Thursday, January 2, 2014

New University Course on Indigenous Astronomy

A new university course on Indigenous Astronomy will be taught at the University of New South Wales for the first time during Semester 1, 2014. The 3rd year course (ATSI 3006: Astronomy of Indigenous Australians) is worth 6 units of credit and is part of the new major in Indigenous Studies through the Nura Gili Indigenous Unit. It is one of 5 new courses on Indigenous Studies being developed for 2014. The new Indigenous Studies major was developed as a new way of teaching Indigenous Studies, which focuses on three themes:
  1. 'Continuities' show the ways in which Indigenous people use their traditional knowledge and cultural systems to sustain their communities today;
  2. 'Convergences, Ruptures, and Discontinuitiesprovide students with a variety of theoretical approaches for understanding the impact of colonisation on Indigenous peoples and communities;
  3. 'Navigating the Interface' enables students learn and appreciate the complexities of knowledge production in Indigenous cultures.

Image by Paul Curnow and Gail Glasper.

ATSI 3006 focuses on the ways in which astronomical knowledge is developed, utilised, and encoded in the oral traditions and material culture of Indigenous peoples, with a focus on Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders. This course will introduce students to the growing inter-discipline of cultural astronomy and explore the astronomical knowledge and traditions of Indigenous Australians. Students will learn about the history, development, theory, and methods of cultural astronomy, followed by a conceptual (non-mathematical) treatise of positional astronomy and celestial mechanics using the new state-of-the-art planetarium at Sydney Observatory. Students will then explore the myriad ways in which the sun, moon, and stars inform and guide Indigenous practices such as navigation, calendar development, and food economics, as well as social structure, including customs, laws, kinship structure, and marriage/totem classes.

"Milky Way" bark painting by Mawalan Marika from Yirrkala, NT (1963). Australian Museum collection.

The teaching method is not focused on lecturing. Instead, short lectures will be followed by in-class activities, discussion groups, and field trips. Assessments are based on in-class activities, a research project, and an industry project. The latter involves working with a curator, astronomeror educator to develop educational materials, curate an exhibit, develop an Indigenous astronomy program for a planetarium/observatory, or produce a media/art exhibit.

Students will also learn about opportunities to continue their study of Indigenous Astronomy through an Honours, Masters, or Doctoral program at UNSW.

Yuin elder Uncle Paul McLeod (right) teaches Nura Gili students about
traditional ecological knowledge at Jervis Bay. Photo by D. Hamacher.

But what if I am not majoring in Indigenous Studies - can I still take the course?


The course is available as a General Education unit (GenEd), meaning *any* student at UNSW that is eligible to enrol in a 3rd year course - regardless of their major - can take the subject, including foreign exchange and study abroad students.

About the Course Conveynor

Duane and Uncle Paul.

The course was developed, and will be taught, by Dr Duane Hamacher. Duane is a Lecturer and ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher at Nura Gili, specialising in Indigenous astronomy. Born and raised in the United States, he graduated with a degree in physics from the University of Missouri before moving to Sydney to complete a Masters degree in astrophysics at UNSW. He then earned a PhD in Indigenous Studies from Macquarie University with a thesis on Aboriginal Astronomy. Duane worked as an astronomy educator at Sydney Observatory for five years and is now a consultant curator. He has a passion for teaching and hopes to make this course one of the most engaging, interesting, and enjoyable courses students will have during their degree program.

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