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Ernesto Vasconcellos´ Astronomia Photographica: the earliest popular book on astronomical photography?

Authors: Bonifácio, Vitor; Malaquias, Isabel; J. Fernandes

Ref.: Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage 11, 116-123 (2008)

Abstract: Portugal, albeit with its own cultural distinctiveness, was not immune to the ideologies permeating nineteenth-century European society, in particular those concerning the social advantages of science and science popularisation. The country´s high illiteracy rate hampered but did not prevent several popularisation efforts, which were usually led by professors and armed forces officers. In 1886 Astronomia Photographica (Astronomical Photography), a book popularising astrophotography, was published in Lisbon as part of a collection entitled People and Schools Library. The book seems an odd editorial choice given that, at the time, Portugal´s major astronomical institutions pursued astrometric research and there was a virtual absence in the country of amateur astronomers. International astronomical developments, the author´s interest in the scientific applications of photography and even the editorial timing are likely explanations for the publication of Astronomia Photographica, but we believe a definitive answer is still not available. The style of Astronomia Photographica is historical and informative, without being technical; clearly it is not a ‘hands-on guide’. The contents of the book show that the author, Ernesto Júlio de Carvalho e Vasconcellos, a naval officer, contacted several experts and was aware of the latest developments in astronomical photography. What makes this a unique book is its content, and its inclusion in a popularisation collection with an exceptionally high circulation at such an early time.

DOI: 2008JAHH...11..116B