In Omar W. Nasim
's new book, a series of fascinating characters sketch, paint, and etch their way toward a mapping of the cosmos and the human mind. Observing by Hand: Sketching the Nebulae in the Nineteenth Century
(University of Chicago Press, 2013) examines the history of observation of celestial nebulae in the nineteenth century, exploring the relationships among the acts of seeing, drawing, and knowing in producing visual knowledge about the heavens and its bodies. Observing by Hand
treats not just published images, but also argues for the centrality of "working images" to the histories of science and observation, paying special attention to personal drawings in private notebooks as instruments of individual and collective observation. Nasim's approach blends the history and philosophy of science in a study that informs the histories of astronomy, images, and paperwork, and that emphasizes the importance of the philosophy of mind and its history in shaping this heavenly narrative. His transdisciplinary approach spans several media that include maps and portraits, oil paintings and etchings, private drawings and collectively-produced published images. The book helped me see Van Gogh's The Starry Night
, and the starry night above, with new eyes and a new appreciation for the vision and visioning of nineteenth century astronomical observers.