Social Astronomy and Intentional Inaccuracy

Can you spot the Moon in this photo? Photo (cc) Andréia.

One of the reas­ons I’m put­ting up more stuff recently is that it’s a spin-off from pol­ish­ing the thesis. Reasonable ques­tions would be: What do is Social Astronomy? and Why is that Archaeoastronomy and not History of Astronomy? The answers to both ques­tions are connected.

Social Astronomy is the study of astro­nomy as used for social pur­poses. This fits very neatly with Archaeoastronomy which these days tends also to be referred to as Cultural Astronomy. In con­trast History of Astronomy, espe­cially in the ancient world, has ten­ded to be the story of how Astronomy in its mod­ern sense grew from ancient prac­tices. An example of very good History of Astronomy in an ancient con­text would be James Evans’s book The History and Practice of Ancient Astronomy. It’s a very good book cov­er­ing the math­em­at­ical basis ancient astro­nomy and how people got pro­gress­ively more accur­ate at pre­dict­ing the move­ment of the plan­ets. I think that’s going to be a defin­ing work on ancient astro­nomy for a gen­er­a­tion, but there’s still things it misses. The quest for accur­acy is the under­ly­ing nar­rat­ive of a lot of ancient astro­nomy books. It misses the factor that people, espe­cially the ancient Greeks, might have also wanted and aimed for inac­cur­ate astro­nomy. That is an odd claim, after all isn’t astro­nomy a sci­ence?
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