After the invention of the telescope in 1608,
early telescopic observations provided new views of the heavenly
bodies and the sidereal universe. Though the telescope was central
to the development of modern astronomy, aspects of its origin,
evolution, and diffusion remain poorly understood. In particular,
for early observers the ability to observe more details was closely
linked to improving the optical performance of their telescopes.
Dioptrice is an initiative to develop a richer history of the
telescope through a census of surviving instruments and analysis of
their optical properties.
Dioptrice consists of two phases of research. The first phase is
the construction of a searchable database of surviving refracting
telescopes created prior to the advent of achromatic lenses in c.
1775. Initial information on these instruments was gathered from
direct inspection of artifacts in public and private collections,
online and published collection catalogues, and correspondence with
museum curators over the course of three years. The database is
supplemented with images of early refracting telescopes in works of
art as well as books and manuscripts, primarily from the rare book
collection of the Webster Institute for the History of Astronomy at
the Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum. The database will continue
to grow as additional collections are investigated and new
instruments found. This phase of Dioptrice represents a unique
research tool documenting the material culture of telescopes and
their representations in art. It also allows information on
collections around the world to be accessed by a wider research
audience and provides an avenue for the general public to explore
and engage these unique scientific artifacts.
Phase two of Dioptrice involves the careful optical testing and
analysis of many of the instruments in the database using adaptive
optics to study optical performance, glass quality, and lens
configuration. This ongoing aspect of the project will address
questions of technological transfer in these instruments as well as
exploring aspects of material production, diffusion, and
The principal investigators of Dioptrice are Marvin Bolt (Corning
Museum of Glass, Corning, New York) and Michael Korey
(Mathematisch-Physikalischer Salon, Dresden, Germany). Dioptrice is
curated by Stephen Case (Program for the History and Philosophy of
Science, University of Notre Dame, Indiana). If you have questions or
would like to have your collection listed in Dioptrice, please contact
Stephen Case at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dioptrice is made possible by the generous
support of the National Science Foundation, the National
Endowment for the Humanities, the Program in the History and
Philosophy of Science at the University of Notre Dame, and the Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum.