Published online by Cambridge University Press: 07 November 2013
To those not engaged in the practice of scientific research, or telling the story of this enterprise, the image of empirical observation may conjure up images of boredom more than anything else. Yet surprisingly, the profoundly uninteresting nature of research to many science workers and readers in history has received little attention. This paper seeks to examine one moment of encroaching boredom: nineteenth-century positional astronomy as practised at leading observatories. Though possibly a coincidence, this new form of astronomical observation arose only a few decades before the English term ‘boredom’, for which the Oxford English Dictionary has no record prior to 1850. Through examining forms of observatory labour and publications, I offer in this paper an example of how boring work and reading helped shape a scientific discipline.
1 Walter Raleigh, Style, London: Edward Arnold, 1897, p. 59.
2 The Simpsons, episode 2F11, original airdate 5 February 1995.
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12 Nineteenth-century commentators had many names for these activities, including positional, computational, observational or pure astronomy, but all referred to the practice of creating accurate ephemerides.
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88 Arago, op. cit. (85), p. xii.
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