History of astronomy: 1-year postdoc position

DISHAS is inviting applications for a

1-year post-doctoral position in the history of astronomy

  • The position is expected to start on October 1, 2021 or as soon as possible thereafter
  • Applications no later than May 31, 2021.
  • Result will be published on June 30, 2021.

In the astral sciences, texts and genres of text, diagrams, table formats, models and parameters, at least from the eighth century onward, have a shared history in Eurasia and Northern Africa for sources found in Arabic, Persian, Hebrew, Latin, Sanskrit and Chinese corpora. In order to improve the understanding of the interactions and influences between the different astronomical traditions, a sufficiently large and encompassing corpus must therefore be constituted; similarly, tools and methods capable of analysing this great variety of sources must be implemented. Digital humanities transform the availability of historical sources gradually, along with the means to analyse, edit, and relate them. DISHAS (Digital Information System for the History of Astral Sciences) is an international enterprise that addresses these changes in the field of the history of the astral sciences.
After a successful pilot platform for treatment of tables, DISHAS is now opening a new
facet. Diagrams, and more broadly the visual dimensions of astronomical sources, is going to be the next area in which DISHAS develops new tools over the next four years.
DISHAS/diagrams benefits from the lively and ongoing scholarly discussions around
visualisation in the history of science. Its originality and contribution in this context rely on two correlated decisions: its focus on manuscript sources and its aim to design collaborative digital tools for the edition and analysis of diagrams found in those sources. Relying on approaches from the history of astronomy and digital humanities DISHAS/diagrams will build tools to assess the documentary and epistemic aspects of diagrams in the astral sciences. Artificial Intelligence based tools will be central in this enterprise to harvest, explore and analyse diagrams corpuses.

Based at Paris Observatory (77 avenue Denfert Rocherau, Paris) in the History of
Astronomical Sciences team of SYRTE (UMR 8630) the candidate will work within the
DISHAS project in a post-doctoral position for a period of 12 months, expected to start
October 1 st , 2021 or as soon as possible thereafter. This position will be administered at the ENS in the Department of Mathematics and its Applications (DMA) and funded by the French government under the direction of the National Research Agency in the framework of the program “Investissements d’avenir” , reference ANR19-P3IA-0001 (Institut PRAIRIE 3IA).

The successful candidate will work as part of the local research and engineering team -main office Paris Observatory (77 avenue Denfert Rocherau, Paris), visiting office Research center in data science of the ENS (45 rue d’Ulm, Paris). Under the supervision of Matthieu Husson (PSL-Observatoire de Paris), Gabriel Peyré (PSL-ENS), Léa Saint Raymond (PSL-ENS) and Samuel Gessner (University ULisboa-CIUHCT, Lisboa), he/she will spend most of his/her working time on his/her research project in the context of this collective, international project. He/she is expected to participate in the publications of the project and will be encouraged to take part in the conception of scientific events relevant to his/her research (workshops and seminars). In particular, he/she will take an active part in the organisation of the DHAI seminar and Intensive Course fostering the interaction of Digital Humanities and Artificial Intelligence communities. He/she will have also dedicated research funds.
In line with DISHAS/diagrams objectives the candidate research project should enhance
our understanding of the roles of diagrams in astronomy including relation to theory and tables, their production and diffusion patterns. The candidate can focus on sources in Arabic, Greek, Sanskrit, Latin or Chinese. Different approaches are possible to achieve this aim. They rely on arange of competences and we thus encourage candidates with different skills and training background to apply. For this call, we seek candidates willing to engage with the following topics:
The documentary aspects of diagrams encompass issues related to:

  • Contexts and means of diagram production (Who is involved in the diagram production? What is the temporality of this production? What are the material andintellectual tools and resources used to produce the diagram)
  • Diagrams structure as written artefacts (representation conventions, labels) and their formal relation with texts, tables, and the organisation of the manuscript of which they are part.
  • Diagrams circulation (on local, regional and global scales, potential alterations, context displacement in these circulations?).

Overall, this set of issues concerns diagrams as a scientific heritage.

The epistemic aspects of diagrams encompass issues related to

  • Different types of diagrams (static or dynamic diagrams, diagrams of instruments, diagrams of models, mathematical diagrams, flowchart and computational diagrams,dichotomic tree diagrams)
  • Different astronomical and mathematical topics with which they are concerned (not all astronomical topics relied on diagrams in the same ways, identifying those topics treated through these means and their evolution is important)
  • Different roles for these diagrams (grounding table values, explaining table uses,representing a celestial configuration, representing geometrical/cosmological model,allowing for measures, allowing for computations)

Overall, this set of issues concerns the ways diagrams are used as a resource by historical
actors to foster astral sciences.

Focusing on these kinds of issues in the context of specific case studies that will also address issues of corpus delimitation and the format of digital critical editions able to highlight appropriate clues in the sources, the research project will contribute to the definition of DISHAS/diagrams data structure and related digital tools. While preparing their application, candidates are encouraged to contact to Matthieu Husson (matthieu.husson@obspm.fr) and Samuel Gessner (samuel.gessner@gmail.com) to discuss the shape of their proposed project.

To qualify for the position, candidates are required to have completed their PhD in either
history of sciences, medieval history or scientific disciplines such as astronomy and exact
sciences. Acquired competences in philology, codicology, palaeography, history of astronomy and history of mathematics will be appreciated. The will to learn about, work with and contribute to the development of digital humanities (DH) tools (in particular AI applied to manuscript studies) is a central point. A reasonable command of spoken and written English is important in this international project.

Applications shall include: a short CV (2 p. max), contact information for two possible
reference persons (name, institution, email contact), a short research proposal (3 p. max), a sample of academic work (e.g. thesis and/or a recent paper). Applications should be sent
through the job offers gateway of CNRS (https://emploi.cnrs.fr/Offres/CDD/UMR8553-
GABPEY-008/Default.aspx). The deadline for application is May 31, 2021.
Review of applications will start on June 1, 2021 and the result will be published on June 30, 2021.