Article ID: CBB809913763

The mule on the Mount Wilson trail: George Ellery Hale, American scientific cosmology, and cosmologies of American science (2024)


This article explores the relation between two different modes of cosmology: the social and the scientific. Over the twentieth century, scientific understandings of the dimensions and operations of the physical universe changed dramatically, significantly prompted by astronomical and astrophysical research undertaken at the Mount Wilson Observatory in Pasadena, California. Could those understandings be readily translated into social theory? Studies across a range of disciplines have intimated that the scientific cosmos might be less essential to the worlds of meaning and belonging that people and communities compose around themselves than more local and relational models of an ordered whole. The article applies that proposition to the Mount Wilson Observatory itself, arguing that the observatory’s founder, George Ellery Hale, and his acolytes were deeply invested in practices of terrestrial place-making, the politics of belonging, and the cadences of civilizational time as applied to their city and its region. Moreover, they struggled to construct a philosophy integrating the cosmos they were seeking to fix at home with the contortions and careering trajectories of the universal whole.

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Authors & Contributors
Osterbrock, Donald E.
DeVorkin, David H.
Fraser, Gordon
Gao, Wen-jie
Kragh, Helge S.
Mainzer, Klaus
Journal for the History of Astronomy
Notes and Records: The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science
American Quarterly
Astrophysical Journal
History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Journal of Dialectics of Nature
Cambridge University Press
Oxford University Press
University of Arizona Press
University of Pennsylvania Press
University of California, Santa Barbara
Science and society
Research institutes; research stations
Hale, George Ellery
Shapley, Harlow
Bailey, Solon Irving
Bowen, Ira Sprague
Crew, Henry
Hawking, Stephen W.
Time Periods
20th century
19th century
20th century, early
21st century
20th century, late
United States
Pasadena (California)
Paris (France)
California (U.S.)
Utrecht (Netherlands)
Mount Wilson Observatory
California Institute of Technology
Carnegie Institution of Washington
Palomar Observatory
Observatoire de Paris

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