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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

Photographic practices at colonial observatories in the late 19th and early 20th century

Photography was an important part of observatory practices in the late 19th and early 20th century. Photographic plates were prepared, exposures were made, plates were developed and analyzed, measured, marked, closely examined, shared, and stored to be revisited. The observatories at which photography was done were not just the grand European institutions in Greenwich, Paris, St. Petersburg, or Berlin, but were also observatories in colonial contexts. These included well-resourced observatories like the Royal Observatory at the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa; institutions with direct links to the navy, like the German Naval Observatory in Tsingtau (Qingdao), China; and more makeshift and short-lived sites of observation. Colonial observatories served the immediate needs of the imperial undertaking, e.g. by providing services related to time determination, navigation, survey, weather forecasts, and collaboration networks with other European observatories across the globe. Thus their activities often ranged across different disciplines, like astronomy, astrophysics, meteorology, geophysics and geodesy.

In my project, I will analyze these global networks of observatories and the role of photography within them. With a focus on the mobility of photography I will ask: How were the observatories linked to each other? How did staff, instruments and knowledge travel between them? How was the daily work shaped by colonial setting and needs, especially when related to their imperial connections? In particular, I will examine how photographic practices traveled between observatories, how photography was used at and shared between different locations, and what influence the colonial context of the institutions had on the formation of standards on photographic work in astronomy.

By contextualizing photographic practices at observatories with the German colonial history of the late 19th and early 20th century, I will contribute to the global dimensions of the DFG project “Astronomy’s Glass Archive: Photographic Practices at the Observatory, 1850-1950”, and investigate the relationships between science and empire in the German case. This will hopefully add to the understanding of German colonial history and complement the current scholarship on science and empire.

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