Master's Theses



Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


The beginning of the twentieth century was a time a great change and development within American astronomy. The period is rife with astronomers, both men and women, who advanced the discipline. However, few historians have looked at the lives of these astronomers. When an astronomer is chosen for closer study, they tend to be one who contributed to the astronomical discipline with a significant discovery. Unfortunately, those astronomers whose careers did not climax with discovery have a tendency to be forgotten by historians, even though their lives and research have affected our modern understanding. This thesis looks at one such astronomer named Heber Doust Curtis. Curtis did not make a grand discovery in the cosmos, but he combined his research with the research and observations of other astronomers to fundamentally change our understanding of the scale of the universe. To understand Curtis’ significance, the author looked at his published scientific papers and the papers of other astronomers from the era. This was done to see how Curtis’ research fit into other research being done at the beginning of the twentieth century. Also important in this study was the writing of contemporary authors who looked back on this period as a time of discovery, especially in shaping our understanding of the shape and extent of the cosmos. These elements combined show a rounded perspective of Curtis, during an epoch of great and significant astronomical discovery. These sources show Curtis’ importance as one of the main driving forces behind a modern return to the Island Universe theory, the belief that the Milky Way was not the only galaxy but one of many within the universe. Curtis’ tenacious support of this idea would fundamentally change our understanding of the shape and scale of the universe. For this reason, he is one of the most important American astronomers of the early twentieth century.


Dr. Kim Perez

Date of Award

Spring 2011

Document Type



© 2011 Hyrum Austin Somers


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