John Pipkin: Fellowship Recipient

John Pipkin: Fellowship Recipient


I’m working on my second novel which is called The Blind Astronomer’s Atlas and it is about the daughter of an astronomer in the 1790’s who goes blind and she decides to continue on his work looking for a new planet in the wake of William Herschel’s discovery of the planet Uranus in 1781. In using the archives for writing a novel, what I’ve really been looking for is more context than content. Working with manuscripts is wonderful for that. I’m working on the John Herschel family papers and actually I didn’t realize that they were here at the Ransom Center until earlier this year. I had expected that I would need to travel to London or to go to the British Museum to look at the Herschel papers. And we had come here to see the Edgar Allan Poe exhibit and saw the astronomical exhibit that was taking place right next door and that’s where I saw Caroline Herschel’s notebooks and realized all that material was right here at the Harry Ransom Center. One of the things that I was most excited by finding were these cards that were charts of calculations that William Herschel had put together to aid him in his observation. What I found most striking about these tables is not just the information, not just the numerical information that they contained, but the way that they are arranged. They were written by hand on pieces of paper about six or seven inches long by about three inches wide and then glued to cardboard and then they had a hole poked through the top and a little piece of string tied through that hole. And there were hundreds of these cards in the collection and so that creates a wonderful visual image of what his study or library or observatory must have looked like to have all these little cards hanging around him for quick reference while searching the skies for new objects. And again that’s something you just don’t get at a regular library or doing Internet research, that’s something you’re only going to get by going to an archive and actually looking at manuscripts and archival material.

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About the Author: Oren Garnes

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