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ASTROMOVES: Studying Astrophysicists' Careers and other Cultural Astronomy Topics

ASTROMOVES: Studying Astrophysicists' Careers and other Cultural Astronomy Topics

ASTROMOVES is funded by the European Union in the form of an Marie Skłodowska Curie Action Individual Fellowship. This blog shares research findings and discussions about ASTROMOVES, but also captures the other Cultural Astronomy research and activities of PI Jarita Holbrook. The reader may find here information about Astrophysics Culture, African Indigenous Astronomy, and Indigenous Astronomy in general.

2021 Abstracts

This blog post is an updated list of my presentation titles and abstracts that have been accepted for conferences or for some other public presentation, with links to recordings if they exist. 2021 has already been busy albeit virtual.


Colloquium Talk at West Virginia University

Jarita Holbrook: The Worlds of Cultural Astronomy

In the broadest terms, cultural astronomy is the study of humans and their complex relationship with the sky and celestial bodies. Cultural Astronomy, as with astronomy, is interdisciplinary; harnessing data collection methods, tools of analysis, and theories from other disciplines as appropriate. Cultural astronomy, unlike astronomy, retains and celebrates its cultural diversity as well as its cultural relevance. As a subdiscipline, cultural astronomy is challenging intellectually because oftentimes qualitative and quantitative methods must be used in tandem during research; on the other hand, it is engaging because it shows a different way of thinking about astronomy.


Science by Diverse Scientists:  A Cal-Bridge Physics &  Astronomy Seminar Series:

Cultural Astronomy, Diverse Astronomy

ASTROMOVES is a project to  document and analyse the career decision making of astrophysicists using an  intersectional lens. This cultural astronomy  project uses publicly available information and  interviews to identify the factors present in  those decisions made for navigating  astrophysics careers. Intersectionality speaks to  the multiple identities embodied by individual  astrophysicists in terms of ethnicity, class,  able-ness, gender, etc. Cultural astronomy is a  research area that in many ways is always  becoming.

Though researchers have been  engaged with studying people and their beliefs  and practices connected to the sky for hundreds  of years, cultural astronomy classes are  relatively recent additions to universities with  less than a handful of degree programs  worldwide. Cultural astronomy includes  studies such as ASTROMOVES as well as  indigenous astronomy and archaeoastronomy  which are embedded in diverse cultures; thus  cultural astronomy oftentimes has diversity  built into the research.  


Summer Solstice, Celebration of Star Knowledge from Africa and Rapanui (Easter Island) part of Ingenium Museum in Canada. Their website for the event:

Celestial Africa Celestial Africa starts at about 45 minutes into the recording. 

The continent of Africa is large and has thousands of ethnic groups living in over 50 countries. Though home to some of the biggest astronomical telescopes in the world, there remains the perception that Africans have little awareness of the celestial realm. In reality, African indigenous astronomy is rich with many cultural connections to the sky as well as many practical uses of the sky. Holbrook will share some of the African legacy of rich skylore, artistic works, and practices connected to the sky.

Native Skywatchers Presentation for K-12 audience: 

Two-Eyed Seeing: African Indigenous Astronomy & NASA Moon to Mars

Jarita Holbrook, Amun Said, Carmen Gavin Vanegas, Angela Osuji, and Annette S. Lee

Poster Designed by Annette S Lee

Poster Two Eyed Africa

Educator Materials & Resources:


The Sophia Centre, Stories of the Sky website:

What? Who? Why? Stellify

In his 1981 article, Roberts highlights the term ‘stellify’ defined as “to transform (a person or thing) into a star or constellation, to place among the stars.” Using the case of the Tabwa people of central Africa, now the Democratic Republic of Congo, Roberts presents among other things the sky as a mnemonic for remembering migrations and remembering culture heroes. We do not know the details of the processes of stellification, however we do know what has been stellified in many cultures by examining their names for stars and asterisms and their skylore. Of the many ideas presented in his latest book, Aveni teases out the ideas of the sky stories having connections to celestial motion, as well as being a mnemonic for remembering seasonal activities and a mnemonic for remembering locally embedded moral, ethical, and sociocultural codes, thus overlapping with Roberts’ supposition of the sky serving as a mnemonic. I draw on case studies to flesh out three themes 1. celestial motions, 2. moral, ethical, and sociocultural codes, and 3. seasonal activities within African sky stories. As previously stated, though the human process of assigning names and stories to the night sky as well as stellifying aspects of their lives is not fully understood, these three themes hold promise for being foundational if not part of every culture’s practice of stellification.


