FIG Peer Review Journal


The Introduction of Geodesy and Astronomy as an Academic Discipline in Norway in 1814 (5497)

Bjørn Ragnvald Pettersen (Norway)
Dr. Bjørn Ragnvald Pettersen
University of Environmental and Life Sciences
Department of Mathematical Sciences and Technology
P O Box 5003
Corresponding author Dr. Bjørn Ragnvald Pettersen (email: bjorn.pettersen[at], tel.: + 47 64965465)

[ abstract ] [ paper ] [ handouts ]

Published on the web 2012-03-08
Received 2011-11-01 / Accepted 2012-02-02
This paper is one of selection of papers published for the FIG Working Week 2012 in Rome, Italy and has undergone the FIG Peer Review Process.

FIG Working Week 2012
ISBN 97887-90907-98-3 ISSN 2307-4086


Based on handwritten sources in several archives we discuss events that influenced how geodesy and astronomy came to be an academic discipline at Norway’s first university in 1814. In addition to curriculum requirements, political and military evaluations set the trend. This occurred at a turbulent time for Norway, when a declaration of independence was in effect for 10 months in 1814. A geodetic reference frame established 1779-1813 by the Geographical Survey of Norway came under dispute and a need for astronomical verification emerged. This led to small observatories being established in Oslo and Bergen. In the course of a decade they improved the longitudes from an error of 20’ to 1’. Eventually, this led to a permanent observatory at the University of Oslo, which came to serve as the national reference meridian for surveying and mapping during a century. Geodesy remained a major component of the astronomical activities at the University of Oslo during the 19th Century, including national participation in the Struve geodetic arc and the Mittel-Europeische Gradmessung. It took 40 years before classical astronomical observing programs grew to significance, i.e. positional astronomy, orbits of asteroids and comets, stellar position catalogues.
Keywords: Curricula; Positioning; History; Reference frames