About the Journal

Focus and Scope

Aurorae Borealis Studia Classica ('Classic Studies of the Northern Lights') is a series of digitized books and other texts, with introductions in the form of biographical introductions and summaries of contents. All content is Open Access except when stated otherwise.

Open Access Policy

This series provides immediate open access to its content on the principle that making research freely available to the public supports a greater global exchange of knowledge. There are no submission or publication charges.

The digitized books are in the public domain. Follow this link to find information about proper use of public domain material.

Why this series came into being

The aurora borealis, or northern light, polar light, has for centuries been capable of spellbinding both lay and learned. The northernmost part of Norway lies within the auroral zone, where the spectacle occurs most frequently. In this region, a considerable amount of research into the aurora has been undertaken over the years. Publishing a series of digitized books from the history of auroral research was therefore a natural choice for the University Library of UiT The Arctic University of Norway. The first volumes in this series of digitized works with introductions were published in December 2016.

In Vardø, the Jesuit Maximilianus Hell set up a combined astronomical and geophysical observatory, which he used during the Venus Transit Expedition of 1768/69. At Bossekop (Alta), a French-Scandinavian team lead by Paul Gaimard (the La Recherche Expedition) conducted extensive research into the northern lights in 1838/39. Similar observational programmes were undertaken in Bossekop and Kautokeino/Guovdageaidnu during the first International Polar Year (1882/83). At the Haldde mountain peak outside Alta, observations started in the winter 1899/1900 and were soon followed up by the construction of a permanent mountain-top observatory, thanks to lobbying from physicist Kristian Birkeland amongst others. By 1926, however, activity at Haldde had come to an end with the creation of a new institution on Tromsø Island, the Tromsø Geophysical Observatory. At the University of Tromsø (founded in 1968; since 2012 merged with several university colleges in the region and renamed UiT The Arctic University of Norway), auroral research has been a specialty from the very start. Tromsø Geophysical Observatory is nowadays included in the Department of Physics. A milestone in its history is the establishment in 1975 of EISCAT, or European Incoherent Scatter Scientific Association, with partners in France (until 2005), Britain, Germany, Sweden, and Finland from the start; later, even Japan and China have joined.

Research into the northern lights has always had a transnational dimension. Neither the history of auroral research, nor the spectacular phenomenon itself, belongs to any nation or region in particular. Since the dawn of the so-called Scientific Revolution in the early 1600s, attempts to explain the phenomenon in scientific terms have been put forward by Italians, French, Britons, Germans, Russians, Finns, Swedes, Danes, US Americans, and so forth. Theoretical discourses have also been highly interdisciplinary, with contributions from disciplines now known as meteorology, laboratory physics, geophysics, optics, et cetera. It is also a field where information provided by local populations, often indigenous peoples of the Arctic, has been taken seriously by scientists. Furthermore, images were of prime importance; depicting the aurora posed a challenge to artists and scientists alike. Illustrations thus became an important ingredient in scientific papers on the aurora; indeed, professional artists would often be assigned to collaborate with scientific crews in their efforts to ‘capture’ the fleeting phenomena in the skies.

The series Aurorae Borealis Studia Classica views the history of northern lights research from the angle of books. Paying no heed to priorities of chronology, impact, beauty, or originality, a (more or less random) selection of historical attempts to explain the phenomenon will be presented in the form of digitized books, along with biographical introductions and summaries of contents made by contemporary scholars. The introductions and summaries are meant as guidelines for the reader. Whenever possible, the digitized originals have undergone OCR processing, meaning that the PDF's are searchable in fulltext. Please be advised that OCR, or optical character recognition technology is not entirely accurate; depending on the original, approximately 1–8 % of the words in a given text are likely to be wrongly interpreted by the software.