Born London, 27 February 1930.
M.A. (London, 1952), Ph.D. (Cambridge, 1956), in algebraic geometry.
1956–57 Research Fellow, Jesus College, Cambridge
1957–59 Lecturer in History of Science, University of Leicester
1959–88 University Lecturer in History of Science, Cambridge University
1975–86 Head of Dept. of History and Philosophy of Science, Cambridge University
1965–69 Fellow, Vice-Master and Senior Tutor, St Edmund's House, Cambridge
1969– Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge (Librarian with responsibility for construction of
Archives Centre, 1969–75; President, 1981–91)1982 Invited Discourse, IAU General Assembly, Patras ancient Odeon
2001 IAU gave name Hoskin to Minor Planet 12223
2002– Emeritus Fellow, St Edmund's College, Cambridge
2004 Leroy E. Doggett Prize in history of astronomy, American Astronomical Society
2007 Honorary Fellow, Royal Astronomical Society
2008 Archaeological centre at Antequera, Spain, named Centro Solar Michael Hoskin
2008, Jaschek Medal, European Society for Astronomy in Culture
2012 Honorary Member, Agorà Nuragica (Sardinia)
2013 Honorary Member, Real Academia de Nobles Artes de Antequera (Spain)
2015 (by Spanish royal decree) Medalla de Oro al Merito en las Bellas artes
2017 Unveiled bronze bust of MAH at Mirador Michael Hoskin, Antequera, Spain
2017 Awarded Menga Medal by government of Andalucia
2020 Agnes Mary Clerke medal, Royal Astronomical Society
Died Cambridge, 5 December 2021
William Herschel, Pioneer of Sidereal Astronomy (London and New York, 1959)
William Herschel and the Construction
of the Heavens (London and New York, 1963)
The General History of Astronomy (general editor: vol. 4, part 1 (Cambridge, 1984); vol. 2, part 1 (1989); vol. 2, part 2 (1995))
Taulas and Talayots (with W. Waldren; Cambridge, 1988)
The Cambridge Illustrated History of Astronomy (Cambridge, 1997; translation into Chinese simplified characters, Shandong, 2003; translation into Chinese complex characters, 2006)
Cambridge Concise History of Astronomy (Cambridge, 1999, 2001;
translation, Milan, 2001, 2009; Polish translation, Warsaw, 2007;
Hebrew translation, Tel Aviv, 2012)
Tombs, Temples and Their Orientations: A New Perspective on Mediterranean Prehistory (Bognor Regis, 2001; enlarged edn, Antequera, 2020; Italian transl., Turin, 2006; Spanish transl., Antequera, 2020)
History of Astronomy: A Very Short
Introduction (Oxford, 2002; Hungarian translation, 2004; Chinese
translation, Beijing , 2010; Japanese translation, Tokyo, 2013)
of Hanover (Cambridge, 2007)
for the History of Astronomy (founded by MAH, 1970; editor
'Effective' Member, International Academy
of History of Science.
Invited Discourse (plenary session) to 1982
General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union, in the Roman
Odeon at Patras.
Harlow Shapley Memorial Lecture, American
Astronomical Society, Houston, 1986.
Voyager II Uranus Symposium (with Carl
Sagan), Caltech, 1986.
Roderick Webster Memorial Lecture, American
Institute of Archaeology, Chicago, 2001.
MICHAEL HOSKIN OBITUARY - IN HIS OWN WORDS
In 2019, Michael Hoskin
wrote: "The friend who is to write my obituary worries in case he gets
the facts of my career wrong, so I have sent him this as a possible
draft. It might
Michael Hoskin died at his home in Cambridge, England, on 5th December 2021.
Hoskin was born in south London on 27 February 1930, the only child of a tax official and a schoolteacher. He attended a Catholic grammar school in west London, surviving first the bombs of the blitz and later the so-called flying bombs and rockets. The school focused on the Classics, and so Hoskin spent his last two years there exclusively in the study of Latin and Greek.
