The Kepler Manuscript and its Contexts

Kepler portrait

The Kepler Manuscript and its Contexts
McHenry Library
University of California, Santa Cruz
Summer 1999

In December 1998, Anthony Misch, a Lick Observatory astronomer, was searching in the Lick Archives for documents on solar eclipse expeditions when he noticed a manuscript leaf "between two dusty pieces of glass held in a simple wooden frame." Fortunately Tony could read German and recognize and decipher old script. His eyes were caught by the date "Anno 1586" and a phrase "von Kepler Hand." And Tony's uncle, the eminent antiquarian, Bernard Rosenthal, let us send a copy to Klaus Mecklenburg, of the Berlin firm of J. A Stargardt, for swift authentication. We soon learned that Tony had indeed found a horoscope by Johannes Kepler, one of the fathers of modern astronomy. The discovery was covered by television, radio, newspapers, and journals, in a dozen languages, including Portuguese, Polish and Hungarian. The manuscript's importance was magnified by its dissemination on the internet. The UCSC press- release on the web included a high-resolution image of both sides of the leaf, widely reprinted by the press and closely scrutinized at home work-stations. Raul Saavedra, a Tulane computer scientist at Tulane analyzed the text and "published" his findings, on the web of course. Carolyn Reynolds, professional astrologer, interpreted the horoscope of Kepler's subject, an Austrian nobleman named Hans Hannibal Hutter von Huttershoffen, and speculated on his fate.

The exhibit celebrated the rediscovery and global distribution of one of the University Library's most important treasures. Several "contexts" were revealed and explored. The meaning of the manuscript, in the two upright cases, displayed large copies of the manuscript, described its importance, traced its provenance, and interpreted its contents. Two cases of items from the Shane Archive showed respectively: the context of the discovery in a drawer of framed pictures; and the labor-intensive creation of descriptive records necessary to organize an archive and make its contents visible. The manuscript in the media displayed over 50 articles about the discovery. A web station was bookmarked to show many related sites: the online Currents piece; the Raul Saavedra interpretation; and the Online Archive of California, to which the Shane Archive database will be added. The other four cases showed other contexts: astrology as protoscience looked at the pivotal period when great astronomers like Kepler were casting horoscopes; astrology in academia used a sampler from the University Library to reflect on a wide variety of scholarly approaches to the topic; the art of astrology showed the stars and planets in the visual imagery of the Renaissance; and astrology in Renaissance literature showed "starry" literary references, including sonnets and plays of Kepler's English contemporary, Shakespeare

Acknowledgements: The exhibit reflected the collaboration of several contributors: Tony Misch, the hero of the story, was a marvelous consultant, enthusiastically sharing ideas, contacting such scholars as Owen Gingerich for complementary information and artifacts, and allowing us to adapt his his own vivid published account of the discovery and its meaning as the main themes of the exhibit; Richard Wohlfeiler donated hours of graphic and technical expertise in the brilliant design and production of posters, case labels, and other scanned images, some with assistance from Christine Bunting and Christy Caldwell; Barbara McKenna kindly loaned us the clipping file which stemmed from her own vivid account of the discovery; Dorothy Schaumberg, curator of the Shane archive, scoured its contents for related material and created the display on archival record creation; Special Collections staff patiently retrieved other related treasures as their relevance was discovered; Irene Reti tirelessly helped with the captions and installation; and Arjuna Perry, Wendy Lees, and other members of the exhibit committee gave their usual support.

Bibliography on the Kepler Manuscript and its Contexts

Selected books on History of Astrology not at UCSC

Alan Ritch Head, Collection Planning McHenry Library UC Santa Cruz