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Understanding the Cosmos: A New Science-Related Teacher Resource from the Library of Congress

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A Synopsis of the Universe, 1742
A Synopsis of the Universe, 1742

For millennia, humans have gazed at the sky and tried to make sense of what they saw there. Many of the men and women who puzzled over the dazzling displays and movements of the stars recorded their explanations in systematic ways—that is, they created models of the cosmos.

With the launch of the Library’s newest primary source set, Understanding the Cosmos: Changing Models of the Solar System and the Universe, teachers and students can explore these models and the astronomers who created them. More than a dozen drawings, illustrations, and heavenly atlases from across the centuries invite students to zoom in on and examine details. Historical background and teaching ideas support teachers as they guide students in speculating about these documents’ creators, the ideas they developed, and methods and principles that even today are common to scientists across disciplines.

Selected from the Library’s new online presentation Finding Our Place in the Cosmos: From Galileo to Sagan and Beyond, the items in this set include works by Copernicus, Galileo, and many more astronomers, and seek to document eclipses, the solar system, the Milky Way galaxy, and the universe beyond. Taken together, they shed light not only on the stars above us, but on the endless process of studying and communicating about the natural world.

How could your students use these models in their studies?

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  1. One way that students could use these models in their studies might be while studying Shakespeare’s works. Shakespeare – or his characters, at any rate – frequently reference the heavens. During the Bard’s lifetime there was a dramatic change in how individuals viewed the world (including, but not limited to, our Earth’s place within the solar system). This lead to great opposition between science and religion, during a time when everyday people needed access to and belief in the power of both. It would be interesting to study the maps while reading some of his most famous titles.

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