Posters in astronomy

There are types of artefacts from various epochs that each are sites worthy of exploration by the historian interested in the visual culture of astronomy; CCD shots by amateur astronomers of today, 14 inch glass plates exposed in 1950′s 1 m-class Schmidt telescopes, cinematography of protuberances and other solar phenomena first shot on 35 mm film then on video, engravings in large format in 18th century star atlases, 19th century photography such as the Carte du Ciel-plates, drawings of nebulae by the Herschels and their contemporaries: these are only a handful of the categories that are kind of obvious and have been discussed by historians of astronomy; much work still remain to be done on each of them.

But what about some types of pictures that might be not so obvious but that make up quite significant parts of the image-worlds of astronomers (both professional and amateurs)? What about posters?

When I became interested in astronomy as a young boy (I was born in 1967), I entered a culture with images that were food for thought and dreams, images in books, magazines and Viewmaster discs. There were colourful posters of Apollo rocket hardware and the moon on the walls of my boyhood room. As I moved through the educational system, astronomical posters were present: in gymnasium and at the university departments, observatories and planetaria I visited, studied or worked at.

Some of these posters are placed in educational contexts, but some were perhaps rather put there by astronomers for themselves, a bit like the small collections of old instruments often found on display in university departments (as trophies, like the old cannons you find outside of military installations, a metaphor used by Mats Fridlund long ago). Sky Publishing was only one of several firms supplying these kinds of large-scale images to professional and amateur astronomers, often on-sale at planetarium and museum shops and in ads in Sky and telescope.

I suspect that the astronomical wall poster has a history that is kind of interesting. There must be some literature on the subject. We’ll see what I find.

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