Reading Nature, Observing Science: Examining Material Practices in the Lick Observatory Archives and Kenneth S. Norris Papers

Case 4: Onsite Labor

At each site, months of labor--from the unloading of cargo and washing of dishes to the construction of the Schaeberle instrument and its precisely timed manipulation--went into capturing images of events that last only minutes.

These images in the archive document the multiple roles of women at the eclipse sites. The women were the wives of astronomers (including Elizabeth Campbell, who accompanied every expedition that her husband led), local missionaries, and female laborers hired onsite. They took care of not only the domestic side of the expedition but also actively participated in the construction of shelters and the operation of equipment.

The archive also documents the involvement of Indigenous Australians at Wallal and plantation workers at Flint Island. It is unclear how much these individuals were paid for their time or how their services were secured, but it is clear that the expeditions relied upon the workers' skill with local materials.

What did the locals think of the Americans and their scientific equipment temporarily installed in their community? Through the published reports of the astronomers we know that at the site in Chile, John Schaeberle encouraged locals to look through the telescopic camera on the nights before the eclipse. In contrast, in Indonesia the locals were interested but kept at bay by a police guard. Unfortunately, though the archives provide the perspectives of the astronomers and Mrs Campbell, they provide little direct insight into the thoughts and experience of the community members in any of these locations.

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