Discovery of the Universe
Fall 2001 class taught by Professor Rudi Paul Lindner at the University of Michigan

Course Description

Course Schedule

Course description (back to top)

This course is about the growth in our understanding of the universe, focusing on the development of astronomy, physics, and cosmology in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This is an enormous field, and the approach is topical. You should not be surprised to find that many worthwhile topics donít get the coverage they deserve: there is just not sufficient time.

Our story is an exciting one, perhaps the most exciting story: the origin, present state, and fate of everything. This is, however, not a science course. The approach adopted here is to understand the circumstances in which the scientists worked and in which their work developed; it is not to teach you their science. We have excitement enough in the story of how men and women slowly came to realize how grand, how violent, and how unexpected the universe is. If you wish a better understanding of the science, I advise you to seek a different course in one of the science departments. I should also add that courses in the humanities have demands that are different from courses in the physical sciences and mathematics, and those demands are different in kind as well as in degree. For example, there is more reading in a humanities course than in a science course; there are also problems you must solve, but the techniques are not always those of the physical sciences. So you should not think of this course as inherently less demanding, especially if you do not enjoy reading. Some of the readings, to be sure, are scientific essays by scientists, and there are technical passages, but our purpose is to understand the historical context, and for that you need not master all of the scientific argument. In my experience, it is the science and not the humanities students who have difficulties in this course.

There will be one hour examination, a final examination, a few quizzes, and a research essay (eight-ten pages) on a topic of your choice that I must approve in advance. The hour examination will contain some short answer questions and an essay, and it will make up roughly a quarter of the course grade; the final examination will also have short answer questions and essays, and it will be worth about half of the course grade. The essay will be worth about as much as the hour examination. Participation in class discussion can help your grade substantially; poor performance on the quizzes will lower your course grade. The quizzes are intended to make sure that you are keeping up with the work. If your work improves during the term, I shall weight the later, better work more heavily in determining your final course grade.

The work load requires relatively little reading before the hour examination, but later on there are more pages per week. Overall, you should reserve about four hours a week outside of class to keep up with the reading and to review your lecture notes. It would be wise to do as much work on your essay as early as possible.

I shall distribute a handout about the essay, but at the outset you should know that I care about the quality of your writing: I wonít give you credit for work I canít understand. Further, I take plagiarism very seriously. Here are the words of the Office of Student Academic Affairs: "Plagiarism is representing someone elseís ideas, words, statements or other works as oneís own without proper acknowledgement or citation. Examples of plagiarism are: copying word for word or lifting phrases or a special term from a source or reference without proper attribution; paraphrasing Ė using another personís written words or ideas, albeit in oneís own words, as if they were oneís own thought; borrowing facts, statistics, or other illustrative material without proper reference, unless the information is common knowledge, in common public use. Students may not use Internet source material, in whole or in part, without careful and specific reference to the source. All utilization of the Internet must be thoroughly documented." Students who plagiarize will fail, and the case file will go to the Dean for further action. If you are in any doubt whether your use of material constitutes plagiarism, please seek my assistance.

Because we meet in the afternoon, you should feel free to bring lunch with you. I donít care if you eat in class, and I donít care if you fall asleep Ė but I draw the line at food fights or snoring. Please do not read during class or disrupt the work of others with conversation. Class will begin at 2:30, and there will be a break about half-way through.

The course readings are available at Ulrichís and perhaps at the other bookstores. There will be a course pack available at Accu-Copy, next to the Cottage Inn. Most of the readings will be on reserve at the Undergraduate Library. My office is at 222 University Towers, and my telephone number is 763-2290, with voice mail. My e-mail address is, but you should not assume that I check for messages each day. I shall hold posted office hours at University Towers.

You may find it less expensive to obtain books through the internet. Sites I have used successfully are and The book about J. Robert Oppenheimer is out of print, and although the bookstores may have some copies, you may have to use the library reserve office or the internet to obtain it.

Please note that the dates and times listed for the hour examination and the final examination are fixed, and there will be no other dates or times for those examinations. I give make-up examinations only for documented medical emergencies.

