Dr Lee Macdonald

Featured Publication
kewobservatory book cover image

Kew Observatory and the Evolution of Victorian Science, 1840-1910 (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018)

Kew Observatory was originally built in 1769 for King George III, a keen amateur astronomer, so that he could observe the transit of Venus. By the mid-nineteenth century, it was a world-leading center for four major sciences: geomagnetism, meteorology, solar physics, and standardization. Long before government cutbacks forced its closure in 1980, the observatory was run by both major bodies responsible for the management of science in Britain: first the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and then, from 1871, the Royal Society. Kew Observatory influenced and was influenced by many of the larger developments in the physical sciences during the second half of the nineteenth century, while many of the major figures involved were in some way affiliated with Kew. Lee T. Macdonald explores the extraordinary story of this important scientific institution as it rose to prominence during the Victorian era. His book offers fresh new insights into key historical issues in nineteenth-century science: the patronage of science; relations between science and government; the evolution of the observatory sciences; and the origins and early years of the National Physical Laboratory, once an extension of Kew and now the largest applied physics organization in the United Kingdom.  

  • History of Astronomy
  • History of the Physical Sciences
  • History of Scientific Institutions in the Physical Sciences

My research interests focus on the history of the physical sciences, especially astronomy, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

My book, Kew Observatory and the Evolution of Victorian Science, 1840-1910, was published in 2018 by the University of Pittsburgh Press. I have also published papers in various journals about the history of observatories, astronomy and related sciences. I am currently planning new research on the history of Greenwich Observatory in the twentieth century.


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I currently teach:

History and Philosophy of Science – Supplementary Subject, Honour School of Natural Science

‘Science and Practice: Instruments, Collections and Museums, 1700-1900’ – MSc/MPhil in History of Science, Medicine and Technology

Social Media

‘Women in the History of Science: Celebrating International Women’s Day’ – in this video on the ‘Constructing Scientific Communities’ website, made for International Women’s Day 2017, I discuss the historical roles of women in astronomy: