Primary source research, regardless of your level of knowledge, is always rewarding. You may wish to consult some original sources such as Ptolemy’s Planisphaerium on stereographic projection (i.e. mapping of a sphere onto a plane), Geoffrey Chaucer’s 14th-century treatise on the astrolabe (online version available), as well as works by Peter Apian (a.k.a. Petrus Apianus) and Gemma Frisius.
You should of course also consult secondary sources to help you understand these texts but don’t shy away from looking at the primary sources, which are sometimes much easier to understand than the secondary ones.
- Anderson, R.G.W., J.A. Bennett, and W.F. Ryan, eds. Making Instruments Count: Essays on Historical Scientific Instruments, presented to Gerard L’Estrange Turner. Aldershot [England]: Variorum, 1993. [Available at Osler, call # Q 185 M235 1993]
- Gunther, R. T. “Volvelles or Aequatoria” in Early Science in Oxford, Vol. II. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1923. Pages 234-244. [Available at McLennan, call # Q127 G4 G8 1923]
- Helfland, Jessica. Reinventing the Wheel. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2002. [On volvelles, though mostly from the 20th century]
- Turner, Anthony John. Early Scientific Instruments: Europe, 1400-1800. London: Sotheby’s Publications, 1987. Pages 11-16. [Available at McLennan, call # folio QC53 T85 1987]
- Turner, Gerard L’Estrange. Renaissance Astrolabes and their Makers. Burlington: Ashgate, 2003. [Available at McLennan, call # QB85 T85 2003]
- Vitruvius. “Book 9” in the Ten Books of Architecture. Translated by Morris Hicky Morgan. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1914.
Important: use your judgment when consulting online sources as few websites actually contain reliable information.
Museum websites, as well as those of institutions, are trustworthy; here are a few you may wish to consult:
- The online exhibition on the astrolabe at the Museum of the History of Science at Oxford, with an animation on how to use the astrolabe. See also the webpage of the exhibition “the Renaissance in Astronomy” which is full of useful material (besides works by Apian and Frisius, there is a paper astrolabe by Peter Jordan). I also highly recommend the exhibition broadsheet which gives a succinct intro to 16th century astronomy.
- The online exhibition “Images of the Universe from Antiquity to the Telescope” at the Museo Galileo [includes some videos].
- “A 14th-century English astrolabe” at the Whipple Museum of the History of Science at Cambridge [of note also is a woodcut print showing a man measuring the height of a building using an astrolabe].
- The website “the Way to the Stars: Build Your Own Astrolabe” by St. John’s College, Cambridge, has some information on building your own astrolabe. It might be good practice to try it out, but of course your final volvelle is to be hand-drawn, not computer-generated.
- “Astrolabes and Quadrants” at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich
- “The Scientific Instrument Collection” at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago
- The “Astrolabes in Medieval Jewish Society” project at the Warburg Institute
- Stephen Johnston’s website, with his published and unpublished research
The Astrolabe website contains useful practical information on stereographic projection. Also, you may be interested in watching the TED video of Tom Wujec’s demonstration of a 13th century astrolabe.