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Paper: Of Stars and Harlow Shapley
Volume: 501, Inspiration of Astronomical Phenomena VIII
Page: 187
Authors: Palmeri, J.
Abstract: For much of the twentieth century, the astronomer and longtime director of the Harvard College Observatory, Harlow Shapley (1885–1972), embodied the public face of astronomy. From the 1920s through the 1960s he introduced millions to the wonders of the night sky. His compelling vision of humanity's place in the universe and moving message about cosmic connections inspired many who had never looked through a telescope, visited a planetarium, or taken an astronomy class. He encouraged readers and audiences to learn more about astronomy and other sciences. Over the course of a long career, Shapley not only bolstered the image of astronomy, but also the role of the astronomer as a public intellectual and spokesperson for science. Shapley's early years on the newspaper beat honed his storytelling, and he then put these skills to use as a promoter and fundraiser for astronomy and science at Harvard. He used a variety of means to convey his message beyond the observatory, including radio talks, lectures, magazine articles, television appearances, and popular books. He also narrated an award-winning animated film based on one of his most widely read books, Of Stars and Men. Through words, voice, and visuals, Shapley offered the world an eloquent perspective on the cosmos and a timely message about the significance of science for society. In this paper I focus on how Shapley conveyed the meaning and value of astronomical inquiry, and I explore audience reception of the messages and images he used to popularize astronomy.
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