After leaving school he was for five years a student at London University, earning a BA and MA in pure mathematics. In 1952 he transferred to Peterhouse, Cambridge, where he wrote his doctoral thesis in algebraic geometry. He then spent a year in military research before returning to Cambridge in 1956 as Research Fellow at Jesus College. In the same year he married Jean Margaret (Jane) Small, by whom he was to have five children.
The award of the Fellowship should have reassured Hoskin of his abilities as a pure mathematician, but he was unable to throw off his sense of inferiority to his sole fellow doctoral-student, one Michael Atiyah. Atiyah's recent obituarist has described him as England's finest mathematician since Newton, but no-one warned Hoskin that Atiyah was more than average. Taking therefore a gloomy view of his own mathematical ability, Hoskin began to cast around for a career outside mathematics. He chanced upon an advertisement from Leicester University for an inaugural lectureship in a subject called history of science. This sounded fun, and so he applied.
Although the rival candidates all had PhDs in history of science, it was Hoskin who was appointed, on the grounds that he had been bright enough to win a Research Fellowship and so, given three months, should be able to learn history of science. A frantic three months were to follow.
Two years later, Rupert Hall suddenly resigned his lectureship in Cambridge. Hoskin applied, and although there was a distinguished field, he was appointed without interview. And so he found himself in one of the two top jobs in the country, within two years of first opening a book in the subject. He was to spend the rest of his career in Cambridge.
At first his only colleague was a philosopher of science and they taught a joint course, with Hoskin having single-handedly to cover the whole of the history of science and medicine. As if this was not enough, Hoskin found himself saddled with a major distraction. On arrival in Cambridge he had been immediately asked by the philosopher Richard Braithwaite to take over supervision of a doctoral student named D. T. Whiteside, who was working in seventeenth-century mathematics. Tom Whiteside, assigned to Michael's supervision after a dinner at King's, was 'a genius who had strong, not to say immoveable opinions as to the direction his research should take'. He announced that he planned to abandon research and become a film critic, but relented when he decided this would reflect badly on his supervisor. When eventually his thesis was approved, he professed no further interest in it and it was Hoskin who saw the work through the press. Michael actively supported Whiteside's edition of Newton's mathematical papers, raised funding from Trinity College, the Sloan Foundation and the Leverhulme Trust, and acted as assistant for the first six volumes of the work from 1967.
Whiteside then proposed a publishing project of the first magnitude, a multi-volume edition of Newton's mathematical papers. Surprisingly, Cambridge University Press agreed to take the project on, but only if Hoskin would guarantee it by being formally involved in seeing the work through the press. Meanwhile Hoskin had to raise funds to provide a salary for his 'research assistant', and this took endless hours. The resultant eight huge volumes took fourteen years to appear, and the project is one of the great works in our field. Whiteside was a genius of unique ability -- but Hoskin ever after believed that his own career had suffered from the distraction.
Meanwhile history and philosophy of science was expanding in the University, and the number of staff increased and together they were formalised into the department we know today. This allowed Hoskin to concentrate on a field where his mathematics was an asset and his ignorance of science less a disadvantage, namely astronomy before astrophysics. He specialised in the Herschel family, on whom he was eventually to write no fewer than eight books.
In 1969 a London publisher asked Hoskin whether there was an area of history of science not yet catered for in the literature, and this led to the founding of The Journal for the History of Astronomy, which Hoskin was to edit for 45 years.
In Cambridge most University Lecturers are also Fellow of one of the (autonomous) colleges, and in 1965 Hoskin joined St Edmund's House, newly established as a small, experimental community for graduates. For four years he served as Vice-Master and Tutor, and later became Secretary of the (outside) board of trustees. As such he oversaw the transfer of ownership of the property from the trustees to the Master and Fellows, which paved the way for St Edmund's to become the full College of the University that it is today.
