POSITION : A 1 year Post Doctoral Researcher in History of Ancient and Medieval Mathematical Astronomy

History of ancient and medieval mathematical astronomy: A 1-year post doc position within the PSL research project TAMAS-Tables Analysis Methods for the History of Astral Sciences

Deadline: September 30, 2016
Notification: November, 1, 2016
Starting dates: between January 1 and June 1, 2017
Observatoire de Paris, SYRTE, Equipe d’histoire.

The postdoctoral researcher will participate in TAMAS a PSL research project that pursues new standards in the edition and analysis of ancient and medieval astronomical tables.

For centuries across Eurasia, astronomical tables were constructed, compiled and copied to meet a wide range of religious, ritualistic and political needs, to make calendars, to predict the future astrologically, and to understand the natural world. Such tables circulated among cultures and were appropriated and transformed by a great diversity of actors. Thus, the numerical data conveyed in these tables provide rich evidence for exchange and ancient scientific practices. For example, from tabular data, we can recover how complex massive numerical computations were handled in the ancient world. Tables also reveal how astral phenomena were modelled and how reasoning and prediction were shaped. As written documents of a special type, falling between computation per se and data storage, astronomical tables expose epistemic writing practices in their layout and their combination into “sets” of tables. Created by complex computation with often-interlinked algorithms, circulating tables generally were adapted to new contexts and purposes rather than recomputed from scratch. Thus in addition to their individual contents, astronomical tables viewed more generally can provide unmatched sources for studying the transmission of computational know-how, writing technologies and layouts, theoretical models, and numerical parameters. With enhanced digital editorial and analytical tools, scholars will be able to chart previously unrecognized paths of circulation, to learn how large collections of tables were shaped, and to track the spread and appropriation of particular computational practices.

A central goal of TAMAS is to bring together emerging and more senior scholars. By working together through carefully selected case studies, such collaboration encourages both the transmission of tacit know-how generally not found in scholarly publications as well as the critical reappraisal of the traditional and fundamental research questions in the discipline.

The project focuses on two sets of questions:
  • What type of database should we design in order to “edit” sources in the ancient astral sciences in the context of the digital humanities? How can a single tool handle diverse tabular layouts, different types of numbers, different kinds of errors and variants between copies, as well as the variety of publishing options in paper and digital formats?
  • What kinds of tools should we create to explore materials within this database and to analyse these sources? How can we employ modern computational power with the necessary attention to the historical computation practices of the actors? How can we describe the algorithms presented in texts and their eventual effective uses in computing tables?

These two groups of questions are obviously closely related and need to be treated together in order to guarantee the compatibility of the analytical tools with the database on which they should operate. For the first group of questions we intend to produce innovative table- and parameter-databases and to develop new ways to publish our research in conjunction with well-established journals in the field such as the Journal for the History of Astronomy and SCIAMVS. For the second set of questions we will create shared, historically based computation routines allowing us to explore in new ways the numerical content of astronomical tables. These efforts will be based on original, individual cases studies from specific sources by each participant in the project. These studies will be published as a book that will be the first exploration, of this breadth, of these methodological issues.

TAMAS is based at the Observatoire de Paris (France) and is bringing together 14 scholars from 9 nations on 4 continents. It cover sources in the major languages of ancient science: cuneiform, Greek, Arabic, Latin, Sankrit and Chinese. Based in Paris the postdoctoral researcher will actively participate in the design of TAMAS digital tools with the two IT specialists associated with the project based in the Observatory. The successful candidate will also have the opportunity to contribute to the collective book. She/he will cooperate closely with Dr Matthieu Husson (project PI) and be expected to take an active part in the collective events of the project over the course of the year.

Applicants should propose a research project addressing a specific set of ancient or medieval astronomical tables. They must show how this specific set of astronomical tables presents challenges which will help shape the design of various TAMAS digital tools and offer methodological reflections in original and pertinent ways.

  • A PhD in the history of ancient and medieval sciences, preferably closely connected to the history of Astronomy or a manuscript submitted to the PhD committee.
  • Knowledge of the ancient(s) language(s) related to the sources addressed in the proposed research project are required.
  • Good writing and communication skills in English are required.
  • A demonstrated capacity for creative and independent research.
  • The ability and willingness to work as a member of an international research team.
  • Demonstrated experience in the domain of Digital Humanities would be an advantage.
  • Demonstrated experience in publishing in peer reviewed journals is also an asset.

We offer a one year post-doctoral position. The proposed salary is according to the Paris Observatory regulation around 2400 euros gross per month on a full time basis. Contract will start at the soonest on January 1, 2017 and at the latest on June, 1 2017.

How to apply:

Applications are to be sent by the September 30, 2016 deadline as a pdf attachment by email to Matthieu Husson (matthieu.husson@obspm.fr). Applications must include the following:
  1. Curriculum Vitae (max 2 pages)
  2. Research track records: publications, invited lectures… (max 2 pages)
  3. Research project (max 3000 words)
  4. Pdf-copy of the doctoral dissertation
  5. Certified copies of the relevant diplomas
  6. Contact details of two referee (name, institutional affiliation and email address) or two letters of reference
Evaluation process

Each application will be reviewed by one of the referees proposed by the applicant and a referee external to the TAMAS project. Based on this, a selection committee from the TAMAS project will establish a ranking of three candidates. The result will be communicated to the applicant by November, 1 2016.

Additional information

Applicant are encouraged to consider additional information on the project at tamas.hypotheses.org. They can also contact the project PI Matthieu Husson (matthieu.husson@obspm.fr).