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Extraterrestrial Life and our World View at the Turn of the Millennium
by Steven J. Dick

Dibner Library Lecture
Smithsonian Institution Libraries
May 2, 2000


In 1992, the Smithsonian Institution Libraries inaugurated a series of annual lectures on varied topics and themes, all sharing a common element of using the rich resources found in the Libraries' Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology. Supported by The Dibner Fund, the series has become increasingly popular, which prompted the Libraries to consider publishing them. Although this booklet contains the ninth Dibner Library Lecture, it is the first in the series of published lectures, which are also generously supported by The Dibner Fund.

The ninth lecture featured Steven J. Dick, an astronomer and historian of science at the U. S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. To support his topic of "Extraterrestrial Life and our World View at the Turn of the Millennium," Dr. Dick used as authorities several treasures in the Dibner Library, including the works of Galileo, Giovanni Battista Riccioli, Fontenelle, and Descartes. He imaginatively combined works of these natural philosophers with images recently taken from the Hubble Space Telescope. His speculative discussion with its strong historical underpinnings is bound to attract and retain the attention of astronomers and biologists for generations to come.

Bern Dibner (1897-1988) is the individual responsible for bringing together the remarkable collection of books now housed in the Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology, the crown jewel in the circlet comprising the 22 branches of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries. An electrical engineer, book collector, and philanthropist, Dr. Dibner donated over 8,000 volumes of rare scientific and technological works from his Burndy Library to the Smithsonian on the occasion of the United States Bicentennial celebration in 1976. He considered it a gift to the nation responsible for his success. This splendid donation forms the heart of the Smithsonian's first rare book library and contains many major works dating from the fifteenth to the early nineteenth centuries in engineering, transportation, chemistry, mathematics, physics, electricity, and astronomy.

We thank The Dibner Fund for supporting the lecture series and its publications. The Smithsonian Office of Imaging, Printing, and Photographic Services produced the images from the remarkable Dibner Library collections. Staff from the Libraries' Special Collections Department and Publications Office helped with various aspects of planning for the lecture and production of this booklet. We are also grateful to Steven Dick who supplied the lecture and publishable manuscript, the exceptional quality of which sets a high standard for this series. We hope you enjoy it.

Nancy E. Gwinn
Smithsonian Institution Libraries
October 2000

Text of the Lecture