A Brief History of the Meetings 

The idea for the INSAP meetings came out of a conversation between the late Ray White (University of Arizona), George Coyne, S. J. (then Director of the Specola Vaticana), and Rolf Sinclair (then at the US National Science Foundation), over coffee one morning in Tucson. As they discussed Isaac Asimov’s story "Nightfall" (whose theme is, “What would happen if the stars came out only one night in a thousand years?”), they realized that there were few if any concerted treatments of the effect of the many and variegated cultural impacts of the perceptions of the day- and night-time sky. Certainly there had never been a conference that would provide a mechanism for a broad sampling of artists, historians, philosophers, and scientists interested in just these cultural impacts to get together, compare notes, and to have the chance to ask those questions about each other's work which may have been stewing away for decades. This lack cried for redress. The idea for the first INSAP was the result, and George Coyne arranged for it to be held at the Specola. Word got around, and the popularity of each meeting then led to the next one. They have been largely self-supporting, with significant subsidies from the host institutions and others.

One telescope of the Specola Vaticana, with a sculpture by John David Mooney ©.

The first INSAP conference (1994) was held mostly at the retreat house, "Mondo Migliore", on the Rocca di Papa above the Lago Albano, and partly across the lake at the Vatican Observatory at Castel Gandolfo. (The former is in Italy, the latter is an outlying portion of the Vatican State, so the meeting was held in two countries.) The meeting was arranged on short notice, and many of the attendees were astronomers. We enjoyed tours of the Papal Gardens, and the Vatican Museum and Library. The enthusiastic response at the meeting showed that the idea was working.

 

Harbor of Valetta, Malta 

In answer to the question often raised after INSAP I, “When will there be a second meeting?”, INSAP II was held in 1999 in Malta. The rich history of the islands and their location at the crossroads of the Mediterranean made this an obvious choice. Note that the oldest megalithic structures with significant astronomical orientations are in Malta, dating from the fourth millennium BC and predating the British stone circles. A day was spent touring the megalithic temples and the Hypogeum. Thanks to better advance publicity, the attendees were more diverse.

Palazzo dei Normanni, Palermo Observatory, Palermo, Sicily, Italy

The third INSAP meeting was held in Sicily, partly in Palermo in the Palazzo dei Normanni and the Palazzo Steri, and mostly in nearby Mondello. It opened January 1, 2001, the two hundredth anniversary of the discovery at the Palermo Observatory of the first asteroid, named Ceres after the Roman patron goddess of Sicily. One day was spent visiting nearby sites of the Greek, Roman, Arabic, and Norman periods. By now word of the INSAP meetings had spread further, and the topics continued to broaden.

Magdalen College, Oxford, UK

Breaking with a seeming tradition of holding the INSAP meetings in the Mediterranean region, mainly on islands, the fourth meeting was held in 2003 in the UK in Oxford’s lovely Magdalen College, with some functions elsewhere in the Oxford Museums. By now the majority of the presentations were in the arts and the humanities. A special exhibit of works by several of the attending artists was held in the Oxford University Museum. A high point of the meeting was a special full-access dawn tour of Stonehenge and then Avebury -- a day well spent among evidence of the partly astronomically-driven cultural complexity of early Britain.

Adler Planetarium, Chicago, Illinois, USA 

The fifth meeting was held at the Adler Planetarium in 2005, with its spectacular setting in Chicago on a peninsula in Lake Michigan. There were a number of new attendees, yet the overall form of the meeting continued as before. Tours were arranged of the University of Chicago and the Oriental Institute. By now we were using the web as the main way to announce the meetings. In fact, word of INSAP seems to be diffusing through cyberspace with a life of its own – we see postings in places where we know we didn't send it, and we are receiving some unexpected (and quite welcome) inquiries.

Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, Venezia

INSAP returned to Italy in October 2009. The sixth meeting was hosted by the University of Padua and held in Venice on the Grand Canal at the Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti.

 


Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institute

INSAP VII was held at the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institute in October 2010. Details of the agenda and presentations can be found at the INSAP VII website.

 

AMNH

INSAP VIII will be held at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City in July 2013. Information about the confernece may be found at the conference website.

 

We are, of course, open to suggestions for locations and dates of future meetings.