MAS March Monthly Meeting

Teaching Astronomy and Nineteenth-century American Catholic Higher Education – a talk by Dana Freiburger

Dana Freiburger

Pretend it is 1815 and you are a student at Georgetown College in Washington, D.C., could you, with the aid of a terrestrial globe, determine the latitude and longitude of Washington City? Or maybe the more taxing problem to find the time of the sun’s rising and setting, and the length of the day and night at any place? These and over a hundred other problems awaited you in an 1812 book on the use of the globes and practical astronomy employed at this Jesuit college founded in 1789. Written by the Irish-born Jesuit James Wallace, this volume is one example of how the sciences like astronomy enjoyed a confirmed place in American Catholic colleges in the nineteenth century. My talk will explore this and two other later historical episodes to show how astronomy figured into Catholic higher education for students and their teachers alike.

Dana A. Freiburger, Doctoral CandidateHistory of Science Program, UW-MadisonDana holds broad interests in histories of science and technology in the United States and Japan over the last two hundred years.

He received a B.S. in Computer Science in 1979 and enjoyed a career in the computer industry until smitten by history of science. Dana escaped Silicon Valley and went on to earn masters degrees in history of science from the University of Oxford in 1999 and the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2002 where he now works to finish his dissertation on the place of science in nineteenth-century American Catholic higher education; his talk today draws from that ongoing project.

The March meeting will be a virtual event, hosted with Zoom. Members will receive an email with a link and instructions to join a day or two before the event. Again this month we are opening the virtual meeting up to our web followers who may want to join in. If you would like to attend the MAS virtual meeting, send an email to by noon Friday, March 12 to let us know of your interest. We will email you the Zoom link at 3pm that day which will get you into the meeting by 7:30 on Friday evening.