In 1969 Hoskin was invited by Churchill College, Cambridge to join the Fellowship and plan and oversee the construction of an archives centre to house the papers of Sir Winston Churchill and his contemporaries. The building was opened in 1973 by the Duke of Edinburgh. It is today one of the major British centres for historical research. Hoskin retired from the centre on becoming Head of Department in the University, but remained a Fellow of Churchill for life.
In 1982 Hoskin had an unusual experience. The triennial General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union was to be held in Patras, Greece, and as usual there were to be three Invited Discourses (evening plenary sessions). The custom was for one of the speakers to come from the host nation, but no Greek astronomer was considered worthy. The solution was to have Hoskin speak on ancient Greek astronomy. The discourse was to be held in the ancient Roman theatre, and so it was that Hoskin found himself under the stars addressing theastronomers of the world who were seated around him on stone benches two millennia old.
The early years of JHA coincided with a period of intense interest in the possibility of there having been a true science of astronomy in Britain in prehistoric times. A leading figure in this was Alexander Thom, an Oxford engineer. Thom was expert in measuring sites, but less at home when arguing his case. A partnership developed as a result of which some twenty JHA papers by Thom were ghost-written by Hoskin.
This had two consequences for Hoskin. First, when expected in 1981 as President of Commission 41 of the IAU to organise a conference during his term of office, Hoskin chose to hold an archaeoastronomy meeting in Oxford, conveniently near to Stonehenge. The meeting proved so successful that regular "Oxford" meetings have been taking place ever since, and the International Society for Archaeoastronomy and Astronomy in Culture exists to manage them.
The second consequence arose from Hoskin's custom of taking vacations on the Balearic Islands. He found that certain limestone caves had been used for Bronze Age burials, and this led him to make contact with local archaeologists, one of whom invited him to visit the mainland and survey two sites where there were numerous Neolithic dolmens. One site consisted of 'beehive' tombs, built with large numbers of small stones. Surprisingly, Hoskin found that almost all the tombs faced within the range of sunrise.
The second site by contrast consisted of megalithic tombs, built in contrast with small numbers of large stones. Yet amazingly the custom of orientation was identical. Why might this be, and what customs applied elsewhere? So began a dozen years of fieldwork that took Hoskin from Ireland to France, Spain, Portugal, and throughout the Mediterranean and north Africa. This resulted in Tombs, Temples and Their Orientations (2001, 2020), which has a corpus mensurarum of some 3000 tombs.
Only Hoskin had personally inspected dolmens in such numbers, and this fact was to have momentous consequences. At Antequera in southern Spain there are three enormous dolmens, and the authorities enlisted Hoskin's help in their application for World Heritage Status. Drawing on his 3000 tombs, Hoskin was able to argue that one of the three was probably unique in facing a mountain rather than something in the sky.
The Status was granted, the hotels and restaurants are full, and the region is economically prosperous. The authorities are convinced that Hoskin's contribution was decisive and their gratitude knows no bounds. Among many honours, Hoskin received the Gold Medal of the Kingdom of Spain from the hands of the King himself, and in Antequera the authorities built a square which they named Mirador Michael Hoskin. It has a bust of Hoskin and a plaque recording the city's gratitude.
Hoskin took early retirement in 1988, and this gave him leisure for archaeological fieldwork. In later life he returned to history of astronomy, until his eighties when arthritis made typing difficult.
Jane Hoskin died in 2013. Thereafter Hoskin shared his home with a family of Filipino nurses who cared for him in his final years.
2 May 2015 Meeting of Royal Academy of Antequera, Cambridge
|2016 Spain's Minister of Culture giving the reasons for the award of the gold medal to MAH, San Sebastian|
|2016 MAH receiving the gold medal from the King of Spain, San Sebastian
|2017 MAH and the mayor unveiling the bust of MAH at Mirador Michael
2017 MAH's speech of thanks at the inauguration of Mirador Michael Hoskin, Antequera