Charting our history: two centuries of the RAS


A digital Timeline designed to celebrate the bicentenary of the RAS is now live on the RAS website and on Instagram – as well as printed as a concertina poster sent to RAS Fellows with the December issue of the A&G magazine.

You can now explore 200 years of astronomy and geophysics at the RAS through spectacular and sometimes surprising images and figures; teaming up with PHILPOTTdesign proved the key to a striking reimagining of archive and modern materials. “We have made something that is very beautiful,” said RAS Executive Director Philip Diamond. “It’s a crystallized history of the Society. It shows that our history is bound up in the history of our areas of interest, and it demonstrates where important contributions were made by our Fellows. And we are able to show, as well, that we have made progress in 200 years. We are very different now, more modern and more diverse.”

The core of the Timeline is presented on Instagram. “I’m so pleased that we are presenting our 200 years of history on Instagram,” said Lucinda Offer, RAS Education and Outreach Officer who managed the Timeline project. “We’re reaching out to different, younger people and I think that’s a big step forward.” RAS Librarian and Archivist Sian Prosser agrees: “It’s a new platform for this history, visual, interactive and shareable.”

The Timeline was written by Prof Mike Edmunds of Cardiff University, now President-elect of the RAS. He sees curiosity and innovation as lasting characteristics of the Society, as well as some concepts that sound very modern. “If you want big data, just look at the original prescriptions for the Society. One of them was basically to observe the whole sky,” said Edmunds. “Well, after 200 years, we are beginning to actually do that.”

The completion of the Timeline was held up by pandemic precautions; now that it is finished, it serves as a reminder of the role of the RAS for the future as well as in the past. “What struck me is that, as far as astronomy and geophysics are concerned, the RAS and RAS Fellows really were at the centre of so many scientific debates and discoveries. Even if something wasn’t discovered here, it was discussed here and debated here; it made a difference here.” said Edmunds. “That’s exactly what we need the RAS to continue. The idea of the RAS being a place where these things are debated and explored and argued about really comes through and I hope that, looking to the future, we could live up to that ideal.” Diamond agrees: “Fantastic things are going to be happening at the frontiers of research and our history continues. It doesn’t end in 2020."

Nine colourful tiles with titles and images of RAS history from 2015 to 1996 set out in a square shape on a starry night background.
A section of the RAS timeline.
Licence type


Click here to view the RAS Bicentenary Timeline.

About PHILPOTT design

You can read more about the Timeline in this free access A&G article.

Video animation credit: RAS/Jim Hannah. 


For any enquiries, please contact Bicentenary Timeline Project Manager, Lucinda Offer at



Submitted by Lucinda Offer on Tue, 30/11/2021 - 15:23