William H. Donahue
William H. Donahue (St. John’s College / Green Lion Press) is the recipient of the 2022 LeRoy E. Doggett Prize for Historical Astronomy.
The Doggett Prize, awarded biennially by the American Astronomical Society’s (AAS’s) Historical Astronomy Division (HAD), goes to an individual who has significantly influenced the field through a career-long effort.
In his decades-spanning career, Donahue has made many contributions to the history of astronomy from antiquity to the early modern period. The most significant are his essential translations into English of Johannes Kepler’s Astronomia Nova (New Astronomy, 1609) and Astronomiae Pars Optica (Optical Part of Astronomy, often referred to simply as Optics, 1604).
Translation of complex scientific works such as these demonstrates his scientific knowledge, necessary to understand the technical aspects of the books, as well as his linguistic skill, essential to read the original texts and convert them into English correctly.
Donahue received his BA from St. John’s College, Annapolis, Md., in 1967, and his PhD from the University of Cambridge, England, in 1973. His dissertation, The Dissolution of the Celestial Spheres, 1595-1650, was published by Arno Press in 1981. From 1973 to 1976, he taught in the Great Books curriculum at St. John’s College in Santa Fe, leading seminars and tutorials in ancient, medieval, and modern literature and philosophy; ancient Greek; music; classical physics; and Kepler’s astronomy.
For this last, he translated substantial selections from Kepler’s Astronomia Nova. In 1976, he left St. John’s to organize and teach mathematics and science at the New School of Santa Fe, a completely individualized primary and secondary school. While there, he organized and directed New Mexico’s most extensive school outdoor program, including rock climbing, cross country skiing, white water kayaking and rafting, and wilderness survival skills.
In 1981, Donahue left the New School and obtained a grant from the National Science Foundation to complete his translation of Astronomia Nova, which was published by Cambridge University Press in 1992 and in a revised edition by Green Lion Press in 2015. Subsequently, he received grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities for a guided study of Astronomia Nova and for the first English translation of Astronomiae Pars Optica (the latter now published by Green Lion), and from the American Philosophical Society for study of the Kepler manuscripts in St. Petersburg, Russia.
He has published numerous articles on Kepler in the Journal for the History of Astronomy (JHA) and the British Journal for the History of Science. His 1988 JHA article, “Kepler’s Fabricated Figures: Covering Up the Mess in the New Astronomy,” was featured in the New York Times science section and was reported in the news media worldwide.
From 2005 to 2016, Donahue served as Director of Laboratories at St. John’s College, Santa Fe, where he administered the college’s unique history-based science program, required of all undergraduates. Upon his retirement in 2016, he was appointed Tutor Emeritus. He is now also co-director and technical manager of Green Lion Press, which publishes a wide variety of classic texts and translations related to the history of science, mathematics, and ideas.
The AAS Historical Astronomy Division is pleased to recognize Donahue for his impressive scholarship and his contributions to the history of astronomy. The Doggett Prize will be presented to him at a plenary session of the 239th AAS meeting in January 2022 in Salt Lake City, Utah.