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Archaeoastronomy & Ethnoastronomy News


Number 12 June Solstice 1994

Towards an International Organization
by Clive Ruggles and Steve McClusky

Those of us who study astronomy's in cultures, whether under the heading of archaeoastronomy, ethnoastronomy, history of astronomy, or in broader disciplinary frameworks, have often sensed a certain lack of respect for our work from our colleagues who have followed well trodden and safer intellectual paths.

Among the reasons for this are that our studies have no single set of professional standards and there is no single disciplinary home where our work can be advocated. While we could all cite instances where work in "cultural astronomy" has proved immensely enlightening to mainstream archaeology, history, or anthropology, we have all equally well heard presentations under the banner of archaeoastronomy that, quite frankly, we would readily place beyond the lunatic fringe. There is also a great deal in between that, while perhaps representing competent enough scholarship, is not quite in tune with the deeper social or cognitive questions being addressed within the mainstream disciplines (see the article by Kintigh and the response by Aveni in earlier issues of A&E News). We may be able to look on different contributions with a suitably discerning eye, but all work in our field is often tarred with the same brush by our colleagues on the outside.

Regular communication through meetings, journals, and newsletters such as this one have contributed greatly to the development of an internal sense of scholarly community and the professional standards that accompany such a community. Yet these are largely personal efforts, building on the efforts of a few dedicated individuals, and have limited influence outside of our interdisciplinary community. Despite the years of shared scholarly activity since the pioneering meetings sponsored by the Royal Society and the British Academy meeting in London in 1972 and a year later in Mexico City by the AAAS and CONACYT, our community still lacks any lasting institutional basis to represent active scholars in the field and to advocate the significance of our work.

There are, of course, several regional and specialized societies touching on our field. Closest to our shared interests is the European Society for Astronomy in Culture / Societe Europeenne pour l'Astronomie dans la Culture (SEAC); broader in scope and national in membership are the Historical Astronomy Division of the American Astronomical Society, the History of Astronomy Interest Group of the History of Science Society, and the Working Group for the History of Astronomy in the Astronomische Gesellschaft. The closest thing to a worldwide international group has been the International Steering Committee for the "Oxford" Conferences, but the ISC has never been a membership organization.

Over the past few years, a number of us who felt the need for some form of international professional organization took initial steps to establish the International Society for Archaeoastronomy and Astronomy in Culture (ISAAC). The society's charter members are active participants in our discipline, and such active participation, as evidenced by published research, is the principal professional criterion for full membership in the society. We are currently acting to expand the society's membership beyond the initial small group of charter members, by inviting to full membership other actively publishing scholars in our community.

It seems appropriate at this early stage in the development of an international scholarly society, especially an interdisciplinary one like this, that we proceed slowly and deliberately. Current members are encouraged to nominate additional qualified candidates for full or associate membership, the latter being open to students and others having a serious interest in the study of astronomy in culture. Active or beginning scholars in the field who are interested in the society may contact the President, Clive Ruggles (School of Archaeological Studies, Leicester Univ. Leicester LE1 7RH England) or the Secretary/Treasurer, Stephen McCluskey (Dept. of History, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV, USA, 26506)

This evolving society will work to enhance the professional status of our field by forming ties with existing international, regional, and national academic bodies, assisting the development of projects in cultural astronomy, organizing meetings, editing volumes of proceedings and books, and promoting the establishment and maintenance of a journal devoted to astronomy in culture in its widest sense.

As a first step in this direction, one largely due to the kind offer of John Carlson and David Dearborn, A&E News will henceforth add ISAAC news and business to its existing coverage. It will also be circulated to ISAAC members, taking on an additional role as the Society's newsletter. A&E News will of course continue to be sent to its many individual and institutional subscribers who have expressed their long interest in archaeo- and ethnoastronomy.

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