Bok immigrated to the United States in 1929 and became a naturalized citizen in 1938 when his first name was legally changed to Bart. While pursuing his graduate studies at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands in 1929, Bok moved to Cambridge to work at the Harvard University Observatory as a Robert Wheeler Wilson Fellow in Astronomy. Bok spent almost thirty years at Harvard. He completed his doctoral dissertation in 1932, became assistant professor in 1933, and then was promoted to associate professor in 1939. Bok then became associate director of the Harvard College Observatory in 1946, and was named a full professor in 1947, when he was appointed to the Robert Wheeler Wilson Chair in Astronomy. In 1951, Bok filled the interim position of superintendent at Boyden Station. Bok resigned from Harvard in 1957, when he became the Mount Stromlo Observatory director at the Australian National University. In 1966, Bok went to the University of Arizona to head the Department of Astronomy at the University of Arizona, where he remained until his retirement in 1970.
Bok taught at all levels at Harvard, including survey elementary courses in astronomy, marine navigation, General Education in the physical sciences, and practical astronomy. He taught graduate courses in galactic structure, stellar motions, galactic dynamics, interstellar medium, and radio astronomy. Bok pioneered the development of radio astronomy, where he helped develop 24-foot and 60-foot radio telescopes at Harvard's George R. Agassiz Station. With the new instruments, Bok made studies of the hydrogen clouds of the Galaxy. An authority on the Milky Way, Bok was the first to calculate the universe's age to be twenty billion years, rather than the previous estimate of ten million years. With his wife, Priscilla, Bok wrote The Milky Way (1941), one of the most successful astronomical books ever published. He also researched the small dark clouds in interstellar space that caused the absorption of starlight and showed that they consist of gas and dust that contract to form stars. The clouds are now known as "Bok globules."
Bok married Priscilla Fairfield (1896-1975), an astronomy professor and writer, on September 9, 1929, and the two collaborated closely for many years. They had two children: John Fairfield and Joyce Annetta Bok Ambruster.
Folders are arranged chronologically.
The Harvard University Archives received the Records of the Harvard College Observatory Associate Director, Bart J. Bok: administrative files before 1980.
References for biographical note on Bart J. Bok
- National Academy of Sciences. 1994. Biographical Memoirs: Volume 64. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
The Records of the Harvard College Observatory Associate Director, Bart J. Bok: administrative files were processed in September 2023.
Processing included creating this finding aid.
Dates supplied by the archivist appear in brackets.
- Harvard College Observatory. Records of the Harvard College Observatory Associate Director, Bart J. Bok: administrative files, 1946-1957: an inventory
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