CfP: Invisible Labor in Astronomy and Astrophysics, 7th Biennial Kathleen A. Zar Symposium, 14-16 Sept., University of Chicago

Invisible Labor in Astronomy and Astrophysics

First Announcement: Call for Papers

University of Chicago, September 14–16, 2023

7th Biennial Kathleen A. Zar Symposium

To coincide with the installation of our exhibit on “The Untold History of Women at Yerkes Observatory, 1900–1930,” the Capturing the Stars Research Group at the University of Chicago is organizing an interdisciplinary conference on Invisible Labor in Astronomy and Astrophysics. 

We define invisible labor broadly and welcome contributions that engage with this theme in any period or geographic region from scholars in all fields, including but not limited to astronomers, historians of science and/or photography, librarians, archivists, and scholars of science and technology studies. Contributions are especially encouraged from graduate students, early career researchers, and independent scholars.

We are soliciting proposals for individual presentations, organized panels, and workshops.

Possible topics include but are not limited to:

–       The ways in which invisible labor contributes to the advancement of knowledge

–       How and why certain forms of labor are more or less visible than others, and how this impacts the allocation of credit

–       The underrecognized labor of women, racialized minorities, LGTBQ+ individuals, and members of historically excluded communities in astronomy and astrophysics

–       Career options, paths to career advancement, and obstacles faced by members of historically excluded communities 

–       The under-acknowledged labor of technicians, instrument makers, or collaborators in the public sector (e.g., workers in the photographic profession, those involved in glass plate production, telescope operators, or amateur observers)

–       The dynamics of observatory labor in colonial and imperial contexts

–       Participation in astronomy and astrophysics in the Global South

–       The impact of politics and/or established power structures on individuals and astronomical institutions

–       Initiatives to diversify the profession, and the successes or failures of such initiatives

–       Public outreach, science communication, and education as astronomical labor

–       Volunteer labor and its rewards (or lack thereof)

In light of the under-acknowledged labor involved with obtaining and measuring early astronomical photographs and spectrograms, as illuminated by our work with the Yerkes Observatory Astronomical Glass Plate Collection, we would also like to encourage submissions that address a wide range of topics concerning these materials, their use, and digitization practices in the present. 

Such topics include but are not limited to: 

–       Essential metadata for glass plates, both direct plates and spectral plates

–       Handling, cleaning, or repairing of glass plates, physical aspects of managing glass plates (e.g. storage), and/or best practices for handling glass plates

–       Tutorials on using plate collections that have already been digitized

–       Lessons learned, practical examples of glass plate projects

–       Priorities in plate archiving

–       Non-astronomical uses of astronomical glass plates

–       Processes and techniques for digitization of plates and logbooks

–       Standards and guidelines for digitization and how this impacts scientific processes with the generated data. How can we preserve AND produce archival grade digital files that meet national and international standards for digitization (i.e. FADGI, METAMORFOZE)?

Thanks to generous support from the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society, funding is available to facilitate the participation of graduate students, early career researchers (within 5 years of graduation), and independent scholars. Please indicate in your proposal if you would like to be considered for this funding and provide an estimate of your travel costs to/from Chicago.

Selected presenters will be invited to revise their papers for possible inclusion in a special issue of the journal KNOW: A Journal on the Formation of Knowledge. All article submissions will be subject to full peer review. 

We anticipate an in-person conference. Presenters who are unable to attend in person will be able to present virtually. Select sessions will be livestreamed.

An optional, pre-symposium trip to Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin, is planned for Wednesday, September 13.

Submission Details:

Individual papers: Please provide an abstract of up to 250 words. Papers should be approximately 20-minutes in length and will be followed by 10 minutes of discussion.

Panel proposals: Please provide an abstract of up to 250 words for each paper and a panel abstract of approximately the same length. Each panel is allotted 90 minutes.  

Workshops: Please provide an abstract and description of up to 500 words for the session. Sessions may be led by individuals or groups and should invite audience participation. In the description, explain your chosen format, outline your session goals, describe your target audience, and include any special needs, including space, materials, technology, etc. 

The Deadline for submission is Monday, February 28, 2023. All submissions must be made online through the submission platform (

Final decisions on paper and submission acceptance will be announced in late March.

Questions can be directed to Kristine Palmieri (

Invisible Labor in Astronomy and Astrophysics is supported by the Kathleen A. Zar Symposium series, the John Crerar Foundation, the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society, and the Institute on the Formation of Knowledge.


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