Chasing a reference

ILL recently got me a low-quality photocopy of Antoniadi's note on a distorted sunset; but I wanted a better copy, so I could see the exact shapes he had drawn. So I went back to them with the reference:

l'Astronomie 12, 35 (1893).

They came back with a “not found as cited” reply.

I explained that they had already found a copy of this once, so the citation certainly was correct.

They came back with a reply from the Naval Observatory Library, stating that Vol. 12 was 1898, not 1893; so which did I want?

I explained that Vol. 12 in fact was 1893, not 1898.

They replied with a copy of the table of contents to volume 12 of Bulletin de la Société Astronomique de France , dated 1898, which of course did not contain my reference.

Journals that merge

Now, any astronomer will realize what had happened here. In the 20th Century, l'Astronomie  and Bull. Soc. Astr. France  have always been the same journal. Indeed, although most libraries file it as l'Astronomie , the Astronomischer Jahresbericht  always listed it as “BSAF”.

What had happened was that originally there were two journals, both connected with Camille Flammarion. In 1882, he founded l'Astronomie ; a few years later, he was instrumental in starting the Société Astronomique de France — which originally had its own independent Bulletin, first published in 1887. In January, 1895, after 13 volumes of l'Astronomie  and 8 of BSAF, the two merged, making l'Astronomie  the Bulletin of the Society.

The 1895 volume of the combined journal is numbered 9, so BSAF's volume numbering is continuous, and there are separate volumes of the two journals numbered 1 to 13, with year numbers differing by 5. That means there are in principle two different volumes of what can be called l'Astronomie, with numbers from 9 – 13. (No wonder the Jahresbericht chose to use “BSAF” — to avoid this ambiguity!)

(A similar case, more familiar to American readers, was the merger of The Sky  with The Telescope  to become Sky & Telescope.)

So I went back to ILL and explained about the merger and the confusion it produced.

And once again they came back with a “which do you want” query.

I explained again.

Finally, they got a clear photocopy of the page from Buffalo.

Chapter and verse

In hope of preventing anyone else from having to go through such an ordeal, here's the full information about the two journals, thanks to Brenda Corbin at the USNO library:

 You are indeed correct that there are two Astronomie journals:

      QB  1.S58
Astronomie/title Varies/societe Astronomique De France. Bulletin
V.1 (1887) - Present

QB 1 .S58
L'Astronomie / [Founded by Camille Flammarion].
Paris : Societe Astronomique de France, 1887-
Checked out to: On Shelf
ID 20125
      QB  1.A5
Astronomie. Revue Astronomie Populaire
V.1 (1882) - V.13 (1894)//

QB 1 .A5
Astronomie : revue mensuelle d'astronomie populaire, de meteorologie, de
physique du globe et de photographie celeste / [Editor: Camille

Paris : Gauthier-Villars, etc., 1882–1894.
ISSN 0004-6302
Checked out to: On Shelf
ID 9765

Note the separate LC call numbers: l'Astronomie is   QB 1.A5 , and BSAF is   QB 1 .S58 .

Musings on bibliography and the French psyche

I don't mean to knock the French. Really, I don't. They just have their own unique way of doing things, at times.

For example, there are the publications of the old Académie Royale des Sciences. They published the accounts of their meetings as the Histoire de l'Acad. Roy. Sci., and the papers were printed in full in the Mémoires de l'Acad. Roy. Sci. Generally, a paper that appears in the Mém. also has an extended abstract in the Hist.

All would have been well, had not the two series been bound together under the common title of Histoire, both starting with p. 1. So if all you have is a year (they didn't use volume numbers) and a page number, you can't tell if it's a reference to the first (Hist.) or second (Mém.) part of a volume. And, as likely as not, an ILL request will come back: “Not found as cited.”

The confusion is enough that even Gallica has many links to pages in the Mém. from table-of-contents entries in the Hist. If even the French national library can be confused, what about the rest of us?

It doesn't help that the volumes were usually printed a few years after the year whose proceedings they record; sometimes the year of the proceedings is given in citations, but sometimes it's the year of publication. As there are no volume numbers, the wrong year will have the librarians telling you you're all wet.

On top of this, many of the volumes in the early 18th Century were reprinted  in Amsterdam — sometimes even more than once, by different printers. These “pirated” editions may have the same page setup as the originals, or they may not. Sometimes the page numbers are considerably different from those in the original edition printed (belatedly, to be sure) in Paris. (Sometimes the Amsterdam copies were based on page proofs from Paris, and appeared even before  the “official” edition.) If all you have is a page reference, you won't know which version it refers to; you have the see the title page of the volume to find out.

“But,” you object, “this was all before the French Revolution. Surely things were better after that.”

OK, how about this: in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, the French equivalent of Science or Nature  was La Nature. It was published in 2 “Semestres” per year: each with the same volume number, each beginning with page 1. So if you have a reference to something in La Nature, even a volume, a year, and a page number do not suffice to identify the item — and the ILL people come back with “not found as cited” half the time.

And sometimes, in addition, these volumes contain Supplements  that also begin at p. 1 . . . .

By the way, a short history of that journal is available here, along with transcriptions of many of its pages. It's also available elsewhere.


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