Poole, Kristen, Singh, Natasha, and Zogheib, Ciara-Heaven on Fire: Historical and Global Perspectives of the Aurora Borealis (Dr. Sarah Symons)

Heaven on Fire: Historical and Global Perspectives of the Aurora Borealis

The aurora borealis have been occurring across the northern hemisphere throughout recorded history, spanning different time periods, cultures, and scientific methodology. Both scientific and nonscientific observations of the northern lights have been preserved through oral and written accounts. This project uses the rich history of the observation and study of the aurora borealis as a framework through which to explore how explicative theories of natural phenomenon can transition from mythology to science over time; and how these theories may differ based on culture and location.

We explore the history of the aurora borealis from local folkloric explanations, to the first scientific observations, to a globalized modern understanding. This is accomplished through analysis of primary and secondary sources, both historical and scientific. Areas of particular focus include the Americas, Europe, and Asia. We investigate the possibility of temporal and geographical patterns in how individuals perceive the aurora borealis, examining global perspectives to explore overarching trends. This research allows critical reflection on the means by which we arrive at our current knowledge. It also sheds light on the individuals and cultures that contributed to this knowledge, who are often unacknowledged or overlooked in Eurocentric history of science narratives.