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COLLECTION Identifier: UAV 630.14

Records of the Harvard College Observatory Director Edward Charles Pickering

Overview

Edward Charles Pickering (1846-1919), a physicist and astronomer, was the director of the Harvard College Observatory from 1876 to 1919, as well as, Phillips Professor of Astronomy and Geodesy (1876-1887) and Paine Professor of Practical Astronomy (1887-1919). Pickering’s records as Observatory Director, consisting chiefly of correspondence, document the research activities and administration of the Harvard College Observatory from 1854 to 1926. During Pickering’s administration, the Observatory's principal areas of research included programs in photometric, photographic, and spectroscopic stellar investigations. Pickering built an extensive library of photographic plates at Harvard, established an observing station in Arequipa, Peru, to achieve worldwide coverage of the sky, and employed women to carry out the Observatory's photographic and spectroscopic programs.

Dates

  • 1854-1926

Researcher access

Open for research.

Extent

52.84 cubic feet (184 document boxes)

The Records of Harvard College Observatory Director Edward Charles Pickering, consisting chiefly of correspondence, document the research activities and administration of the Harvard College Observatory primarily from 1875 to 1919. Pickering's extensive correspondence highlights the role played by the Harvard College Observatory as a leader in the field of astronomy, and its position at the center of the shift from astrometry, the measurement of the positions, motions, and magnitudes of stars, to astrophysics, the study of the physical nature of the stars and other celestial bodies. The principal areas of astronomical research chronicled in Pickering's correspondence include stellar photometry, astrophotography, and spectral classification. Highlighted are Pickering's connections with other astronomers, chiefly in the United States and Europe, including his networking and collaboration with women astronomers, including Mary Emma Byrd, Mary Watson Whitney, and Margaret Haywood; and Willamina Paton Fleming and Henrietta Swan Leavitt at the Harvard College Observatory. Also revealed in the correspondence is Pickering's interaction with national and international astronomical organizations to secure funds for scientific research, foster cooperation among astronomers, and secure international agreements on matters related to the standardization of stellar magnitudes and spectral classification. A few letters are in English, French, German, Italian, Russian, and Spanish.

Researchers should note that topics and descriptions of events and activities of the Harvard College Observatory overlap between series.

Note on the letterbooks and Pickering's correspondence

The main group of Pickering's outgoing correspondence is in 59 letterbooks divided into seven subseries from 1875 to 1919. Each subseries is organized chronologically, but some overlapping exists. It is unclear from the records why the Harvard College Observatory kept multiple groups of letterbooks; however, Pickering's voluminous correspondence may have made it necessary to copy into two or more letterbooks manually. Several letterbooks are indexed by the name of the correspondent. Pickering's correspondence does not seem to be duplicated within the letterbooks. The bulk of Pickering's incoming correspondence is in the Incoming and outgoing correspondence files, 1854-1922. Scattered among the incoming correspondence files are a few of Pickering's outgoing letters. Some letters in the incoming correspondence series have margin notes with a letterbook and page number, referring to Pickering's response found in a letterbook. There are two other incoming and outgoing correspondence series: Correspondence from eminent astronomers, 1866-1910, and General correspondence files, 1875-1926.

History note on the Harvard College Observatory

The Harvard College Observatory was founded in 1839. Under the Observatory's first two directors, William Cranch Bond and his son, George Phillips Bond, the Observatory began an extensive study of the Orion Nebula and Saturn, discovering the eighth satellite of Saturn, Hyperion in 1848; and the dark inner ring of Saturn (the Crepe Ring) in 1850. Pioneers in astrophotography, the Bonds produced the first recognizable daguerreotype of the Moon and the star Vega in 1850; and the first photographic print of the Moon in 1857. Under the direction of Edward Pickering from 1877 to 1919, the Observatory became the world's foremost producer of stellar spectra and magnitudes, established an observing station in Peru, and applied mass-production techniques to the analysis of data. Harlow Shapley, director of the Observatory in the 1950s, expanded the scope of the Observatory's galactic research tracking minor planets and asteroids in the Solar System and increasing its telescopic power with the establishment of the Oak Ridge station, in Harvard, Massachusetts. In the 1960s and 1970s, Observatory directors Donald H. Menzel and Leo Goldberg maintained programs in solar and stellar astrophysics and space astronomy. In 1973, the Harvard College Observatory and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (founded in 1890) merged to form the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The Center is a research institute that carries on studies in astronomy, astrophysics, earth and space sciences, and science education.

