Constellations: Reimagining Celestial Histories in the Early Americas

"Those who first invented and then named the constellations were storytellers. Tracing an imaginary line between a cluster of stars gave them an image and an identity. The stars threaded on that line were like events threaded on a narrative. Imagining the constellations did not of course change the stars, nor did it change the black emptiness that surrounds them. What it changed was the way people read the night sky." 
— John Berger

If the library is the cosmos, and books are the stars that fill it, then readers are celestial observers. Like ancient astronomers gazing at the sky, early modern readers created constellations with their ideas – as we do today. With curators Thomas Haddad and Nydia Pineda as our starry messengers, the John Carter Brown Library presents Constellations: Reimagining Celestial Histories in the Early Americas with nearly 90 books, maps, and prints from the JCB’s collection. Both a history of the early American heavens and a study of those communities who interpreted the firmament above them, the exhibition takes as its premise the idea that books in a library collection, like constellations, can acquire meaning through unexpected groupings, unstable connections that testify to the distinct meanings that the heavens revealed in the Americas, for the Americas, and from the Americas.

View the exhibition on the JCB website

View the Constellations's Immersive Experience, developed with IIMAS-UNAM 

See below for associated activities and events

Constellations exhibition launch and guided tour with Historian of Science Simon Schaffer

printed map

October 30, 3pm EDT

Join Simon Schaffer (University of Cambridge) in dialogue with curators Thomás Haddad (USP-Brazil) and Nydia Pineda (UC-San Diego) to discuss the exhibition and the broader panorama of early American astronomy. Moderated by JCB Director and Librarian Neil Safier. Click here for more information. 

Register for the event here.

What are we talking about when we talk about the history of astronomy in the Americas?

astronomical diagram

November 30, 3pm EDT

Join Robert Westman (UC-San Diego) as he moderates a conversation with Joyce Chaplin (Harvard University), Antonella Romano (École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris), Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra (University of Texas, Austin), and Miruna Achim (Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Cuajimalpa, Mexico). Click here for additional information and Zoom link.

Register for the event here.

Las constelaciones revisitadas

astronomical diagram

December 8, 3:30pm

Join Berenice Alcántara (Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas, UNAM, Mexico), Tayra Lanuza-Navarro (Università Ca’ Foscari-Italy), Juan Pimentel (CSIC-Madrid), Nydia Pineda (University of California, San Diego), Marina Rieznik (CONICET, Universidad de Buenos Aires, Universidad Nacional de Quilmes-CIC-BA, Argentina), and Antonio Saborit (Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico) for a roundtable in Spanish. Click here for additional information and Zoom link.

Register for the event here.


Curators: Nydia Pineda (University of California, San Diego) and Thomás Haddad (Universidade de São Paulo)

Specialist Consultants:
Laura Bland (University of Houston) - Seventeenth century comet tracts
Guillaume Candela (Center for the Study of the Early Modern World, Brown University) - Tupí-Guaraní language materials
Ana Díaz (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) - Nahuatl language materials
Virginia Iommi (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, Chile) - Celestial images
Antonio Neme Castillo (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) - Data visualization and analysis
Andrés Vélez Posada (Universidad EAFIT, Colombia) - Early modern cosmography

Artistic Contributor and Consultant:
Ale de la Puente (Sistema Nacional de Creadores, México)

Video Production:
Sabrina Almandoz
Hugo Magaña
Lalo Santoyo

Executive Production:
The John Carter Brown Library Staff