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The 2020 Leroy E. Doggett Prize Awarded to Robert W. Smith

The Historical Astronomy Division Prize Committee is pleased to announce that Dr. Robert W. Smith is the recipient of the 2020 LeRoy E. Doggett Prize for Historical Astronomy. The Doggett Prize is awarded biennially to an individual who has significantly influenced the field through a career-long effort. In his decades-spanning career, Robert Smith has worked alongside astronomers and engineers to produce in-depth histories of the Hubble Space Telescope and James Webb Space Telescope, written a series of well-regarded books, and generated groundbreaking articles addressing the history of cosmology in the 19th and 20th centuries. This award recognizes both his scholarly achievements and his lengthy record of research mentorship to the next generation of science historians.

Robert Smith received his PhD in the History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge in 1979 under the guidance of previous Doggett Prize recipient Michael Hoskin. From 1982 to 1998, he held the position of Historian in the Department of Space History at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum (NASM), in Washington D.C., serving as the Department Chair during his last three years there. While at NASM, he was also an Adjunct Professor in the Department of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine, at The Johns Hopkins University. In 1998, Robert joined the faculty of the Department of History and Classics at the University of Alberta, in Edmonton, Canada; he served as Chair from 1998 to 2003.

Robert has been the Lindbergh Chair of Aerospace History at the Smithsonian Institution and a Fellow at the National Humanities Center, as well as a McCalla Professor and Killam Annual Professor at the University of Alberta. He was the History of Science Society’s 2012 Sarton Memorial Lecturer at the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 2016, he won the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Arts Award for Full Professors for Excellence in Research.

Robert’s main scholarly interests are in the history of science and technology from the late eighteenth century to today. Among his broad array of research topics are the discovery of Neptune; the rise of astrophysics; the technology and science of large reflector telescopes; the development of 20th-century cosmology, especially its observational aspects; Big Science; and historical themes in space science, including NASA and especially the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). He is currently acting as on-scene historian to the James Webb Space Telescope, attending project meetings, conducting interviews, and reviewing project documents. He is also co-editor of the forthcoming book, Neptune: From Grand Discovery to a World Revealed, which examines the circumstances and varied reactions to the discovery, the controversies that swirled around it, and what these events tell us about the nature of discovery and the history of astronomy. The book explores, too, later studies of Neptune, including the revelations of the Voyager spacecraft.

In addition to numerous scholarly articles and reviews, Robert has written a series of well-regarded books, including The Hubble Space Telescope: Imaging the Universe (2004), Imaging Space and Time (2008), and The Hubble Cosmos: 25 Years of New Vistas in Space (2014), all three published by the National Geographic Society and coauthored with David DeVorkin. His 1989 book, The Space Telescope: A Study of NASA, Science, Technology, and Politics won the History of Science Society's Watson Davis Prize in 1990 and was listed by the New York Times as one of the notable books of the year. He also co-edited, with R. Launius and J. Logsdon, The Expanding Universe: Astronomy’s ‘Great Debate’ 1900-1931 (Cambridge University Press, 1982; paperback 2010), as well as Reconsidering Sputnik: Forty Years Since the Soviet Satellite (Harwood Academic Publishers, 2000).

The Historical Astronomy Division is pleased to recognize our colleague Robert W. Smith for his significant scholarship and his numerous contributions to the history of astronomy. The award will be presented to him at a plenary session of the 235th meeting of the American Astronomical Society, to be held next January in Honolulu, Hawaii. We look forward to recognizing his achievements, and to hearing his plenary lecture!