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Osterbrock Book Prize

The Donald E. Osterbrock Book Prize for Historical Astronomy

Osterbrock Book Prize Rules

The Historical Astronomy Division awards the Donald E. Osterbrock Book Prize biennially to the author(s) of a book judged to advance the field of the history of astronomy or to bring history of astronomy to light.

The award is made in odd-numbered years. Books copyrighted in the years from five years before the award year through two years before the award year will be eligible for this award.

The award was originated by HAD in 2009 and was named in memory of Donald E. Osterbrock in 2010. Osterbrock was a long-time HAD member, a contributor to nearly every HAD meeting, HAD Chair from 1987-89, and the recipient of HAD’s highest honor, the LeRoy E. Doggett Prize for Historical Astronomy, in 2002.

More about Donald E. Osterbrock


  • 2017: Thomas Hockey for the Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers (2nd edition)
  • 2015: Barbara J. Becker for Unravelling Starlight: William and Margaret Huggins and the Rise of the New Astronomy
  • 2013: Harvey M. Bricker and Victoria R. Bricker for Astronomy in the Maya Codices
  • 2011: Nathan Sivin for Granting the Seasons: The Chinese Astronomical Reform of 1280, With a Study of Its Many Dimensions and a Translation of its Records

Nominations for the prize may be made by any member of HAD, including Division Affiliate members, and must be made by 1 March of the year before the award year. Thus books with publication dates from 2014 through 2017 will be eligible for the 2019 prize and must be nominated by 1 March 2018. Nominations should be sent to the HAD Secretary-Treasurer, who is also the secretary of the HAD Prize Committee. Books with publication dates of 2014 or 2015 that were nominated for the 2017 prize remain in contention and do not need to be renominated. It is recommended that nominators include a letter in support of their nomination and give references to any published reviews. Additional letters of support are welcome. E-mail is preferred.


Rules for the Donald E. Osterbrock Book Prize

[last revised April 2017]

  1. General
    1. The Donald E. Osterbrock Book Prize for Historical Astronomy (hereafter “the Prize”) consists of an appropriate certificate containing a citation from the Historical Astronomy Division (HAD) of the American Astronomical Society (AAS).
    2. At the discretion of the HAD Committee (Sec. III), the Prize may be accompanied by an honorarium and/or travel expenses to a HAD meeting in order to give an invited lecture.
    3. The Prize shall be given no more often than biennially, on the schedule specified in Sec. IV.
    4. Recipients of the Prize may be of any nationality and need not be members of HAD or of the AAS.
    5. The Prize shall be administered in accordance with the Bylaws of the AAS and the policies of the AAS Council.
  2. Criteria for the Prize
    1. The Prize shall be awarded to the author(s) of a book judged to advance the field of the history of astronomy or to bring history of astronomy to light.
    2. In the above, “history of astronomy” is taken in its broadest sense, that is, to include all historical studies of the astronomical research, observations, practices, and beliefs of all cultures, past and present.
  3. The Prize Committee
    1. The recipient of the Prize shall be chosen by the HAD Prize Committee, which consists of five persons: the immediate past HAD Chair (Chair of the Prize Committee), the present HAD Chair, the HAD Secretary/Treasurer (Secretary of the Prize Committee), and two at-large members proposed by the HAD Chair and approved by the HAD Committee.
    2. The two at-large members shall serve staggered four-year terms beginning in alternate Januaries. At any given time no more than one of these persons may be a non-member of both the AAS and HAD. In choosing the at-large members, a balance shall be sought on the Committee between the various branches and styles of research in the history of astronomy.
    3. Current members of the Prize Committee are not eligible for the Osterbrock Prize.
  4. Selection Procedure
    1. The Prize Committee shall issue a call for nominations, either in the HAD News or by other means, no later than 15 months before the award of the prize, which shall be awarded in January of odd-numbered years. A nomination consists of a detailed letter of support and the title, publisher, and date of the book nominated. Nominations may be proposed by any Member or Affiliate Member of HAD.
    2. Nominations will be accepted by the Secretary of the Prize Committee until March 1 of the year before the date of the award.
    3. To be eligible for the Prize a book must have been published two to five years preceding the award. Thus only books with publication dates 2014 through 2017 shall be eligible for the 2019 prize, the recipient of which shall be chosen in 2018. Books nominated with publication dates in the last two years of such a period which are not selected will automatically be considered again for the next award.
    4. To be eligible books must be published in English.
    5. The Prize Committee's selection shall be guided by the perceived quality of the books nominated.
    6. The Committee shall select a recipient by majority vote.
    7. The Committee may decide at any time not to award a Prize for the current cycle.
    8. Books consisting primarily of material previously published in another form shall not be eligible for the Prize.
    9. The Committee may ask publishers to provide review copies of nominated books.
    10. The Prize Committee shall make its announcement of the winner, if any, as well as the citation for the winner, by October 1 of the year before the award. The Prize Committee shall also decide at this time whether the recipient(s) shall be invited to give a lecture at the following HAD meeting. The HAD Committee shall decide whether travel expenses for the recipient shall be provided, and the amount of any honorarium. These decisions will be guided by the procedures given in Sec. V.
  5. Prize Fund
    1. A permanent Prize Fund shall be established and administered by the AAS. The HAD Committee shall determine what fraction of the Fund's income shall be used to maintain the Fund against inflation. The remaining income shall be available for the Prize and its associated expenses. If income from the Fund is insufficient, the HAD Committee may authorize that Prize expenses be obtained from the principal of the Prize Fund or from the HAD general account.
    2. The HAD Committee shall make prudent and equitable decisions regarding the amounts to award in any given year for any honoraria and travel expenses.
  6. Amendments
    1. The HAD Committee is empowered to change these rules by majority vote; such changes shall not apply to the current Prize cycle.