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Katharina Bick (English)

Doctoral Student


Katharina Bick is doctoral student in the DFG project “Astronomy’s Glass Archive: Photographic Practices at the Observatory, 1850-1950”. She has studied physics, philosophy and history of science at the universities of Erlangen, Regensburg and Cambridge.


Doctoral Project

Photography in German Astronomical Expeditions, c. 1871-1918


The gradual introduction of photography to astronomy in the late 19th and early 20th century fundamentally changed the working practices in observatories. The DFG-funded project “Astronomy’s Glass Archive: Photographic Practices at the Observatory, 1850-1950” examines this development. Astronomical photography, however, was not only practiced at the observatory, but also in the field, by astronomers who were on expedition. In my doctoral project, which is part of the DFG-project, I will examine how German astronomers took photography abroad when they conducted expeditions for the observation of total solar eclipses or a transit of Venus.1

My focus lies on the practices and materials of astronomical glass-plate photography under field conditions: How were materials for photography produced or chosen and bought by expedition staff? How did astronomers decide on the technical specifics of the photographic process? How did they create, in their temporary camps, the environment necessary for photographic work to yield satisfying results? How did they transport all the necessary equipment to their destinations and set their camps up? What photographic processes exactly did they use, and how were exposure and development of the plates organised? What happened after the return of the expeditions, when the work of measuring and analysing the plates started?

My study is based on astrophotographic expeditions conducted by German institutions during the time of the German Empire, 1871 to 1918. These are solar eclipse expeditions carried out by the observatories in Hamburg, Göttingen and Potsdam, and the centrally organised expeditions for the observation of the transit of Venus 1874. From these expeditions, published reports, rich archival sources, and in some cases photographic plates survive.

Besides reconstructing the technicalities of astrophotographic work, this study will provide insights into the connection of scientific work and colonialism/imperialism. It will show how resources and infrastructures connected to European colonialism/imperialism were essential for the daily work of the expeditions, and highlight transimperial connections. My project also tries to map the distribution of agency between the astronomers trying to impose their will on the technology of photography, and the photographic material posing certain restrictions. In addition, I will show that photographic work continued long after the images were developed: Plates were measured; the data obtained was mathematically analysed and the results were presented in the form of tables, charts or descriptions in written words, while reproductions of photographic images play a remarkably small role in the publications.


1 Solar eclipses have a narrow path of totality, from where the outer parts of the solar atmosphere become visible. A transit of Venus happens when Venus overtakes the Earth in its orbit and passes close to the line of sight between Earth and Sun, becoming visible as a small black dot in front of the Sun. Observations from different locations can be combined to determine the distance between Sun and Earth in absolute numbers.

See also the DFG Project


Since 2021

Doctoral student in the DFG-project „Astronomy’s Glass Archive: Photographic Practices at the Observatory, 1850-1950“.


Personal assistant for people with physical disabilities, Zentrum für Selbstbestimmtes Leben e.V., Erlangen.


MPhil History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine, University of Cambridge, UK, with research projects in the area of astronomy and astrophysics. Supported by the Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes.


BA Classics, with a focus on history of philosophy, University of Regensburg.


BSc Physics, Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg, with a term at the University of York, UK, 2014–2015. Supported by the Max Weber-Programm Bayern and the Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes.

  1. Fakultät für Philosophie, Kunst-, Geschichts- und Gesellschaftswissenschaften
  2. Institut für Philosophie