To read this content please select one of the options below:

‘Intersites of Knowledge’: Jules Janssen's Nineteenth-century Astronomical Apparatus and a Contemporary Moving Image System

Deirdre Feeney (University of South Australia, Australia)


This chapter details a practice-based investigation of a 19th-century astronomical device known as ‘Janssen’s apparatus’. It questions traditional narratives of linear technological advancement and ‘sole inventor’ to reframe the historical artefact as a site which makes visible a network of technological knowledge interconnecting astronomy and visual culture. Approached from this perspective, the Janssen artefact is reframed as an ‘intersite of knowledge’, exploring how the various know-how contained within the device is located across disciplines rather than within a single field. Originally developed to calculate the Astronomical Unit during the 1874 Transit of Venus, Janssen’s apparatus failed in its endeavour as a measuring instrument, but its motion mechanism was successfully adapted into early cinema technologies. This chapter applies praxis through the development of a prototype artwork and the concept of ‘techne’ as speculative means of understanding how this mechanism was transferred from astronomy to the Western cultural realm. It proposes that the development of the apparatus was partially gleaned from moving image techniques already in use within 19th-century visual culture. The development of the prototype artwork is discussed in relation to the specific timing mechanism of the Janssen apparatus and how it establishes its own ‘intersite of knowledge’ relevant to its contemporary context. Finally, this chapter elaborates on how witnessing the Janssen mechanism in motion provided unique insight and how creating a dialogue between historical and contemporary apparatus facilitates a reconsideration of how galleries, libraries, archives, and museums [GLAM] and other host institutions that contain artefacts might share their hidden stories.



Feeney, D. (2024), "‘Intersites of Knowledge’: Jules Janssen's Nineteenth-century Astronomical Apparatus and a Contemporary Moving Image System", Nichols, J. and Mehra, B. (Ed.) Data Curation and Information Systems Design from Australasia: Implications for Cataloguing of Vernacular Knowledge in Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums (Advances in Librarianship, Vol. 54), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 231-250.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2024 Deirdre Feeney