IDEA Proposal:

Multicultural Cosmology Educational Resource Center

Bryan E. Penprase

Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Pomona College


We propose to compile a resource center for ancient astronomy. Our aim will be to collect and disseminate the materials necessary for increasing public awareness of the ancient astronomies of various world cultures. In this way we hope to emphasize the common bond between humans of all cultures and all times in their quest to understand and explain the awe and wonder inspired by the cosmos.

Our proposal is an outgrowth of a freshman seminar taught at Pomona College entitled "Multicultural Cosmology". We hope to enlarge the sphere of our discussions about ancient astronomy and cosmology to include members of the surrounding Los Angeles community. We hope that from an examination of the astronomical contributions of the ancient Mayans, Native Americans, Asian and African societies, an increased respect and appreciation for the different cultures may be developed, while at the same time basic astronomical knowledge will be imparted.

zthe proposal hopes to accomplish its aims with two main strategies. The first is to create a clearinghouse of educational materials in the subject of ancient astronomy and cosmology, where teaching resources will be made available to the educational community through workshops, and an online resource library available to the internet. The second is to create a new slide set and instructional guide based on astronomical sites of the ancient Southwest, and also based on the historical collections of area museums, such as the Huntington Library, Asia Pacific Museum, and the Southwest museum.

I. Introduction

Against the darkness of the infinite universe, all mankind is the same. The new mythology of our age, as suggested by Joseph Campbell, arises from the image of our small blue earth against the blackness of space. As humanity forges the new global mythology, it is appropriate to appreciate the genius and richness of the ancient myths and sky tales. From the study of ancient cultures from many regions of the world, it is impossible not to see the common longing for answers, and the common search for man's place in the cosmic order. In this process, one develops a respect for the cultures which lived before us, and for the many cultures which provide the diversity of our modern society.

From teaching a course entitled "Multicultural Cosmology -- How People Throughout Time have Defined their place in the Universe" I have learned much about the subject of ancient cosmology, and also how to introduce many complex astronomical concepts to students in the course of studying the ancient astronomy and cosmology. As the students begin to study ancient astronomy and cosmology, they recreate the wonder the ancients felt about the sky, and learn much about the motions of planets, the constellations, and calendric systems.

We propose to make many of the materials from the Pomona College course available to other institutions and to K-12 educators, to allow the search for answers to include a wider audience. The proposal seeks to gather and distribute resources to educators who would like to design similar courses, and also to develop a lesson plan for those K-12 teachers who need more detailed information to implement the astronomy and anthropology content. The aim is to develop in students an active inquiry into the basic and largest questions about the universe, and to recreate ancient skywatching experiences, and the development of personal and societal cosmologies.

I. Audience and Educational Collaborators:

We intend to help educators to enrich their courses by giving them access to books, slides and video clips in the subject of Multicultural Cosmology. New materials will be also designed for maximum visual impact, and astronomic accuracy, and will illustrate the world systems of several ancient societies, and the relationship between those world systems and astronomy. The resources will allow for educators in K-12 classes as well as at the college level to include non-western astronomy and ancient star tales in their courses. Such an effort will help students see the universe through the eyes of their ancient ancestors, and also through the eyes of members of other ancient cultures.

We will attempt to use an approach for presenting science which engages the students by asking them to imagine the world as viewed by the ancients. A lesson guide will stress the importance of discussions and direct observation, to bring a more active role to the student in discovery. We will also stress the common themes in the works of different cultures, which should increase the knowledge and pride of students of many different ethnic group in their ancient heritage.

To assure that the materials are effective in reaching the intended audience, we will work in close collaboration with Dr. Edwin Krupp and Patrick So of the Griffith Planetarium, who have vast expertise in both ancient astronomy and public education. We will also consult with the staffs of the various museums in the area, as we develop new visual materials based on their collections.

II. Details of the project

The project will develop two tracks which are described below. The first of these is to assemble the available books, slides and videos and develop a strategy for giving access to educators to resources in ancient astronomy and cosmology. The second is to expand upon available materials in the development of new slides, and video sequences along with a lesson plan which would also include exercises for use in K-12 science classrooms. Throughout the project we will work to make the visual aids accessible not only through traditional formats of slides and videos, but also through emerging computer technologies such as the world wide web, to allow for future incorporation of the materials into multimedia and interactive electronic presentations.

II.a. Multicultural Cosmology Educational Materials Clearinghouse

We seek develop the necessary materials to aid educators in course development. To this end we request funds to develop a library of ancient world astronomy and cosmology materials, and to develop and purchase new visual materials -- videos, posters and slides -- which may be used by teachers in presenting ancient astronomy in their classes. Our effort will be in cooperation with Dr. Edwin Krupp, who will also advise us on the best strategy in developing materials which will be understood and enjoyed by the general public.

We intend to maximize the impact of these materials by making available to educators a lesson plan which summarizes the available resources, and gives instructions for accessing them by internet. For those without internet access, we will offer a limited number of slide sets which they may use in their classes. We also would like to conduct workshops to provide direct instruction in including ancient astronomy in education. The materials will also be used in several public presentations at the Pomona College Millikan Planetarium.

II.b. Development of new Educational Materials in Ancient Astronomy

There are currently few resources available which include sound astronomical fundamentals and an awareness of ancient non-Western cultures. We propose to increase the number of materials available, by making new slides of ancient Native American astronomical sites, and by also making slides of artifacts of ancient cultures from the collections of area museums, which include the Pacific Asia Museum, the Huntington Library, and the Southwest Museum. All of these have rich collections in the areas of Asian, early Western and Native American antiquity.

The slides will also be converted into digital format, and will be incorporated into a Mosaic world wide web home page in multicultural cosmology to allow for educators with internet access to quickly obtain materials for use in their classes, and also for interested students to learn from an interactive home-page the basic elements of the world systems of the Greek, Chinese, Mayan, Incan, Native American or African societies.

The images and text will be accessible by the internet, as will relevant video sequences which will be captured with the use of the various high-end Macintosh AV computers and video equipment already owned by the College. We intend to use the world wide web to allow the project to be accessed throughout the world, via the internet.