Workshop Discussion for the Dark Energy Survey Collaboration

Their website is

What more needs to be said?

Since 1964, in the USA we are all protected by the Civil Rights Act. Under those protections, many women and underrepresented minorities have successfully survived & thrived in the physical sciences, but not in astronomy & astrophysics (or physics for that matter). Why is our community over 50 years behind? The first Women in Astronomy meeting was held in 1992 with resulting recommendations (the Baltimore Charter) endorsed by AAS in 1994. During Meg Urry’s talk last year, you were presented with the statistics on women in astronomy and do the math – it is approaching 30 years since the Baltimore meeting. If this were a science problem or a funded project, we would all be fired! What is our problem? This will be a discussion and there will be no blame shifting.

There is homework for everyone before our discussion
1. In your institution, who was the first woman, the first Asian American, the first African American, the first Latinx, and the first Native American to graduate with a PhD? Where are they now? Bonus: Was the first Latinx graduate Mexican American or Puerto Rican?
2. Who was the first woman, first Asian American, first African American, first Latinx, and first Native American to attempt but failed to obtain a PhD in your institution? Where are they now and why did they leave?


Conference presentation for CAP2021 – Communicating Astronomy to the Public

Cultural Astronomy, Indigenous Astronomy & Public Engagement

Jarita Holbrook, Annette S. Lee, Danielle K. Adams, Antonio Cesar Gonzalez Garcia, Duane Hamacher

Our poster is a report on how we combine cultural astronomy and Indigenous astronomy for our public engagement activities. We report on our the rubrics that we use for measuring success. We make comments on the ways that cultural astronomy and Indigenous astronomy public engagement can be used to further the goal of creating a more inclusive astronomy. Adams brings indigenous star lore from the Arab speaking world to visitors of Lowell Observatory as well as audiences in Arizona. Garcia, the current president of the Société Européene pour l’Astronomie dans la Culture (SEAC), reports on the public engagement activities undertaken at various SEAC meetings and the responses of the local attendees. Hamacher engages with indigenous and other communities in Australia sharing the ancient sky knowledge of the indigenous Australians. Lee engages with indigenous communities in the Americas through workshops that educate as well as create artwork related to indigenous star knowledge.

The one page article that was submitted to the proceedings: Cultural AstronomyArxivV1

ALSO at CAP2021

Listening to Other Voices: Culturally Sensitive Sites Group

Alejandro M Lopez, Javier Mejuto, Annette S. Lee, Jarita Holbrook & Steve Gullberg

We present a new initiative, jointly with the IAU Division C Working Group on Archaeoastronomy and Astronomy in Culture and the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), committed to tackling problems related to sensitive astronomical sites. The Culturally Sensitive Sites group intends to apply everything we have learned in many decades of cultural astronomy studies, so that the astronomical community better understands the conceptions, values, political tensions, and cultural interests among other things at stake when seeking to install and maintain astronomical facilities. The controversy over building the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on Mauna Kea, Hawai‘i, is a well-known example of the type of conflict that can arise. Our analysis of the mechanisms by which observatories have been installed on culturally sensitive sites reveals that in general they follow a pattern typical of large extractive companies (for example oil companies, mining companies): agendas are set by international interests; agreements that follow a top-down structure; little or no local participation in decision-making; lack of understanding of the local socio-political situation; assumption that the facility is a ‘universal’ good; lack of appreciation and knowledge of the first peoples’ cultures, knowledge systems and ancestral knowledge about the sky; and above all the assumption that there is no option for the local community to object to or reject the project. This goes hand-in-hand with two other factors: a) the idea that the remote spaces in which astronomical facilities are sometimes installed are ‘deserts’ or spaces without human occupation — often ignoring the importance of these same spaces for local groups who reside elsewhere; and b) the idea that astronomy is a science that is dedicated to transcendent questions and that it has nothing to do with, and need not take into account, associated political, economic and social debates/realities. All this, added to the prestige of the academic fields of astronomy and astrophysics, makes it very difficult for local populations to make their opinion heard without being relegated to a position of ignorance. Beyond the conflicts and how to avoid them, we believe that it is of utmost importance for astronomers to collaborate with researchers in disciplines that are familiar with and address these issues. Cultural astronomy is an interdisciplinary area in which astronomers, anthropologists, historians, archaeologists, sociologists, and others can work together and exchange valuable information. Thus, these disciplines have experts who have been studying everything that the installation of an astronomical complex implies for the local population. As a committee we believe that communication, to be real and deep, must go both ways; local and indigenous communities have things to say to astronomers. It is our charge to listen to them and learn from them.


