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African Cultural Astronomy November 6, 2010

Posted by ASTRO Section Chair in : Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASTRO), History, Policy and Education (HPE) , trackback Bookmark and Share

by Dr. Jarita C. Holbrook

It has finally started to rain in Mafikeng, South Africa. I was here teaching a class on African Indigenous Astronomy to undergraduate students at North West University. My host is Dr. R. Thebe Medupe who is the Chair of the Department of Physics and Electronics. The class included a series of assignments designed to explore Indigenous Astronomy, the tension between astronomy and indigenous astronomy, the geography of Africa, and astronomy. The final assignment was a constellation identification quiz. Using a green laser pointer, each student has to correctly identify ten things in the night sky. However, not all of my students have been able to arrange to be on campus at night to take the quiz. Now it is raining….Class management environments such as D2L and Moodle are great for automating quizzes, homework assignments, etc. The North West University equivalent is Efundi. I am thinking of using Stellarium and other star charts to design an online constellation identification exercise instead of the quiz. I spoke to two students about it, and they are in favor. I will start working on Friday morning.

Next year is the 6th Science Center World Conference that will take place in Cape Town, September 4 – 8, 2011. Two weeks ago Mike Simmons of Astronomers without Borders www.astronomerswithoutborders.org contacted me about helping to create a session focused on Cultural Astronomy. He had just read the latest Communicating Astronomy to the Public Journal Issue which I edited (www.CAPjournal.org). The issue focuses on International Year of Astronomy 2009 activities that included a cultural astronomy component. Mike wanted to build on that idea for the conference panel. Working with Mike and Chris Phillips of the Imiloa Science Center in Hilo, Hawaii, we finally settled on a unifying panel theme for the conference: Indigenous Astronomy and the Public. I have to write the description for our submission. We will have speakers talking about the Indigenous Astronomy of Hawaii, Iran, and South Africa! However, they all haven’t said “Yes”, yet.

I just had a two hour Skype session with the host of Chapter, Verse, & Volume, Heru-Ka Anu. He is doing a review of “African Cultural Astronomy”. The volume came out this week in paperback…but it is the same price as the hardcover! In the interview which he will edit down to one hour, we talked about the text, African American astrophysicists, thinking like a scientist, Benjamin Banneker, and the disenchantment of the night sky in Africa. I’m not sure what will be in the final, but it will air this Sunday at 8 pm EST. www.blogtalkradio.com/herukaanu.

I am writing a short paper on African Cosmology this weekend. Next week Astronaut Hoffman is visiting Pretoria and I am going to be there along with NSBP’s Charles McGruder.

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