After the invention of the telescope in 1608, early telescopic observations provided new views of the heavenly bodies and the sidereal universe. Though the telescope was central to the development of modern astronomy, aspects of its origin, evolution, and diffusion remain poorly understood. In particular, for early observers the ability to observe more details was closely linked to improving the optical performance of their telescopes. Dioptrice is an initiative to develop a richer history of the telescope through a census of surviving instruments and analysis of their optical properties.

Dioptrice consists of two phases of research. The first phase is the construction of a searchable database of surviving refracting telescopes created prior to the advent of achromatic lenses in c. 1775. Initial information on these instruments was gathered from direct inspection of artifacts in public and private collections, online and published collection catalogues, and correspondence with museum curators over the course of three years. The database is supplemented with images of early refracting telescopes in works of art as well as books and manuscripts, primarily from the rare book collection of the Webster Institute for the History of Astronomy at the Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum. The database will continue to grow as additional collections are investigated and new instruments found. This phase of Dioptrice represents a unique research tool documenting the material culture of telescopes and their representations in art. It also allows information on collections around the world to be accessed by a wider research audience and provides an avenue for the general public to explore and engage these unique scientific artifacts.

Phase two of Dioptrice involves the careful optical testing and analysis of many of the instruments in the database using adaptive optics to study optical performance, glass quality, and lens configuration. This ongoing aspect of the project will address questions of technological transfer in these instruments as well as exploring aspects of material production, diffusion, and craftsmanship.

Dioptrice is supported by National Science Foundation grant 0924713, National Endowment for the Humanities grant RZ-51106-09, and the Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum. The online database is designed and maintained by Parallactic Consulting.

The principal investigators of Dioptrice are Marvin Bolt (Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York) and Michael Korey (Mathematisch-Physikalischer Salon, Dresden, Germany). Dioptrice is curated by Stephen Case (Program for the History and Philosophy of Science, University of Notre Dame, Indiana). If you have questions or would like to have your collection listed in Dioptrice, please contact Stephen Case at scase1@nd.edu.

In The News