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2020 Abstracts

Astrolabes and their Interpretive Challenges

Brock, Olivia (Utah State University)

Faculty Advisor: Sand, Alexa (Caine College of the Arts, Art and Design Department)

Astrolabes are astronomical computational instruments that developed in the Arabic-speaking world of the early Middle Ages. As both scientifically sophisticated and aesthetically beautiful objects, the astrolabe presents many interpretive questions regarding how historians of visual and material culture understand objects that exist across disciplines. My project seeks to understand how these historians have defined the astrolabe as an art historical and scientific object. Using a variety of methods, from examining the objects in a museum setting to experimenting with my own, homemade astrolabe, I have gained an understanding of the different identities of astrolabes. However, I found that these preconceived identities assigned to astrolabes has limited our understanding of the objects and thus controlled our subsequent research. Following this observation, I geared my research towards first, understanding the gap in knowledge that exists regarding the astrolabe’s complex identity, and second, working to fill this gap by creating a piece of literature that captures the astrolabe from all of its perspectives. My goal through this paper is to develop and portray a concept of the astrolabe as an artistic, astrological, religious, and scientific object, and interpret how all of these identities interact with each other to create an unusually specific and complex object. I hope that through the dissemination of my work I will be able to help scientists connect to art and artists connect to science through an object equally valuable to the history and development of both fields.