American Astronomical Society (AAS) 238

New Initiative: Working Group on Culturally Sensitive Sites

Annette S. Lee (St. Cloud State University,, Jarita Holbrook (University of Edinburgh,, Javier Mejuto (Archaeoastronomy and Cultural Astronomy Department, Space Sciences Faculty. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras,, Steven R. Gullberg (University of Oklahoma,, Alejandro M. López (CONICET-Universidad de Buenos Aires,

As astrophysicists, we are attached to thinking of ourselves as scientific heroes with our gaze focused far into the future as we experience lookback time through our observations of the night sky. We enjoy the privilege and passion of a career in astronomy. However, there is another layer to this story. We are here today because of choices and history that were made yesterday. The covid-19 global pandemic has shifted our normal and given us pause to reconsider this history, our part in the present, and our responsibility in shaping the future. Indigenous protest to the expansion of observatories revealed a different image of astrophysicists: the latest agent of long term colonization and occupation of indigenous lands. 

AAS members have been actively engaged in their support of the rights of indigenous communities as part of expressing their own indigenous identities and making space for other indigenous astrophysicists. Academic communities connected to the University of California and University of Hawaii have expressed their position in an open letter in support of indigenous rights by requesting that these two universities divest from Mauna Kea. Our graduate students have crafted an open letter to the astrophysics community requesting further dialogue with indigenous communities rather than relying upon police and military interventions. Observatories do have programs to facilitate improved relations with local indigenous populations, but the work is ongoing. The AAS, the Royal Astronomical Society and IAU Division C Working Group on Archaeoastronomy and Astronomy in Culture have partnered to create a new initiative focused on culturally sensitive sites. 

Of importance is to build an interdisciplinary group that brings together experts within the astrophysics community and beyond that have been engaged with these issues, priorities, and communities. This poster is to introduce the initiative, to report on recent activities, and to invite participation by other AAS members that are invested in these issues. The path forward can only be forged by recognizing the past and acting for our future. Einstein himself said “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”.


Page MCAA Poster Book

Page in abstract book dedicated to ASTROMOVES Poster.


Marie Curie Alumni Association Annual Meeting:

ASTROMOVES: Careers and Research During Crisis. 

ASTROMOVES is a MSCA funded project focused on documenting and analysing the career moves and decision-making of astrophysicists and related scientists. Keeping with the conference theme of “Research in times of crisis”, the global pandemic has led to the restructuring of the project to include interviews conducted via the internet and more interactions via email rather than in person. The astrophysicists are speaking about how the pandemic is changing both their lives and how they are navigating their careers. Salient issues are life-work balance, unemployment and mental health. Presented are the demographics of the astrophysicists, some information about their career trajectories, and statistics on the duration of their career post PhD along with the number of positions they have held. Snippets of interviews will be used to illustrate the points that have been made about life-work balance, unemployment and mental health under normal circumstances and now during the Pandemic. 

Click to see the poster:  ASTROMOVESPosterJCH2


The Royal Astronomical Society’s National Astronomy Meeting: 

The New IAU-RAS Partnership focused on Culturally Sensitive Astronomy Sites: Beyond Land Acknowledgements

Steve Miller, Megan Argo, Steven R. Gullberg, Jarita Holbrook

Many in the RAS community will already be aware of sensitivities around the building and development of facilities on sites that have cultural and spiritual significance for local communities. Some will have followed the issues currently being experienced by the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Maunakea, Hawai’i, and the great steps to ensure that due respect is paid to local peoples during the construction of the Square Kilometre Array on the lands of the Wajarri Yamatji People, in Australia, and the Karoo Hoogland Municipality, in South Africa. Many of our community members have started to use land acknowledgements as a form of respect to the Indigenous peoples, such land acknowledgements are common in Australia and have spread.
In February 2020, the Council of the RAS agreed:
“Council recognises that much astronomical and geophysical data are obtained from sites where there are disputed historical and cultural issues, particularly in relation to indigenous and first nations rights and traditions.
“Council resolves:
1. To set up a joint group with our International Committee with a view to issuing guidelines and developing training for all astronomers and geophysicists to be aware of, and to take into account, cultural and historical issues in the sites from where their data are obtained.
2. To work with the IAU and other national astronomy and geophysical societies to develop astronomy-and-geophysics-specific ethical guidelines and accountability structures.”
Following this decision, a joint working group with the IAU Division C Working Group on Archeoastronomy and Astronomy in Culture and RAS has been set up, and work is now underway to carry out these aims. The new IAU/RAS Working Group is now meeting on a regular basis, and the aim of this session is to familiarise the community with its work, to solicit ideas and resources that might be useful, and to raise general awareness of the need to respect and account for local issues when using facilities and exploiting the data they generate.

