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.

Immersive Experience

 Website View



Comets across the Colonial Americas, an interview with Laura Bland

Laura Bland (University of Houston) presents the fascinating conversations about comets that happened in the 1680's.

Imagining the Southern Cross, an interview with Virginia Iommi

Historian Virginia Iommi (Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Valparaiso, Chile) explores the cultural and graphical implications of the Southern Cross.

Eclipses and Cosmography in the Spanish Empire, an interview with Andrés Vélez Posada

In this video, historian of science Andrés Vélez Posada (Universidad EAFIT, Medellín, Colombia) discusses the role of sixteenth-century Spanish imperial cosmography in the Americas.

Teaser --- Constellations: Reimagining Celestial Histories in the Early Americas 



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

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. Event recorded on October 30, 2020, 3pm.

Roundtable: Las constelaciones revisitadas

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. Event recorded on December 8, 2020, 3:30pm.

Roundtable: What are we talking about, when we are talking about the history of astronomy in the Americas

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). Event recorded on Monday, November 30, 2020, 3pm.

* video coming soon *

Books in the Exhibition


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

Executive Production:
Pedro Germano Leal (The John Carter Brown Library)

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

Data Analysis and Website Programming (Immersive Experience):
Sergio Mota (Instituto de Matemáticas Aplicadas y Sistemas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México)
Santiago Rodríguez (Facultad de Matemáticas, Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán)
Alejandro García (Facultad de Matemáticas, Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán)

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

Video Production:
Sabrina Almandoz
Hugo Magaña
Lalo Santoyo

Digitization of items for this exhibition has been generously supported by the R. David Parsons Fund for Digital Exploration. Programming support was received from Robert N. Gordon (in memoriam) and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation