Why do we remember some scientists while forgetting others who participated in the same knowledge-making process? Mount Wilson Observatory was founded in 1904 by George Ellery Hale near Pasadena in Southern California and is perhaps most famous for astronomer Edwin Hubble and his observations made with the 100-inch reflector telescope, which suggested that our universe is expanding. Moving away from the prominent astronomers, intellectual ideas, and telescopes at Mount Wilson Observatory, this article focuses on the work done by some of the forgotten participants such as human computers, who were mostly women, and telescope assistants, who were men, during the first two decades since its founding. By regarding Mount Wilson Observatory as a factory observatory that carried out specialty production, I narrate scientific knowledge-making from the perspectives of these workers by examining their labor and the products that came out of their labor. These highly skilled individuals carried out various tasks, yet the degree of their participation in scientific activities depended on the supervisor, gender, and geographical space. Efficiency was the primary driving factor in how astronomers delegated work at Mount Wilson Observatory, and gender facilitated the managerial practice of using geographical space to achieve efficiency. Such practice effectively created a glass ceiling only for women, and the gendered workspace may also have contributed toward an epistemic preference by astronomers for observation over computation.
Finding the Invisible Workers in Astronomy: The Case of Mount Wilson Observatory, 1900–1930
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Eun-Joo Ahn; Finding the Invisible Workers in Astronomy: The Case of Mount Wilson Observatory, 1900–1930. Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 1 November 2022; 52 (5): 555–588. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/hsns.2022.52.5.555
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