New Book on Sundials in People's Daily Lives

Sara J. Schechner's picture

Time of Our Lives

Sundials of the Adler Planetarium

Sara J. Schechner

Published by the Adler Planetarium, with the support of the North American Sundial Society

 

The Adler Planetarium of Chicago has the best and most comprehensive collection of sundials and time-finding instruments in North America.  Now many of these objects can be yours to explore.  This volume encompasses a dazzling array of sundials, 268 in all, that date from the 15th to 20th centuries.

What makes this catalogue special is that it is written to engage non-specialists approaching sundials for the first time.  Although the organizational logic is astronomical and mathematical, the primary Interpretive essays set the sundials into cultural and social context.

 

The catalogue divides sundials into classes according to the element of the Sun’s apparent motion that they track (e.g. hour-angle, altitude, azimuth, or a combination) and the orientation of the surfaces on which the hour lines are mathematically drawn.  Within each chapter, the instruments are organized chronologically and by workshop, thereby giving readers insight into that type’s development over time and differences among makers.  Technical object descriptions are supplemented by tables of divisions, gazetteers, saints’ days, weather forecasts, and in the case of polyhedral dials, the dial types, orientations, and hour systems drawn on every face.  The tables offer a snapshot of the precision to which the maker aimed and the sundial’s complexity.  Color photographs of each sundial show its overall appearance and details.

Chapter introductions go beyond mathematical descriptions of how each type works.  Drawing upon research findings presented here for the first time, the essays offer insights into early production techniques, fads and fashions, social hierarchy among users, the impact of church and civil authorities, and the history of the sundial classes. 

Throughout the ages, people’s sense of time has been influenced by their culture, politics, religion, labor, society, and geography.  This catalogue offers concrete evidence, for every sundial in it embodies the time-related needs and values of its maker and users. 

The catalogue includes a taxonomy of compass needles, glossary, bibliography, and index.  It is hardcover, 488 pages, 9.75” x 11”.  $40.

It can be purchased directly from the Adler Planetarium here.

Sara J. Schechner is the David P. Wheatland Curator of the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments, Harvard University.  She served as Secretary of the North American Sundial Society.