The Royal Astronomical Society Fellows Event, Anti-Racism in Astronomy and Geophysics Workshop:

Where is Race, Racism and Discrimination in Astrophysics/Astronomy? 

Everyone would like to believe that their discipline is free from, immune from, and above existing societal issues such as racism and discrimination; however, the dearth of minoritized astrophysicists points to the truth. Holbrook’s session will be an overview of various minoritized astrophysicists’ experiences as they have navigated the discipline with the broader patterns that are revealed. These can be helpful to charting a way forward towards a more inclusive, welcoming and supportive discipline.


Société Européene pour l’Astronomie dans la Culture (SEAC) 2021 Annual Meeting:

Introducing ASTROMOVES

The ASTROMOVES project studies the career moves and the career decision-making of astrophysicists. The astrophysicists participating have to have made at least two career moves after receiving their doctorates, which is usually between 4 and 8 years post PhD. ASTROMOVES is funded via the European Union and thus each participant must have worked or lived in Europe. Gender, ethnicity, nationality, marital status, and if they have children are some of the many factors for analysis. Other studies of the careers of astronomers and astrophysicists have taken survey approaches (Janine Fohlmeister and Helling 2014; J. Fohlmeister and Helling 2012; Ivie et al. 2013; Ivie and White 2015) laying a foundation upon which ASTROMOVES builds. For ASTROMOVES qualitative interviews are combined with publicly available information for the project, rather than surveys. Valuable information about career options and the decisions about where not to apply will be gathered for the first time. Those few studies that have used qualitative interviews often include both physicists and astrophysicists, nonetheless they have revealed issues that are important to ASTROMOVES such as the role of activism and the nuances of having children related to the long work hours culture (Ong 2001; Rolin and Vainio 2011). The global COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down the project; however, at the time of this writing 20 interviews have been completed. These interviews support previous research findings on how having a family plays an important role in career decision making, as well as the importance of mobility in building a career in astrophysics. Unexpected preliminary results include imposter syndrome, unemployment, stalking and coping with the global pandemic (Holbrook 2021). Cultural Astronomy spans all aspects of the relationship between humans and the sky as well as all times ancient to the present; and thus, studying astronomers & astrophysicists who have a professional relationship to the sky is part of cultural astronomy, too.

Also at SEAC, this is a poster presentation: 

Cultural Astronomy & Modern Skywatching

Jarita Holbrook, Javier Mejuto, Steven R. Gullberg, Annette S. Lee, Alejandro M. López

The relationship between astronomical observatories on indigenous lands and the local people oftentimes is fraught with conflicts and unresolved tensions. The most recent example is the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on Mauna Kea on the Island of Hawai’i, USA, which has sparked much debate among astronomers (Prescod-Weinstein et al., 2020). Other USA examples include the building of the Daniel K Inouye Solar Telescope on Haleakala, on the Island of Maui, USA (Rimmele and McMullin, 2016), and Mount Graham Observatory in Arizona, USA (Brandt, 1995). Observatories take a variety of approaches to foster better communication and to have more positive connections with local populations with varying results (TMT, 2018; Kneale, 2015). Considering this history and the real possibility of the future expansion of existing observatories, the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) and International Astronomical Union (IAU) Division C Working Group on Archaeoastronomy and Astronomy in Culture partnered to create a new initiative focused on culturally sensitive sites connected to astronomy. When creating the committee, it was important to include people outside the astronomical community including cultural astronomers, anthropologists and other experts. Once formed, the group includes the current ISAAC and SIAC presidents, as well as representatives from the American Astronomical Society (AAS). This interdisciplinary group includes people that have been studying these issues (Jarita Holbrook, Alejandro López); and people that have experience collaborating with indigenous communities and advocating for indigenous priorities (Jarita Holbrook, Alejandro López, Annette S. Lee). The group is working to provide social, historical, and cultural context for astrophysicists to better understand the sites they use for astronomical observations; with the goal of fostering better cross cultural and intercultural relations with the local and indigenous people incorporating cultural perspectives. The Culturally Sensitive Sites group is less than a year old, but has been busy! This poster includes descriptions of their activities thus far.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 892944



(@Annette S. Lee)

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