The clocks in the exhibition Precision and Splendor reflect some of the major debates about time that have occurred over the last five hundred years. This lecture will discuss the relevance of the clocks on view to our understanding of some of the great historic changes in timekeeping, including the Gregorian calendar and the Counter-Reformation, the Copernican revolution, the replacement of solar time with mean time, and the French Revolution's failed experiment with decimal time.
Kevin K. Birth is a professor in the Department of Anthropology at Queens College, City University of New York. He specializes in the study of cognition and cultural ideas of time. His publications include Any Time is Trinidad Time (1999), Bacchanalian Sentiments (2008), and Objects of Time (2012), as well as numerous articles on topics ranging from the temporal construction of history, human circadian rhythms and globalization, the medieval cockcrow, field methods for the ethnographic research on time, and how time-reckoning tools embody cognitive assumptions. Most recently, he conducted research on the management of the global time system and the potential effects of eliminating the leap second from the global timescale. He earned his Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of California at San Diego.
Anthropologist Kevin Birth, author of 'Objects of Time How Things Shape Temporality,' recounts the strange history of decimal time after the French Revolution and the ritzy watch Abraham-Louis Breguet made for Marie Antoinette.
He's just dead wrong when he says that an astrolabe will be made different, or will work differently, depending on whether one believes that the earth doesn't spin but is the center of a star-framework that spins, or, alternatively, believes that the earth spins within a star-framework that is not moving. The question and its speculative answers will have no bearing on the workings of astolables, which are all based on the RELATIVE motions of the earth and stars, and the RELATIVE motion is the same regardless whether the Earth is fixed or not. I'm not merely saying he's wrong, but I'm challening him to produce an actual astrolable that is made to produce materially different calculations because the maker believed the earth to spin on an axis, imparting the illusion of movement to the stars, rather than the star-framework spinning the other way on that axis. Or a reference to such an astrolable, or instructions for making or using such an astrolabe.