Biographical note on Edward C. Pickering

Edward Charles Pickering (1846-1919), a physicist and astronomer, was the director of the Harvard College Observatory from 1876 to 1919, as well as Phillips Professor of Astronomy and Geodesy (1876-1887) and Paine Professor of Practical Astronomy (1887-1919). Under Pickering's leadership, the Harvard College Observatory created the world's largest programs in photometric, photographic, and spectroscopic stellar research. Pickering was an early proponent of astrophotography and supervised the assembly of an extensive library of photographic plates of stellar spectra, called the Henry Draper Memorial. Other principal achievements at the Harvard College Observatory under Pickering's directorship were the establishment of an observing station in Arequipa, Peru, to achieve worldwide coverage of the sky, and the employment of women including Annie Jump Cannon, Williamina Fleming, Antonia Maury, and Henrietta Swan Leavitt to carry out the Observatory's photographic and spectroscopic programs. Pickering married Elizabeth Wadsworth Sparks (1849-1906) on March 9, 1874, daughter of former Harvard College president Jared Sparks (1789-1866). They had no children.

Arrangement

Records are organized in four series:

  1. Outgoing correspondence files, 1875-1919
  2. _____Letterbooks, outgoing letters, Series A, 1875-1912
  3. _____Letterbooks, outgoing letters, Series B, 1877-1910
  4. _____Letterbooks, outgoing letters, Series C, 1880-1888
  5. _____Letterbooks, outgoing letters, Series D, 1877-1912
  6. _____Letterbooks, outgoing letters, Series E, letterbooks of William H. Pickering, 1887-1901
  7. _____Letterbooks, outgoing letters, 1897-1902
  8. _____Letterbooks, outgoing letters, 1911-1919
  9. Incoming and outgoing correspondence files, 1854-1922
  10. _____Correspondence, File I, 1854-1911
  11. __________Correspondence, File I, Group I, incoming, 1854-1900, bulk dates 1875-1899
  12. __________Correspondence, File I, Group II, incoming, 1868-1910, bulk 1876-1902
  13. __________Correspondence, File I, Group III, incoming and outgoing, 1896-1911, bulk dates 1903-1910
  14. _____Correspondence, File II, 1864-1922
  15. _________Correspondence, File II, Group I, incoming and outgoing, 1864-1921, bulk dates 1876-1910
  16. _________Correspondence, File II, Group II, incoming and outgoing, 1879-1922, bulk dates 1911-1921
  17. Correspondence from eminent astronomers, 1866-1910
  18. _____Letters from eminent American astronomers to Edward C. Pickering, 1866-1910
  19. _____Letters from eminent foreign astronomers to Edward C. Pickering, 1867-1910
  20. General correspondence files, 1875-1926
  21. _____Letters and observations, chiefly of variable stars, 1875-1891
  22. _____Correspondence regarding time signal service, 1876-1882
  23. _____Correspondence regarding the United States Naval Observatory, 1882-1902
  24. _____Correspondence relating to the Bruce Donation, 1890-1891
  25. _____Copies of cables and telegrams, outgoing, 1898-1916
  26. _____Translations of telegrams, incoming, 1898-1905
  27. _____Correspondence relating to meetings of the Astronomical and Astrophysical Society of America, 1898-1915
  28. _____Letterbook of Edward C. Pickering with letters, Henry Draper Memorial financial statements and payroll records, 1902-1926

Acquisition

The Records of the Harvard College Observatory Director Edward Charles Pickering were received by the Harvard University Archives before 1980.

Related Material

In the Harvard University Archives
  1. Harvard College Observatory astronomical notebook kept by Henrietta Swan Leavitt, 1912-1919 (inclusive) 1912-1916 (bulk) (UAV 630.412)
  2. Harvard University Archives Photograph Collection, approximately 1852-approximately 2004 (HUP) https://id.lib.harvard.edu/ead/hua04006/catalog
  3. Journal of Williamina Paton Fleming, 1900 Mar.1-Apr. 18: curator of astronomical photographs, Harvard College Observatory (HUA 900.11)
  4. Papers of Annie Jump Cannon, 1863-1978 (HUGFP 125) https://id.lib.harvard.edu/ead/hua12001/catalog
  5. Papers of Williamina Paton Fleming, 1905-1909 (HUG 1396)
  6. Papers of Edward Charles Pickering, 1847-1922, 1978 (HUG 1690)
  7. Records of the Harvard College Observatory kept by Willard Peabody Gerrish, 1887-1939 (UAV 630.25) https://id.lib.harvard.edu/ead/hua27019/catalog
  8. Records of Harvard College Observatory Director Joseph Winlock, 1862-1882 (UAV 630.10) https://id.lib.harvard.edu/ead/hua09018/catalog
  9. Records of the Harvard College Observatory Time Service, 1877-1896 and undated (UAV 630.377) https://id.lib.harvard.edu/ead/hua36018/catalog
In the Wolbach Library, Harvard University
  1. Harvard College Observatory observations, logs, instrument readings, and calculations, 1750-1900 (KG11365-6)
In the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Libraries, Department of Distinctive Collections
  1. Edward C. Pickering Papers, 1867-1922 (MC-0457)

References

  • Bailey, Solon I. The History and Work of Harvard Observatory, 1839 to 1927, An Outline of the Origin, Development, and Researchers of the Astronomical Observatory of Harvard College together with Brief Biographies of Its Leading Members. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1931.
  • Harvard College Observatory. Annals of the Astronomical Observatory of Harvard College. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Metcalf and Co., 1855.
  • Harvard University. "Chest of 1900", 1899-1900. HUA 900.xx, Harvard University Archives.
  • Jones, Bessie Zaban, and Lyle Gifford Boyd. The Harvard College Observatory: The First Four Directorships, 1839-1919. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.
  • Lafortune, Keith R. "Women at the Harvard College Observatory, 1877-1919: "Women's Work," The "New Sociality of Astronomy, and Scientific Labor." Thesis, Notre Dame, 2001.
  • Mack, Pamela Etter, "Women in Astronomy in the United States 1875-1920" (1977). Publications. 7. https://tigerprints.clemson.edu/history_pubs/7
  • Nisbett, Catherine Elaine. "Business Practice: The Rise of American Astrophysics, 1859-1919." PhD diss., Princeton University, 2007.

Inventory update

This document last updated 2023 April 04.

Processing Information

Records of the Harvard College Observatory Director Edward Charles Pickering processed in August 2018-April 2020 by Dominic P. Grandinetti. Processing included rehousing materials in the appropriate containers, the establishment of a series hierarchy, photocopying news clippings, and the creation of this finding aid.

Call numbers beyond the base call number were eliminated. Former call numbers are noted at the series level.

Original folder titles were retained. Dates were added to each folder when necessary. Any folder titles and dates supplied by the archivist appear in brackets.

The archivist attempted to retain and preserve the original arrangement and existing relationships of the documents as established by Edward Charles Pickering. Processing and arrangement details of each series are noted at the series level.

Online access

Letterbooks E2 through E4 in subseries Letterbooks, outgoing letters, Series E, letterbooks of William H. Pickering, 1887-1901 have been digitized and are available online.

Title
Harvard College Observatory. Records of the Harvard College Observatory Director Edward Charles Pickering, 1854-1926: an inventory
Description rules
dacs
Language of description
und
EAD ID
hua43018

Repository Details

Part of the Harvard University Archives Repository

Holding nearly four centuries of materials, the Harvard University Archives is the principal repository for the institutional records of Harvard University and the personal archives of Harvard faculty, as well as collections related to students, alumni, Harvard-affiliates and other associated topics. The collections document the intellectual, cultural, administrative and social life of Harvard and the influence of the University as it emerged across the globe.

Contact:
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