Bigger Eyes in a Wider Universe: The American Understanding of Earth in Outer Space, 1893-1941.



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Between 1893 and 1941, the understanding of the Milky Way galaxy within the American culture changed from a sphere to a spiral and Earth's location within it changed from the center to the periphery. These changes were based primarily upon scientific theories developed at Mount Wilson Observatory near Pasadena, California. This dissertation is an "astrosophy" that traces the history of changing depictions of the Milky Way in selected published sources and identifies key individuals, theories and technologies involved. It also demonstrates why the accepted depictions of the universe envisioned at Mount Wilson were cultural-scientific products created, in part, as the result of place. Southern California became the hearth of a culture that justified its superiority based upon its unique climate. Clear skies, remarkable visibility, and a perceived existence of intense natural light became the basis for the promotion of Mount Wilson as the premier location for astronomical observations. Conservation, en plein air paintings, and the concept of paysage moralis are Southern Californian cultural products of the early 1900s that promoted an idealized society capable of exceptional intellectual endeavors and scientific accomplishments. The efforts of astronomers Hale, Shapley, Adams, Hubble and Ritchey resulted in the changing American understanding of the universe. This dissertation reveals how the diverse social interactions of these astronomers intersected Arroyo Seco meetings, women's organizations, the Valley Hunt Club elites, and philanthropic groups that comprised the schizophrenic culture of Pasadena. Their astronomical theories are compared to other aspects of the Southern Californian culture revealed in the writings of Raymond Chandler, Nathanael West and John Fante. The desire of astronomers to gain prestige from their discoveries is compared to competition in the creative processes of Hollywood. The theories created by astronomers and the films of the motion picture industry relied upon establishing an accepted second space within the minds of their audiences. By the end of the study period, the universe accepted by most Americans was a "California Universe". It was not a discovery of pure science, but rather a culturalscientific product of the Mount Wilson astronomers, the Pasadena community and the landscape and culture of Southern California.