Jarita C. Holbrook

born: 1965; place: Honolulu, Hawaii

Pre-doctorate education: B.S. Physics (1987), California Institute of Technology; M.S. Astronomy, (1992) San Diego State University

Doctorate: Ph.D. Astronomy & Astrophysics (1997) University of California, Santa Cruz

Area: History and Cultural Studies of Astronomy

current employment. Assistant Research Scientist, The Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology, The University of Arizona

URL: http://www.u.arizona.edu/~holbrook/
old: http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/history/csstm/holbrook/
email: holbrook@u.arizona.edu
old: holbrook@history.ucla.edu

Jarita C. Holbrook, received her degree in 1997 from the University of California at Santa Cruz. A National Science Foundation postdoctoral research fellow at UCLA, her interest is mainly in contemporary and historical African astronomy and cultural astronomy. Holbrook has traveled to Africa and the South Pacific to document celestial navigation techniques there and how new technologies have modified those techniques. Interestingly, she married her classmate at UCSC who is also an astrophysicist and she gave birth last March to a future stargazer, Mirabai Jamilla Dave.

Experience (since the Ph.D.)

1998 NSF Minority Postdoctoral Research Fellow, UCLA.

Oct 98 - Oct 00 Minority Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Biological, Social,Behavioral, and Economic Sciences, National Science Foundation:

Aug 99 - Nov 99 Visiting Faculty, Department of Seamanship and Navigation, United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, MD

May 99 - July 99 Cultural Astronomer, Celestial Navigation Fieldwork, Kerkennah Islands, Tunisia, North Africa

Oct 98 - Jan 99 Visiting Faculty, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Colgate University, Hamilton, NY

August 1998 Cultural Astronomer, Celestial Navigation Fieldwork, Moce Island, Fiji, South Pacific

Oct 97 - July 98 Visiting Scholar, Center for the Cultural Studies of Science, Technology, and Medicine, History Dept., UCLA

Sept 1997 Visiting Scientist, Research on organic compounds in comets, NASA Ames Research Center

July 1997 Cultural Astronomer, Celestial Navigation and Astronomical Artifacts Fieldwork, Tunisia, North Africa.

June 1997 Professor, Physics Dept., North Carolina A&T State University, Greensboro, NC

2000 Minority Postdoctoral Research Fellow in The UCLA Center for the Cultural Studies of Science, Technology, and Medicine



Current Projects:

* African Astronomy & Culture
* Celestial Navigation in Three Cultures: Fiji, Tunisia, and the United States
* Celestial Navigation in East Africa
* Celestial Aspects of African Art

Research Interests:  The night sky continues to fascinate people all over the world.  How people think about the sky, use the sky, and depict the sky is immensely varied.  Assuming that these variations reflect social and environmental differences, I use sky lore and sky knowledge as a way to probe cultures other than my own.  Oftentimes, I decipher the science behind the myths: For example, moon goddess myths often speak of the goddess growing larger and then shrinking and growing larger again.  This reflects the observed waxing and waning of the moon which occurs over 29.5 days.

As an applied anthropologist, I am thinking through ways in which my research can be of benefit.  As a BARA member, I study indigenous knowledge systems and practices primarily to uncover the science in order to better understand the limitations of their effectiveness.  This can be important in 'development' settings because quaint practices are then scientifically validated and transformed into practices that work.  These practices then can be left intact or modified rather than destroyed.

I'm currently writing a manuscript on my recently completed study of celestial navigation in three cultures.  The communities were located on Moce Island in Fiji, on the Kerkennah Islands in Tunisia, and at the United States Naval Academy.  All these communities continue to navigate at night on the ocean using the stars.  However, the way they use the stars and which stars they use reflects their physical location on the Earth as well as their navigation needs.  The next phase of this project will study present day navigation on the Red Sea and Indian Ocean focusing on East Africa.

The primary focus of my research has been Africa.  Typical of African studies projects I use a variety of research methods including archival research, oral history, ethnography, participant observation, and theoretical tools from several disciplines including the sociology of science, black studies, philosophy, cultural studies and science studies.  I freely admit that I am better at data collection and analysis than theorizing!

Web Projects:  As part of my research in astronomy and culture, I spend a lot of time in museums searching for artifacts.  What I find is art, instruments, and tools relevant to astronomy.  I have been toying with what to do with this information but for now I want to make it available to the public. If you do use any of this information for your classes or publications please cite this website. 



  1. Holbrook, J.C., "Celestial Navigation and Technological Change on Moce Island", Submitted Archaeoastronomy: The Journal of Astronomy in Culture (to appear)
  2. Holbrook, J.C., "Stellar Navigators of the Kerkennah Islands, Tunisia", Archaeoastronomy &Ethnoastronomy Newletter, June 1998.
  3. Holbrook, J.C., Temi, P. "An Analysis of the Infrared Reflection Nebula and Circumstellar Environment of GL 2136", Astrophysical Journal v.496, p.280, 1997
  4. Holbrook, J.C., Temi, P., Rank, D., Bregman, J "An Infrared Study of the Juggler Nebula" From Stardust to Planetesimals: Contributed Papers, M.E. Kress, A.G.G.M. Tielens, and Y.J. Pendleton, eds., NASA-CP# 3343, p.41, 1996
  5. Lindler, D., Heap, S., Holbrook, J., Malumuth, E., Norman, D., Vener-Saavedra, P. "Star Detection, Astrometry, and Photometry of Restored PC Images, " The Restoration of HST Images and Spectra - II, STSci, Baltimore, 1993

references: Fikes: From Banneker to Best: Some Stellar Careers In Astronomy and Astrophysics; Holbrook's web page


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