Owen Gingerich

Professor Emeritus of Astronomy and History of Science

gingerichOwen Gingerich is Professor Emeritus of Astronomy and of the History of Science at Harvard University and a senior astronomer emeritus at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.  In 1992-93 he chaired Harvard's History of Science Department.

Professor Gingerich's research interests have ranged from the recomputation of an ancient Babylonian mathematical table to the interpretation of stellar spectra.  He is co-author of two successive standard models for the solar atmosphere, the first to take into account rocket and satellite observations of the sun; the second of these papers has received over 700 literature citations.

I n the past decades Professor Gingerich has become a leading authority on the 17th- century German astronomer Johannes Kepler and on Nicholas Copernicus, the 16th- century cosmologist who proposed the heliocentric system.  The Harvard-Smithsonian astronomer undertook a three-decade-long personal survey of Copernicus' great book De revolutionibus, examining over 580 sixteenth-century copies in libraries scattered throughout Europe and North America, as well as those in China, Japan, and Australia.  His annotated census of these books was published in 2002 as a 434-page monograph.  In recognition of these studies he was awarded the Polish government's Order of Merit in 1981, and subsequently an asteroid was named in his honor.  An account of his Copernican adventures, The Book Nobody Read, is in fourteen foreign editions.

Professor Gingerich has been vice president of the American Philosophical Society (America's oldest scientific academy) and he has served as chairman of the US National Committee of the International Astronomical Union.  He has been a councilor of the American Astronomical Society, and he helped organize its Historical Astronomy Division. In 2000 he won the Division’s Doggett Prize for his contributions to the history of astronomy.  The AAS awarded him their Education Prize for 2004.  He has also won the most prestigious award of the French Astronomical Society, their Prix Janssen 2006.

For some years he served as consultant to the eminent designer Charles Eames.  He has given the George Darwin Lecture (the leading lecture of the Royal Astronomical Society).  A world traveler, he has successfully observed fourteen total solar eclipses.  In 1999 he delivered an Advent sermon at the National Cathedral, and Harvard University Press has published the 2005 William Belden Noble Lectures, God’s Universe, given at Harvard’s Memorial Church.

Besides 200 technical or research articles and 300 reviews, Professor Gingerich has written more than 250 educational, encyclopedia or popular articles.  Two anthologies of his essays have appeared, The Great Copernicus Chase and Other Adventures in Astronomical History from Cambridge University Press, and The Eye of Heaven: Ptolemy, Copernicus, Kepler.  At Harvard he taught "The Astronomical Perspective," a core science course for non-scientists, which at the time of his retirement in 2000 was “the longest-running course under the same management” at Harvard.  In 1984 he was one of the first to win the Harvard-Radcliffe Phi Beta Kappa prize for excellence in teaching. 

February 2010




Professor Owen Gingerich web site


The Eye of Heaven