Department of Astronomy (University of Michigan) records: 1960-1989 (bulk 1980-1989)
Summary Information
Title: Department of Astronomy (University of Michigan) records
Creator: University of Michigan. Department of Astronomy.
Inclusive dates: 1960-1989
Bulk dates: 1980-1989
Extent: 2 linear feet
The Dept. of Astronomy records contain the records of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) observatories visiting committee, 1980-1985; the chairman's daily file for William A. Hiltner and Robert P. Kirshner / Douglas Richstone, 1960-1988; and various subject files.
Call number: 91457 Bimu C26/2
Language: The material is in English
Repository: Bentley Historical Library
1150 Beal Ave.
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2113
Phone: 734-764-3482
Fax: 734-936-1333
Home Page:
Finding aid created by Helen Pryor, February 1991

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

This record group was transferred from the Department of Astronomy (Donor # 7849, no longer in use, and # 1465) on August 14, 1990. Other additions have been received

Access Restrictions:

The record group is open for use without restriction.

To protect fragile audiovisual recordings (such as audio cassettes, film reels, and VHS tapes), the Bentley Historical Library has a policy of converting them to digital formats by a professional vendor whenever a researcher requests access. For more information, please see:


Copyright is held by the Regents of the University of Michigan but the collection may contain third-party materials for which copyright is not held. Patrons are responsible for determining the appropriate use or reuse of materials.

Preferred Citation:

[item], folder, box, Dept. of Astronomy (University of Michigan) Records, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan


The first mention of the Department of Astronomy as a unit of the University of Michigan was in 1929 when Will Carl Rufus was named Acting Director of the Observatories and acting Chairman of the Department of Astronomy. It is surmised that the Department was created in that year. During the 1980's, Chairmen of the Department included Robert P. Kirshner and Douglas O. Richstone.

Historically, the Department has operated, established, and cooperatively maintained a number of astronomical observatories. The Detroit Observatory was built in Ann Arbor in 1854. The Lamont-Hussey Observatory in Bloemfontein, South Africa was dedicated in 1928. In 1972, the Lamont-Hussey Observatory was closed and its equipment and records were returned to Ann Arbor. The McMath-Hulbert Observatory was opened in 1930 in Lake Angelus, Michigan and the McGraw-Hill Observatory in Arizona, which featured a 1.3 meter telescope, was opened in 1975.

One of the department's accomplishments was its participation in the creation of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA). In 1957, Robert R. McMath of the University of Michigan became Chairman of the Board of Directors of AURA Inc. Three observatories are under the group's charge; Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona, the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, and the Sacramento Peak Observatory in Sunspot, New Mexico. On November 2, 1962, AURA acknowledged Dr. McMath's contributions to the organization by naming the world's largest solar telescope located on Kitt Peak in his honor.

A detailed history of the Department of Astronomy at the University of Michigan and its related observatories is available in The University of Michigan: An Encyclopedic Survey.

Chairs of the Department of Astronomy

1929-1930 Will Carl Rufus (Acting)
1930-1942 Heber Doust Curtiss
1942-1945 Will Carl Rufus (Acting)
1945-1946 Allan Douglas Maxwell (Acting)
1946-1960 Leo Goldberg
1960-1961 Freeman D. Miller (Acting)
1962-1970 Orren Cuthbert Mohler
1970-1982 William A. Hiltner
1982-1985 Robert P. Kirschner
1985-1987 Douglas O. Richstone (Interim)
1987-1990 Douglas O. Richstone
1990-2000 Hugh D. Aller
2000-2010 Douglas O. Richstone
2010-2015 Joel N. Bregman
2015- Edwin (Ted) Bergin

Collection Scope and Content Note

The records of the Department of Astronomy at the University of Michigan document the internal workings of the department, its relationship with the University and the scholarly community, and issues relating to the observatories under the direction of the Department, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s. The records have been divided into three series: Chairman's Files; Departmental Topical Files; and Appeals Complaints Committee.

Subject Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in the finding aid database and catalog of The Bentley Historical Library/University of Michigan. Researchers desiring additional information about related topics should search the catalog using these headings.

  • Astronomical observatories.
  • Astronomy -- Michigan -- Ann Arbor.
  • Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy.
  • University of Michigan. Department of Astronomy.
  • University of Michigan. Observatory.
Contents List
Request materials for use in the Bentley Library
Container / Location Title
Chairman's File [series]

The Chairman's File series is divided into two subseries. There is a small subseries of departmental records from the period when William A. Hiltner was chairman. There is also a subseries of files relating to the internal and external workings of the Department under Robert P. Kirshner and, later, Douglas O. Richstone in the 1980s. Arranged in reverse chronological order, this subseries includes incoming and outgoing memoranda and correspondence which discuss faculty and doctoral appointments, fund-raising activities, and recommendations.

William A. Hiltner files
Box   1  
Budget 1960-1973
Box   1  
Departmental Review Committee 1972
Box   1  
Departmental Review Committee 1975-1977
Box   1  
Faculty appointments 1970
Box   1  
Faculty minutes 1970-1972
Box   1  
Graduate Programs 1970
Box   1  
Box   1  
Undergraduate astronomy center 1970-1971
Robert P. Kirshner / Douglas Richstone daily file
Box   1  
1984 (2 folders)
Box   1  
1985 (2 folders)
Box   1  
1986 (2 folders)
Box   1  
1987 (2 folders)
Box   1  
1988 (2 folders)
Departmental Topical Files [series]

The Departmental Topical Files series is made up of correspondence, memoranda, and grant and research proposals. The series is arranged alphabetically by subject and within folders, there is a rough chronological arrangement. It is diverse, containing materials on observatories, the Department's communication with the University Provost, a Historic Instruments Preservation Project, and the dedication of the William A. Hiltner Telescope. Most of the materials are from the 1980s. Since the Department's faculty members have often been involved in the Association for University Research in Astronomy (AURA), there are also records in the collection which document that organization.

Box   1  
American Astronomical Society Meeting 1987-1989
Box   1  
AURA Observatories Visiting Committee 1980-1985 (3 folders)
Box   2  
AURA Observatories Visiting Committee 1980-1985 (5 folders)
Box   2  
Dean's Office: Observatory Problems, Lamont Trust, Reallocation 1962-1969
Box   2  
Dedication of William A Hiltner Telescope 1988-1989
Box   2  
Kitt Peak National Observatory Equipment
Box   2  
Miscellaneous Correspondence Regarding Sale of McMath Observatory Equipment 1980
Box   2  
Provost 1985-1987
Box   2  
Radio Astronomy Observatory, University of Michigan, Radio Review 1982-1983
Box   2  
Steneck, Nicholas H.: Historic Instruments Observatory Preservation Project 1987
Complaint Appeal Committee [series]

The Complaint Appeal Committee series contains documentation relating to the Anne Cowley case requesting her promised faculty appointment with the Dept. of Astronomy.

Box   2  
Anne Cowley case 1966-1974

(includes files transferred to department chairman Hiltner by James B. Griffin)

Additional Descriptive Data
Related Materials

For additional records relating to the Department of Astronomy and the observatories, the researcher is advised to consult the record group University of Michigan Observatory.