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OpenLearn Live: 8th March 2016

Updated Tuesday, 8th March 2016

A pioneering astronomer who went from Dundee to the Moon. Then more free learning across the day.

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OpenLearn Live brings free learning into the heart of your world. This page will be updated across the day.

Yesterday, we celebrated the father of email and marked the start of Open Education Week

See the complete collection of OpenLearn Live

Today's posts

Open Education Week: Marshall McLuhan Speaks

This week is Open Education Week - yesterday we dipped into a couple of offerings including a video showing different wave types and a copyright card game. Today, we're saluting the wonderful collection of items made available by the Marshall McLuhan Speaks Special Collection. You'll find a collection of full interviews, deftly snipped soundbites, and footage of lectures and panels given by one of the foremost thinkers in the field of human communication.

Visit Marshall McLuhan Speaks Special Collection

International Women's Day

It's International Women's Day. Which means two things - first, Richard Herring is going to spend most of his day politely sending the message "19th November" to people on Twitter:

More importantly, it's a day for celebrating the achievements of women around the world; focusing on how far we still need to travel before we achieve a truly equal world - and promising to do something about it.

This year's theme is Pledge For Parity:

Celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women. 
Yet let's also be aware progress has slowed in many places across the world, so urgent action is needed to accelerate gender parity.
Leaders across the world are pledging to take action as champions of gender parity.

See more about the Pledge For Parity at the official site

To understand the context, try our free course Economics explains discrimination in the labour market

A week in Dundee: Williamina Fleming

This week, we're starting every day with a visit to Dundee. Yesterday, we heard the story of the often-destroyed City Churches. Today, as it's also Internation Women's Day, we're going to meet an amazing scientist who was born in the city - Williamina Fleming.

Williamina Fleming (standing) oversees a group of female 'computers' working at Harvard, known colloquially as Copyright free  image Icon Copyright free: Public domain Willimina Fleming (standing) oversees "Pickering's Harem", a group of women computers at the Harvard College Observatory

Williamina was born in Dundee, above a sweetshop, on May 15th, 1857. She worked in the city as a teacher, and married James Orr Flemming in 1877. The couple emigrated to Boston where James deserted her, leaving her pregnant, miles from home, and without means. She took a job as a housekeeper with Charles Pickering, who at the time ran the Harvard College Observatory.

There are two stories as to how she moved from keeping house to tracking stars - one is that Pickering was simply impressed with her intelligence and gave her an opportunity to use her skills; the other is slightly more romantic, but insulting:

a male assistant proved to be unsatisfactory and ‘in a huff Pickering is reported to have said...that he believed his housekeeper could do a better job.’

Whether out of recognition or spite, Williamina did prove to have a knack as an astrologer. She returned to Scotland to give birth, but then crossed back to Boston and by 1881 was a permanent member of the observatory's team.

The college was funded to run a project photographing the entire night sky, and Williamina found herself overseeing the team of "computers" - a group of women who cataogued and identified the stars in the photos. In a nine year period:

she catalogued over 10,000 stars as well as discovering 59 gaseous nebulae, 310 variable stars and 10 novae. She also discovered the Horsehead nebula on a photographic plate taken by William Pickering.

Which is pretty impressive by any standards. At the end of the 19th Century, that was astonishing.

By 1900, she had risen to become Curator of Astronomical Photographs at Harvard.

She died at the age of 54, a victim of pneumonia. Her work was recognised - sometimes latterly - and amongst the highest honour she received was having a crater on the moon named after her. Although she had to share the honour with Alexander Fleming, which is a bit like an astological equivalent of Corrie marrying Elsie Tanner to Steve Tanner so they didn't have to worry about changing the surnames.

So, Williamina sits at the intersection of 'Dundee week' and 'International women's day'. I bet you're thinking 'if only there was an angle to mark Open Education Week', right?

Actually there is - Harvard have made a lot of documents about her work for the university available as part of the Open Collections Programme.

Want to follow in her footsteps? Try our return to STEM tool





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