Letters of Intent received in 2019

LoI 2021-2085
GA Focus Meeting: Progressing the UNESCO-IAU History and Heritage Initiative, With Emphasis on Asia

Date: 25 August 2021 to 26 August 2021
Location: Busan, Korea, Rep of
Contact: Wayne Orchiston (wayne.orchiston@gmail.com)
Coordinating division: Division C Education, Outreach and Heritage
Other divisions: Division C Education, Outreach and Heritage
Co-Chairs of SOC: Wayne Orchiston (NARIT & Uni Southern Queensland)
Gudrun Wolfschmidt (Hamburg University)
Chair of LOC: No LOC (None)



T1: The ‘Astronomy and World Heritage Initiative’: Achievements and Prospects (Keynote Paper: Gudrun Wolfschmidt)
T2: History and Heritage in the Asian Region (Keynote Paper: Wayne Orchiston)
T3: ‘Astronomical Heritage in Danger’: Political and Cultural Issues (Review Paper: Alejando Lopez)
T4: The ‘Portal to the Heritage of Astronomy’ (Review Paper: Clive Ruggles)
T5: ‘Windows to the Universe’: Preserving Dark Skies in the Asia-Oceania Region (Review Paper: John Hearnshaw)
T6: The Changing Pattern of Radio Astronomy in Asia: From Field Stations to International Facilities (Co-ordinator: Richard Schillizi)
T7: The Special Potential Asia Offers for Studying Ethnoastronomy and Intangible Heritage (Co-ordinator: Duane Hamacher)
T8: The Special Potential Asia Offers for Studying Archaeoastronomy and Cultural Astronomy (Co-ordinator: Steve Gullberg)
T9: Communicating Astronomical History and Heritage to the Public (Co-ordinator: Paul Bretones)



In the past 20 years we have seen a major change in the nature of the IAU from an inward-looking research-oriented group to one that now reaches out to the public through its Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD) and Office for Astronomy Outreach (OAO). But more than this, the ‘new IAU’ is now actively networking with UNESCO on a World Heritage initiative, and prior to the 2015 restructuring it was the ‘Astronomy and World Heritage’ WG (2009-2015) of Commission C41 (History of Astronomy) that led this project.

Following the Hawaiian GA, this WG emerged as a vibrant new Commission (C4: World Heritage and Astronomy) in its own right. C4 is active in promoting and preserving places with a relationship to astronomy and of “outstanding universal value”, which can be archaeological sites and classical or modern observatories. Commissions C4, and especially the WG2 (Windows to the Universe: Classical and Modern Observatories), and C3 (the rebadged C41) now combine to further history of astronomy research worldwide, but before any astronomical observatory can be nominated for World Heritage status, members of C4 must evaluate and recognize the importance of this specific heritage, in terms of enrichment of the history of humanity, the promotion of cultural diversity and the development of international exchanges. Members of C3 and C4 are also involved in researching fixed and non-fixed astronomical instruments. In addition C4 should share good practices in promoting and managing the World Heritage astronomical properties. C4 had a big success with the nomination of Antequera, Jodrell Bank and Gran Canaria this year. In the future we will recognize also the twentieth and twenty-first century heritage of astronomy—in the context of the new UNESCO thematic initiative “Heritage of Astronomy, Science and Technology:.

The UNESCO-IAU initiative also extends to sites of astronomical importance, so Commissions C3, C4 and C1 formed a WG (Archaeoastronomy and Cultural Astronomy) to identify, research and promote astronomical sites, and not just those of interest to UNESCO. India has made a major international contribution in this field through research on temples and stone alignments, and stones with astronomical inscriptions, but other parts of Asia—and especially mainland and island SE Asia—hold tremendous research potential.

Meanwhile, not all observatories and sites have the ‘Outstanding Universal Value’ required by UNESCO to warrant nomination for World Heritage status. This relates primarily to buildings. but sometimes these are missing entirely. Yet many of these buildings and sites were of international importance with regard to cutting-edge scientific research. As a result, C4 is developing an IAU ‘Outstanding Astronomical Heritage’ database. Linked to this is a C4 WG whose members identify and research those observatories and sites that are now in danger of survival, and explore ways to preserve them, where this is feasible.

UNESCO is also concerned with intangible heritage, and so C3, C4 and C1 formed a WG on Ethnoastronomy and Intangible Heritage to research the astronomical knowledge bases of indigenous societies while there are still elderly informants capable of passing on this information. Asia-Oceania is the stand-out region worldwide for such studies, with important research being carried out in India, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Philippines, Australia and New Zealand. The South Chinese ethnic minorities found in NE India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam offer a unique field laboratory in which to study and track changes in astronomical systems through time and space, while research on the Andaman-Nicobar Islands and in Southern Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines may allow us to document the earliest Homo sapiens sapiens astronomical systems found in Asia.

Other IAU members are now involved in identifying and gazetting radio-quiet zones and dark skies reserves that will allow future cutting-edge radio and optical astronomy. This is primarily about preserving our astronomical environment, but the astro-tourism potential of the dark sky reserves was quickly recognized. In radio astronomy, China is now host to FAST, the largest single-dish radio telescope in the world, which is located in a mountainous radio-quite zone. This reminds us that New Zealand and Australia were among the nations that led the way in the immediate post-WWII emergence of radio astronomy when radio-quiet zones were not even dreamed of. By the late 1940s Australia had achieved world-supremacy, but Japan, and later India and China, soon also began research in radio astronomy. Now, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia are also developing radio astronomy programs, and it is illuminating to track the changes throughout Asia from the early field station era in the 1945‒1965 period to the major international facilities of today. Such research is being conducted by members of the Historic Radio Astronomy WG, which is a joint WG of C3, B4 (Radio Astronomy) and URSI (the International Radio Science Union).

As the foregoing review foreshadows, this Focus Meeting brings together for the first time all of these disparate threads and weaves them into a single coherent program that shows, through various case studies, how the Greater Asian Region has contributed enormously to international scholarship and how it holds unique potential for future research in astronomical history and heritage. Currently, this potential is being tapped mainly by members of IAU Commissions C3 and C4 and their international non-IAU collaborators, and the UNESCO-IAU Initiative together with activities of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) are the catalysts that encourage or inspire much of this research. It is particularly fitting that a wide-ranging Focus Meeting like this one, with its strong Asian focus, should be part of an IAU GA that is hosted by an Asian nation.