On the Shoulders of Giants

Smithsonian Institution Libraries

These exercises and lesson plans are designed to accompany and enrich the study and discussion of the June 2004 Transit of Venus.




Students research the important events that were taking place during the major expeditions and make presentations on how they may have influenced the expeditionary teams.

Grade Level:



  • Identify and use different documents and sources for research
  • Put events into context of world or national events
  • Identify ways that events are influenced and don't operate in isolation
  • Report on events that influenced the Transit expeditions

  • Subject Area or Standard:


    Materials Needed:


    Chasing Venus
    Smithsonian Institution Libraries Online Exhibition, March 2004 to January 2005, http://www.sil.si.edu/exhibitions/Chasing-Venus.htm


    Chasing Venus
    Smithsonian Institution Libraries Exhibition, March 2004 to January 2005, Smithsonian Institution Libraries Gallery, National Museum of American History, Washington, DC

    The Expeditions

    Cape of Good Hope: Mason and Dixon
    St Helena: Maskelyne (1761)
    Rodrigues Island: Pingre
    Tobolsk, Siberia: Chappe
    St. John's, Newfoundland: Winthrop
    Tahiti: Cook
    Pondicherry, India: Le Gentil
    Cabo San Lucas, Mexico: Chappe
    North Cape, Norway: Bayley
    Haiti: Pingre
    Hudson Bay, Canada: Dymond

    Vladivostok: US and Russia
    Japan: US and France
    China: US, Germany and France
    Kerguelen Island, US, Britain and Germany
    Tasmania: US
    New Zealand: US and Britain
    Chatham Island: US
    Mauritius: Britain and Germany
    Iran: Germany and Russia
    Eqypt: Britain, Russia
    Hawaii: Britain
    Rodrigues Island: Britain
    St. Paul's Island: France
    Campbell Island: France
    Calcutta, India: Italy
    Tashkent: Russia
    Reunion Island: Netherlands
    South Africa: US and Britain
    Santa Cruz, Argentina: US
    Santiago, Chile: US
    Algeria: France
    South Georgia: Germany


    1. Students use the site http://www.ourtimelines.com/ or some other source.
    2. Use fictitious name and dates that will cover the period of one of the transits, e.g., 1750 to 1780, and enter the name and dates at the site. They then can recover various events that happened during that time period.
    3. Look for events that are listed just before and during the year of the transit.
    4. Then decide if any of them might have affected one of the expeditions. A look at the period from 1750 to 1780, for example, shows a British war in India. How would that have affected any of the expeditions?
    5. Students make a presentation to class with an accompanying timeline.


    Students create a timeline of important events that happened during their own lifetime.