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Auroral Research and the Character of Astronomy in Enlightenment Sweden

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The observation of the magnetic effects of the aurora borealis by Olof Hiorter in the 1740s was hailed by Swedish scientists as one of the major discoveries in contemporary research. This article investigates the political and academic context of the discovery, focusing on the astronomical ideals promoted by Hiorter. He used the discovery in order to buttress the importance of his own scientific character – technically competent, hard-working and research-oriented. He contrasted this ideal with the character of an ordinary university professor who was described as more of a bureaucrat, interested in science only as long as it could boost his reputation, and not averse from stealing results of technically more competent underlings. Hiorter's opponents at the university decried his lack of theory and devalued the importance of technical skill. This conflict is discussed in the context of ideals concerning cultural, political and economic values of science and scientists.
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Keywords: Anders Celsius; Aurora Borealis; Eighteenth Century; History of Science; Olof Hiorter; Sweden

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department for History of Science and Ideas,Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden

Publication date: 2012-12-01

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