UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies is an interdisciplinary centre for the integrated study of science's history, philosophy, sociology, communication and policy, located in the heart of London. Founded in 1921. Award winning for teaching and research, plus for our public engagement programme. Rated as outstanding by students at every level.

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Staff books include:

Agar 2013 Constant Touch 2nd edition spacerAthena Swan Bronze Award

Huang, Hsiang-Fu

Hsiang-Fu image


e-mail: hsiang-fu.huang.10  (with UCL e-mail suffix)



About Me

I have studied for my PhD in history of science at the UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies since 2010. Before I entered this department, I studied Earth science and astronomy in Taiwan, and commenced a master degree in astronomy. Later I came to the UK and completed a MSc programme in science communication in the University of Kent. My primary supervisor is Professor Joe Cain and the second supervisor is Dr. Simon Werrett.

I am an honorary research associate.  My appointment runs from March 2015 for a period of 3 years. 



About My Research

My research topic is popular astronomy lectures and displays in 19th century Britain, especially the transition of public science between the 18th and 19th centuries. Scientific spectacles were common scenes prior to and in Victorian Britain. Among the subjects in scientific spectacles, astronomy was always the chief attraction. From the lectures delivered by professional astronomers to the stage shows managed by entrepreneurs, 19th century astronomy popularisers and their activities had a variety of levels and aspects. This 'differentiation' of popular astronomy was a significant phenomenon during this period. Various visual aids, such as orreries, planetariums, lantern slides, and dioramas, were used in these popular displays. My study will look into the material culture and the spectrum of contemporary astronomy popularisation.

Therefore, my research interests would be relavant to:

  •   history of astronomy (especially since 18th century)
  •   history of science popularisation
  •   orreries, planetariums, and other astronomical visual aids
  •   science communication and its practice

Commercial and Sublime: Popular Astronomy Lectures in Nineteenth Century Britain

PhD Thesis (awarded March 2015) (table of contents)


This thesis discusses the practitioners, sites, curriculums, apparatus and audiences of popular astronomy lecturing in nineteenth-century Britain. Lecturers who were active approximately between 1820 and 1860 are the focus. 

This thesis emphasises popularisers who were not scientific elites, including C. H. Adams (1803-1871), George Bartley (c. 1782-1858), and D. F. Walker (1778-1865). Activities of private popularisers are compared with those in scientific establishments, such as the Royal Institution. Private entrepreneurs were not inferior to institutional competitors and enjoyed popularity among audiences. Until the 1860s, popular astronomy lecturing was a shared arena of institutional and private popularisers. A theatrical turn occurred in the popular astronomy lecturing trade before 1820. Popularisers moved lectures into theatres and adopted theatrical facilities in performance. They developed large onstage devices, such as the transparent orrery, for achieving scenic and dramatic effects. These onstage astronomical lectures were a phenomenon in the early nineteenth century and were usually performed during Lent. 

 This thesis highlights ‘commercial’ and ‘sublime’ features in popular astronomy lecturing of this period. The lecturing trade had an economic side involving paying, selling, profits and competitions in everyday practices. In addition to this material aspect, lectures also had emotional appeal. Lecturers exploited the sublime: the display of beautiful visual representations, the use of natural theology rhetoric, plus religious and moral reflections, all appealed for the sublimilty of the universe and the Creator behind it.


  • 'Theatres, Toys, and Teaching Aids: Astronomy Lecturing and Orreries in the Herschels' Time', in The Harmony of the Sphere: Kant and Herschel on the Universe and the Astronomical Phenomena, ed. Silvia de Bianchi. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars (August 2013).
  • 'Beyond Celestial Toys: Orreries and Public Astronomical Lectures in the Eighteenth Century', Taiwanese Journal for Studies of Science, Technology and Medicine, No. 16, pp. 161-222 (April 2013). See the abstract.

Recent Conference Papers

  • 'The Universe in a Cockpit: Orreries, Showmen and Popular Astronomical Lectures in London, 1820-1870'. iCHSTM2013 at Manchester, session T193-C, 23 July 2013. See the congress website and abstract.
  • 'Astronomy in Theatreland: Lecturing the Universe in Early Victorian Theatres'. BSHS Postgraduate Conference at the University of Kent, 3-5 January 2013. See the conference website.
  • 'Hitch Your Stage to Star: the evolution of astronomical displays from orrery shows to modern planetariums, 1704-1923'. The 7th Science in Public Conference, UCL, 20-21 July 2012. See the conference website.
  • 'The Universe in a Cockpit: popular astronomy lectures and displays in nineteenth century Britain'. BSHS Postgraduate Conference at the University of Warwick, 4-6 January 2012. See the conference website.

Page last modified on 15 jan 16 14:37 by Hsiang-Fu Huang

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