Course Schedule (back to top)

Please do the readings before the date assigned and bring them to class for reference during the discussion.

Sept. 6

Introductions. Why did the scientific revolution take place in Europe and not elsewhere?

Sept. 11

Newtonís predictable universe. Michael Hoskin, Cambridge Concise History of Astronomy (Cambridge University Press paperback): 130-48.

Sept. 13

Creating a profession and finding a place for amateurs. Hoskin: 159-60, 168-218.

Sept. 18

No class meeting.

Sept. 20

Photography, spectroscopy, and the emergence of astrophysics. Hoskin: 224-7, 230-4, 235-9, 252-60.

Sept. 25

The Lick Observatory: a new model for astronomy.

Sept. 27

No class meeting.

Oct. 2

George Ellery Hale and the industrialization of astronomy.

Oct. 4

Alternative astronomical models: Percival Lowell and the canals of Mars. Hoskin: 245-6.

Oct. 9

Einstein and the reception of relativity. David Cassidy, Einstein and Our World (Humanity Books paperback).

Oct. 11

Creativity in science. Albert Einstein, "Autobiographical Notes," in T. Ferris, The World Treasury of Physics, Astronomy, and Mathematics, 577-589, in the course pack; Henri Poincaré, "Mathematical Creation," Scientific American 179:2 (August, 1948):54-57.

Oct. 16

The Great Debate. Hoskin: 273-90. See the link to the anniversary site.

Oct. 18

What makes the stars shine and how do they evolve? The growth of physical theory and experiment: Europe versus the United States. Hoskin: 260-73.

Oct. 23

A bigger, dynamic universe. Edwin Hubble. Hoskin: 291-305. Donald E. Osterbrock, Joel A. Gwinn, and Ronald S. Brashear, "Edwin Hubble and the Expanding Universe," Scientific American (July, 1993):84-89, in the course pack. Norriss S. Hetherington, "Hubbleís Cosmology," in Hetherington, ed., Cosmology: 347-369, in the course pack.

Oct. 25

Hour Examination. There will be no other date or time for this examination.

Oct. 30

Deadline for my approval of your research paper topic.

Nov. 1

Women in astronomy. Katherine Haramundanis, Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin (second edition, Cambridge University Press paperback): 70-238.

Nov. 6

The Bomb and its aftermath. Peter Goodchild, J. Robert Oppenheimer: Shatterer of Worlds (Fromm International paperback). Please note that this book is out of print and you may have to rely on the reserve office to obtain it.

Nov. 8

Cosmological debates: "Big Bang" versus Continuous Creation. Hermann Bondi, "Astronomy and cosmology," in James R. Newman, ed., What is Science? (New York, 1955): 66-96, in the course pack. Stephen G. Brush, "How Cosmology Became a Science," Scientific American (August, 1992):62-72, in the course pack.

Nov. 13

Science and the public, 1: Flying Saucers. Desmond Leslie and George Adamski, Flying Saucers Have Landed (New York, 1953):171-224, in the course pack.

Nov. 15

A new astronomy. K. Kellermann and B. Sheets, Serendipitous Discoveries in Radio Astronomy (Green Bank, 1984): 39-56, 196-229, in the course pack. Hoskin: 306-24.

Nov. 20

Research essay due in class. How to prepare for the final examination.

Nov. 22

No class.

Nov. 27

Science and the public, 2: "the two cultures." C.P. Snow, The Two Cultures (Cambridge University Press paperback): 1-107.

Nov. 29

Women in science. Marguerite Holloway, "A Lab of Her Own," Scientific American (November, 1993): 94-103, in the course pack.

Dec. 4

Steady State or Big Bang? Jeremy Bernstein, "Three Degrees above Zero," in Cranks, Quarks, and the Cosmos (New York, 1993): 65-81, in the course pack.

Dec. 6

Beauty in science. Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, Truth and Beauty: Aesthetics and Motivations in Science (University of Chicago Press paperback): vii-x, 1-73.

Dec. 11


Dec. 20

Final Examination, 4:00-6:00, without exception.

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