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Academic Bulletin Freshman Tutorials - 2009-10 - 9 FT 9

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FT 09-N Ancient Astronomers: The Mythological World Views of the Old World and the New

Mythology and cosmology are deeply compelling subjects. When I set up one of the college telescopes on the mall, it draws students like moths to a flame. Even with modern Sci-Fi films and jaw-dropping special effects, nothing beats the real thing. When one of my students sees the moons of Jupiter or Saturn’s rings for the first time through a telescope, it inevitably elicits a conversation about the nature of the universe and humanity’s place within it.
Through our readings and our hands-on work with college telescopes, our Freshman Tutorial, “Ancient Astronomers and Mythologies,” will reenact the moments when our oldest ancestors looked up at the night sky and saw, not just points of light in the dark, but a portal or threshold for understanding the most basic questions of human existence. We’ll study their cosmologies (and what we now, perhaps too easily, call mythologies) and discover that they point in two very different directions. On the one hand, our modern understanding of the universe is rooted in texts, monuments and artifacts left by these ancient astronomers. But these same artifacts also point toward deeply religious and existential questions. Our course explores this fundamental tension between our modern scientific understanding of the universe and the religious/mythological world-views of pre-Colombian America and Iron Age Europe.
In addition to astronomical observation sessions here on campus and at Shades State Park, we’ll read and discuss selections from the following books:
Bauer, Brian and David Dearborn. Astronomy and Empire in the Ancient Andes, University of Texas Press, Austin (1995).
Cobo, Bernabe. Inca Religion and Customs, translated by Roland Hamilton, University of Texas Press, Austin 1990 (1657).
Urton, Gary. At the Crossroads of Earth and Sky, University of Texas Press (1988).
Hetherington, Norris. Cosmology—Historical, Literary, Philosophical, Religious and Scientific Perspectives, Routledge, (1993).
Evans, James. The History and Practice of Ancient Astronomy, Oxford University Press (1998).

Rogers, V. Daniel
Credits: 1