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Evan Boxer-Cook

Currently a Classical & Medieval Studies Major at Bates College, Evan Boxer-Cook specializes in the history of science, astronomy, sundials, and timekeeping. His fascination with timekeeping instruments began with hourglasses and modern watches, giving way to sundials and subsequently astrolabes after graduating from high school. After his first year of college, he began the BC Gnomonics project, funded by the Hoffman Research Support Grant.

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My personal emblem. For some of my other work, see Thornographer.com

Although I've always been fascinated by timekeepers and the concept of time, I can pinpoint the dawn of my interest in sundials to early 2021. At that time, I knew nothing about the theory of construction, instead drawn in by the allure of a durable timepiece that would not require servicing.

 

I would go on to purchase my first three dials in the year that followed, each representing a step forward for my understanding of the underpinning gnomonic theory.

The first was a particularly egregious example of "nonfunctional prop dial," styled in the image of a pocket watch. I had not yet grasped the basics of dial construction, so I was unaware of the importance of latitude. I took this dial outside and noticed a persistent error which I would later discover to be due in part to the dial's fundamentally flawed construction, as well as the fact that I had yet to discover the importance of longitude and equation of time correction.

The second dial was a step in the right direction, a circular-leaved sort of diptych. I had not yet learned of the equation of time, but I had come to the understanding that the cord gnomon was not inclined to the correct angle. To rectify this, I taped the gnomon in two places. I would not learn until later that in addition to the gnomon, the hour lines of a horizontal dial must also be arranged for the latitude of use.

Upon finally coming to understand the equation of time and importance of the longitude correction, I purchased my third dial, made by the Kala family. This remains to this day my favorite type of dial, and I am rarely without it.

Throughout this humbling first year, I was made keenly aware of the fact that when studying gnomonics, there is always more to uncover, whether it be something as fundamental as the equation of time, or as hidden as a fantastically obscure dial.

Through research and practical experience, I have come to realize that sundials, astrolabes, and other instruments represent a very unique convergence of discipline. From the complex math required to design them, to the intricate artistry of their execution, to the rich history of their use, and even to the holistic–even romantically poetic–practice of using the instrument itself, this area of study is broad enough to bridge disparate facets of humanity. I have often thought that because such a wide range of skills converges into gnomonics, sundial-making would be a ripe ground for some kind of eclectic, polymath textbook.

Continuing my pursuits, I have come to join the North American Sundial Society, my first conference attended marking the 30th anniversary of the organization. As I continue to widen my base of knowledge, I have found myself particularly drawn to dialing scales and other geometric and empirical methods of laying out sundials. Perhaps my favorite application of my continued learning, however, is the creation of this website. Here, I am able to share the excitement I feel for analyzing new instruments, discovering their uses, and bringing them to light.

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